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Smart, not invincible December 7, 2013

Posted by mtv in Security.
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The claim that 5 or 10 years from now there will be more smartphones than PCs on the internet is a very real possibility, and raises obvious security concerns calling for increased attention to mobile antivirus software.  I foresee a resistance to the necessity of antivirus software on mobile phones reminiscent of a myth that still persists today: “but I don’t need antivirus, I have a Mac.”  The best response to that familiar comment is, “really, why?”  Don’t hold your breath for an answer, or at least an unbiased one.

I won’t delve into the “Macs don’t need antivirus software” debate as plenty out there already have, but suffice it to say there are valid points on each side from a software design standpoint, as well as market share standpoint, but above all the verdict is negligible in my mind.  The fact is that claims like these feed public perception and, as a result, become true, and from a security standpoint it is irresponsible and dangerous to assure people that security is not a concern.  Let’s also be honest and admit this is a byproduct of the OS wars, plenty of haters on each side.  In case anyone has noticed, software tends to change, and has evolved drastically since these beliefs were born.  Windows has gotten more secure, while historically weaker; Macs have gained more of a market share, while historically weaker.  Together, these shifts have transformed the playing field and yet the argument lives on.

Whether applied to av security for Macs vs. Windows or future debates surrounding mobile OS platforms, my advice to counter common, often unsubstantiated claims like these is to avoid the technical details and just urge people to think about it from a common sense perspective.  There is no such thing as a free lunch; there is no “get out of jail free” card in real life; there will never be a computing platform that is simply superior and thus doesn’t need to be protected.  So back up to an objective level, put preferences aside, and think about it like this: sure, I’ll concede that your device is 20 nanometers more secure than mine, but you use the internet on it, right?  That’s what we have to protect nowadays, ourselves–our own identities, our corporate data–not so much our devices.  It’d be like claiming your house keys are specially designed to be harder to duplicate, plus they’re almost always in your pocket, so therefore they’re safe.  That argument doesn’t do much good after you’ve used that jump drive on your keychain at some random computer kiosk and managed to lose track of them.  When you use the internet, you are effectively travelling around the globe plugging your house keys into strangers’ computers.  You might want to pay attention.

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