It’s time to practice safe computing – whatever the operating system

This content is 18 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I recently switched my primary home computer to a Mac but I also use Windows and Linux. I don’t consider myself to be a member of the Mac community, or the Linux community, or the Windows community – because (based on many forum posts and blog comments that I read) all of these “communities” are full of people with bigoted views that generally boil down to “my OS is better than your OS” or “Duh… but why would you want to use that?”.

Based largely on Apple’s advertising though, one of the things that I did assume with Mac OS X was that I’d be secure by default. Nope. It turns out that’s not true as there is an obscure flaw in Mac OS X (surely not?!) whereby a malformed installer package can elevate its privileges in Mac OS X and become root. After running Windows for 16 years I’m used to these sort of flaws but surely His Jobsness’ wonderful creation is above such things!

Frankly I don’t care that Mac OS X is flawed. So is Linux. So is Windows. So is anything with many millions of lines of code – open or closed source – but I thought better of Apple because I believed that they would keep me safe by default. It’s well known that running Windows XP as anything less than a Power User is difficult and that’s one of the many improvements in Windows Vista. All the Linux installers that I’ve used recently suggested that I create a non-root user as well as root but the OS X installer is happy for me to breeze along and create a single administrator account without a word of further advice. I appreciate that an OS X administrator is not equal to root but nevertheless it’s a higher level of access than should be used for daily computing and because I didn’t know any better (I’m just a dumb switcher) I didn’t create a standard user account (until today).

I read a lot of Mac and Linux zealots singing the praises of their operating systems and saying how Windoze is a haven for spyware and viruses. Well, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee – as Mac OS X gains in popularity (I heard something about the new MacBooks having a 12% share of all new laptop sales recently) then Mac users will have to start thinking about spyware, viruses and the like. Now is the time to practice safe computing – whatever the operating system – with most users running as administrators then that could quickly become a major issue.

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