My Mac is Safe from Viruses, Right?

macintosh appleMyth
: Mac’s aren’t susceptible to viruses
Truth: The only computer that is completely safe is one that is turned off and unplugged

Whether you have a Windows computer, Mac, Linux, or even mobile computers like iPad/iPhone, Android Tablet, or Windows Phone, you aren’t 100% from malicious software.

Many Mac users don’t even install security software like an antivirus package on their computers. Whether that is a smart strategy or not, is debatable, even by the most seasoned IT professional. The fact is that most viruses are being delivered by systems that are used on Macs and Windows computers like Adobe Flash and Oracle Java. These are “add-on” programs that allow more interactivity with websites and a common language.  Malicious software in this common language can equally infect your Mac or your PC (and in some cases your mobile phone too!)

Here are some reasons why Mac’s dont get as many viruses as PCs:

  1. The Mac Operating System OS X is based on a variant of the UNIX operating system called Darwin which is based on BSD out of University of Berkeley and in its day was one of the most security operating systems made outside of government.
  2. There are more Windows PCs out there than Macs. Even with the growth of Macs over the past several years, the vast majority of computers out there are Windows based PCs.  The authors of viruses and exploiters of PCs have more targets to choose from in the Windows world.
  3. Virus authors are largely lazy and like to reuse existing code. In fact, many use toolkits like the Zeus Malware Toolkit.

Windows Viruses that infect Macs

The truth is that most Mac users end up having to run Windows programs either by booting to a Windows system on their Mac using Bootcamp or using some sort of Virtualization Software like Parallels or VMWARE Fusion to run applications that do not exist on the Mac like Microsoft Publisher or full features like Microsoft Outlook. Now that they are in Windows, they are susceptible to attack. In fact some Macs will be carriers of a Windows based virus that will “jump” to the Windows side through a feature in the Virtualization software that allows for easy sharing between the two systems running together.

What about those Plugins?

As mentioned earlier, any add-on software such as a plug-in that gives your computer or web-browser additional capabilities open up their own risks.  They are many times not updated using the same update tools as your main operating system software and therefore holes are not patched up. These include but aren’t limited to Java, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, Adobe Flex, and Apple Quicktime.  Nearly all computers (including Macs) have one or more of these

“You Can’t Patch Stupid”

This is a common refrain used by security professionals to talk about the vast unwashed out there, as insulting as it is.  Although your Mac may be less vulnerable than PCs potentially, the same flawed humans use them. And these folks do download programs that are infected (whether they are legit, or many times not!), get caught by phishing or other online fraud. So just like you practice defensive driving, practice defensive computing. Be aware of the sites you visit, the links you click and the e-mails you read regardless of the computer you are using.

Safe Computing!

Switching to a Mac and learning Office 2011?

Since getting the Mac bug a few years back, I’ve flipped back and forth between both Windows and Mac (and occasionally Ubuntu Linux).  Because many of my applications require Windows or Internet Explorer (which only runs on Windows) I find myself finding ways to work around it using various tools like remote desktops to Windows machines and virtual computers that allow you to run a copy of Windows on top of your Mac.

Although Office 2011 for the Mac has narrowed the gap, particularly with Outlook 2011, in terms of functionality with its Windows cousin, there are some things that are frustrations.  In my effort to learn more about Outlook 2011 for my own use as well as customers, I came across the following post on Office for Mac Blog by Microsoft.

Here are some of those shortcuts:

COMMAND+R Reply to Message
COMMAND+SHIFT+R Reply All to Message
COMMAND+J Forward Message
COMMAND+[RETURN] Send Message your are composing
COMMAND+OPTION+N Compose a New Message
COMMAND+[LEFT ARROW] Previous Calendar Period
COMMAND+[RIGHT ARROW] Next Calendar Period
COMMAND+0 (ZERO) Contacts Search Pane
COMMAND+` Switch between open windows in the same application (this is across all apps on the Mac)
COMMAND+F Find (based on what window you have open)
COMMAND+[UP ARROW]+O (letter O) Toggle between Unread Messages/Clear Filter
COMMAND+R Reply to Message
COMMAND+[PLUS] Increase text size while reading
COMMAND+[MINUS] Decrease text size while reading
SpaceBar Quick scroll message/goto next message
COMMAND+SHIFT+[UP] Go to the top of the List (i.e. Messages)
COMMAND+SHIFT+[DOWN] Go to the bottom of the List
COMMAND+1 Go to Mail
COMMAND+2 Go to Calendar
COMMAND+R Go to Contacts