Site offers Mac protection

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 12:00am

Mac users have a habit of ridiculing those who use computers based on the Intel-Microsoft combination: the Wintel platform. One of the reasons for this is the constant reports that yet another virus or worm is destroying data on Wintel machines. The Mac, these people claim, is safe.


It is certainly true that the Mac is - relatively speaking - a lot safer than a bog-standard personal computer. Microsoft, as we all found out a while back, has 'discovered' the issue of security and is now working on it. Time, no doubt, will tell if Microsoft is up to the task or if others will do it for them, which is more likely.


Mac users, however, would be wise not to be smug. It may be easier to crack a PC and there are certainly more people trying to do it, but that does not mean the Mac is all that safe.


The biggest danger today is the broadband 'always on' connection that many of us use. This makes it easy to get connected, but it works both ways: others can 'connect' to us. Why would anybody want to snoop on my machine or yours? Well, they are not, really.


What happens is that the bad guys run software that simply goes out and looks for vulnerable computers quite indiscriminately.


When a computer is connected to the Net it has a unique address. That address can be probed and any weaknesses exploited.


Symantec has been in the business of protecting computers for a long time, mainly from viruses, but the Internet is now high on its list of concerns.


Symantec's Norton Internet Security for the Macintosh naturally enough works with Mac OS X as well as OS 9 and some earlier versions. The good news is that it contains a lot of software that is centrally controlled and at the very least will find obvious 'open doors' to your machine.


The bad news is that much of it may not be all that easy to understand or even prove. Symantec has a Web site that will test your machine (www.symantec.com/securitycheck) but it is something of a double-edged sword.


I let the site check out my computer and was told that I was vulnerable and should think about installing and using a personal firewall. As it happens, that is part of the Norton Internet Security for Macintosh. I launched the Personal Firewall application and turned all the options to 'off'. I then went back to the Symantec Web site and checked again. I got exactly the same result.


On closer inspection, I was told that two ports were open, one of them was port 80 for Web sharing. The Personal Firewall said, however, that I was denying access to that port.


This of course points out the fundamental problem with this kind of software: it acts to frighten as well as to comfort. When someone tells you that hackers 'have access to port 80', it should make you worry. But when the company then tells you that it offers to fix the problem for a fee 'buy our software and the problem will go away', it makes me pause.


This is not to say that Symantec is somehow scamming its customers. The Mac user, however, does not have as big a choice when it comes to this kind of protection. My suggestion to anyone who is worried - and anyone on the net should be worried - is to spend some time learning about the problems. A great place to start is here: netsecurity.about.com/cs/macsecurity. There are pointers to a lot of other sites with lots of information.


In the meantime, the Norton Internet Security 2.0 for Macintosh should be seriously considered.

 

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