Over the last few weeks we've fielded a ton a question, from clients and friends alike, about the "Flashback Virus". Now, this makes me a little nuts, especially when the TV talking-heads discus it like it's going to be Apple's down fall. But all the nit-picking and semantic arguments aside -what is the reality of the threat and is Apple taking it seriously. I think the short answer is, yes. The Threat is real, and growing. As for Apple taking it seriously, at first glance, the answer looks like no. But lets back up a bit first.
Right now, as it stands, the "Viruses" out their for the Mac are all of the Trojan Horse variety. Which means, that at some point along the way, you allowed the danger through your gates. In short, you did something unwise. You downloaded a plug-in from some random web page, or you did something really dumb and installed a bootleg copy of some software you got of a "sharing" site. Which brings us to the sad truth. No matter how good your Ati-Virus Software may be, it can't keep you from doing dumb stuff.
So where does that leave us. Well, I think the thing you need most (right now), is diligence. Be conscience of what your pulling off the internet. If your a business and you deal with lot of document from random places, yes, get some Anti-Vitrus. Especially if you deal with lots of Word Documents. But what about the rest of us, what do we do. Well, this is where Apple's apparent inactivity is not what it appraise.
Not sure how many of you downloaded and installed the public preview of Mountain Lion, but Apple has a new security feature in 10.8 called Gatekeeper. This is a very cool addition to the already superb Adaptive Firewall. What is this Gatekeeper thing and how does it work?
Well, this is one of those times where having one guy (or Company) in charge of the whole shebang is a good thing. I'll explain.
Lots of people complain about Apple and their heavy-hand approach to iOS apps and the App Store. They want to be able to add any app they see fit to use (which is the current state of the Mac OS). This sound like a good thing (it's my phone and can use it any way I want), but lets take a deeper look at that strategy. Apple is makes some big promises with iOS devises. They say thing like "it just works". Well, the reason they can say that, is all apps must go through the Apple Developer Program and all that comes with it. Like testing the app to make sure it wont crash the phone. To insurer the app is as advertised. Insuring that "it just works", and that you have a constant user experience across all apps and devices. Also, it has the added benefit of keeping out Viruses. Any cases of infected iPhones yet? And why not? Because Apple knows you are how you say you are when you build an iOS app.
Gatekeeper is an extension of the same idea. You can trust all the apps you get from the Mac App Store precisely because Apple uses it's iron fist to keep the bad guys beyond the gates. With Gatekeeper, Apple can extend the reach gates far beyond the Mac Apps Store. And this new expandable gate comes in the form of a Apple issued Developer ID. App makes can then use this ID to sign their app, and then Gatekeeper verifies that ID against Apple database. Just like an SSL Certificate is used when you login to your back, Gatekeeper is kind of third party verification that will keep your Mac Virus and Trojan free.
And get this, it's a radio button.
So, as you can see, Apple is give you three options. You want to be a tyrant, OK, Mac App Store only. Or, you can rely on your own savvy internet danger detect skills, it's up to you. So remember this next time you want that cool jailbreak only app, or that "free" copy of Photoshop online, you have no idea what might be lurking inside the packages you are going to install. Flash is a legitimate application created by a trusted Developer. But someone altered it. Whit the advent of Gatekeeper and the Developer ID, if some tampers with the app or the installer, it wont install. The ID acts like a disk image checksum, and if there is a difference in what you have and what was registered. Well, the big soulless corporation and their iron fist just saved you bacon.