MACDefender: The Next Push for an OSX Lockdown

19 May, 2011 09:03PM · 3 minute read

The most prevalent virus/malware for OSX is the MACDefender trojan horse. So called because you need to let it into your system and select “OK” to install after handing over your password. These have been around for years on Windows but now they have started to become more common on the Mac running OSX.  The problem is that Malware such as this is just going to push Apple to really lock down OSX.

Let’s change gears for a moment and look at iOS and the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and how they don’t have any Malware. The App Store popularized the way people look for and find applications for their computer hardware. First on iOS with version 2.0 in 2008 then as an option for the Mac as of OSX 10.6.6 update. Both stores have an approval process to weed out Malware (amongst other things) and make it easy to install software on your device.

Apple weren’t the first to try the concept of an App Store (some Linux builds have supported centralised application distribution for over a decade) but they brought it en masse to the public on a popular device. On iOS it’s not possible to load any applications onto the device any other way than via the App Store unless you jailbreak your device. The majority of people don’t jailbreak their device and if they do most use the Cydia application store which still has some credibility.

This means that unless Apple let’s Malware applications through by accident, there is no way for them to get into your device. If one does, it gets reported and automatically deleted by Apple. This is why there is no MACDefender or any other virus or trojan horse on iOS.

Now look at the Mac.  It’s always been possible to install applications through web browser installers or from anywhere on the internet simply because without an App Store it was a necessity. Now the Mac App Store has started to provide an alternative way for people to find and install applications that they know are safe - checked and controlled by Apple. All Apple needs to do is wean people off non-App Store installations, lock OSX down to App Store only installations and Malware and viruses can never again touch the Mac.

Imagine a desktop PC that was guaranteed to be safe from Malware and viruses without virus scanners. Would people refuse to buy Macs because you couldn’t side load applications anymore? Some would, but not enough for Apple to not seriously consider it. The alternative is to go down the Microsoft road and introduce a Mac equivalent to the Windows Defender tool.

For Apple there would always be jailbreakers for such a version of OSX. People would always want to tweak their OS the way they wanted to (just like jailbreakers of iOS are now) however that will be the minority of users. No matter how many times I go over this ground, I am convinced this is what Apple will inevitably do. It may not happen with 10.7 Lion, but expect it in the next few years - maybe 10.8. Coming to a Mac App Store near you.