Multiplying viruses

February 27, 2007

I saw another Mitchell & Webb Apple advert at Tottenham Court Road tube station the other morning. This one had Mitchell (in his persona as a PC) proclaiming that “last year there were 114,000 viruses for the PC.”

This seemed a rather wild claim, so I thought I’d look into it. To Apple’s credit, their website does give the source of this figure — but that’s about all the credit they get, as it turns out the source isn’t some independent research body but a computer security company (Sophos) with an obvious interest in playing up the threat. The figure of 114,000 is given as the number of threats against which their software could protect you as at the end of 2005, so I strongly suspect it includes every variant of every virus ever spotted in the wild or in the lab, a very small proportion of which are a threat today. It also, by Sophos’ own airy account, includes “other malware.”

But the way Apple puts it, you’d think that, during 2006, Windows users were subjected to 114,000 separate sorts of attack. Does anyone remember that actually happening? Of course not. Apple’s basic point – that Mac OS X is less vulnerable to viruses and the like than Windows – is a very good one. But it’s a point that could be made in an honest, open way, and instead Apple chooses to weasel around with misleading technicalities and hyperbole. It doesn’t encourage me to buy in.

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