Apples, viruses and internet snowballs

Filed Under: Apple, Malware

Whoops.

I'm sorry for not realising this myself when I wrote about whether you really need anti-virus on your Mac on the blog yesterday.

It turns out that Apple's advice for the millions of Mac users out there to run anti-virus software is not new advice at all. If you dig around on the internet archive's Wayback machine at web.archive.org, you can find evidence that Apple originally published this advice (albeit in a slightly different form, and at a different url) as far back as June 2007.

The Wayback machine

The reason for so much media attention was simply because Apple imported the advice into their new support knowledgebase system, and updated some of the details of the listed anti-virus products.

This is a fascinating example of how the internet can get carried away with itself - and a fairly harmless change on a website can turn into one of the day's top technology stories discussed by the geeks of the world. There must have been befuddled faces in Apple's support department! Maybe one day someone will have the time to look into how stories like this snowball into an avalanche, and the effect that blogs and social media have on this.

But it's clear that what shouldn't have been a surprise at all to the Apple fans is that their favourite computer maker does recommend they use an anti-virus program, and actually have been for some time. Some of the fervent views expressed on the net would make you think that this is heresy, but actually the boys from Cupertino have been quietly saying it for a while.

Apple's advice, by the way, is given using rather strange language. At first reading (and indeed, second and third) they appear to be suggesting that Mac users should be running "multiple antivirus utilities". In fact this isn't a good idea. Running more than one anti-virus on your computer can result in conflicts, and system slow-down.

In reality what they're trying to say - but being accidentally ambiguous in their language - is that they are not going to recommend an anti-virus product from a single vendor above other vendors. And the reason for that, they're attempting to explain, is that hackers would find it easier to circumvent defences if everyone in the Mac community used the same anti-virus product...

..rather than um.. nearly everyone in the Mac community using nothing.

So yes, the news that Apple is urging people to run anti-virus software isn't actually news... apart from for the people who didn't realise they had to run anti-virus software on their Apple Macs! Which seems to be quite a lot.

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About the author

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, and veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.