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Immunity as a Metaphor for OS Security

For those who claim Mac OS X is an inherently secure Operating System or those who claim that Mac users claim this, it’s helpful to use the human immune system as a model and metaphor.

<p>Superman doesn’t get sick (we’ll ignore Kryptonite for the sake of this essay). We don’t have a Superman OS yet. Come back with something completely written in a design-by-contract model with lots of years of bug finding and then we can talk about entry into the JLA. Mac users don’t have a superpowered OS, despite Steve Jobs’s Reality Distortion Field superpower.</p>
<p>So, we have mortal Operating Systems. Some of those operating systems have strong immune systems. Mac OS X is a good example. It has everything off by default and a good auto-update mechanism. It’s still written in C and has buffer overflow problems. We know they exist, there will be a cold eventually if it’s not fed a constant stream of vitamins (software updates). Still, there is a good permissions model from UNIX, ACL’s now in later versions, and Apple has done a heck of a good job making a user not understand root on a UNIX system. Sudo is nearly invisible and the Keychain lets us store credentials in a cryptographically-secure manner. Plus lots of it is Open Source, so the OS is getting a well-checkup by many doctors, frequently.</p>
<p>So, then we have linux. Linux has most of the genetic benefits of Mac OS X. But it has more challenges to its immune system. Most distros come with services running, root is not as well hidden, and keeping up to date has been historically difficult. Big repos like Dag and mechanisms like yum make this easier today, but there’s alot of history. So, linux is more like a strong young male with a good immune system who happens to sleep around alot and is at risk for more STD’s because of it. That said, he gets a checkup by a doctor every three hours.</p>
<p>Then we have OS’s which are like people on immunosupressive drugs. There’s a reason the immune system has to be so weak, and in a way it’s like a transplant - backwards compatiblity. So, this is Windows and its users are always looking for more, better software to fix a somewhat hard to use system. They’re always downloading things and clicking Install just because they want something new - you can’t ignore behavior in this analysis. So Windows is on immunosupressive drugs and is an alcoholic and does drugs and likes to bungie jump. Some people find the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock’n'Roll OS alluring, and its pushers have made sure it’s pervasive on the streets. We’re still not sure why corporations hire this kind of employee but we think it has something to do with the dirt the pusher has on the managers.  To combat this situation, users are on a steady stream of antibiotics, antivirals and on telemetry 24/7 to keep watch of their vitals.  This is expensive and ultimately takes a toll on quality of life.</p>
<p>So, Mac OS X isn’t a WunderOS and its users have to watch for ice on the parking lot. But they are wearing YakTrax on their feet so they can at least talk about the Panther’s game on their way into work (or is it the Bengals this season? - it’s probably Detroit next year).