As personal computing took off in the 80s, people progressively relied upon security software to remove viruses, trojans, spyware, and other malicious software from their systems. For a couple of decades, it seemed such software was a necessity, especially for platforms that suffered a larger onslaught of malware than others (namely Windows and the classic Mac OS, in comparison to OS X). Malware is still an ongoing and major problem; however, it appears that this classic approach to stemming the flow of malware is a progressively failed effort.
Recently Brian Dye, the senior vice president for information security at Symantec, stated to the Wall Street Journal that antivirus “is dead” and is not being pursued as a moneymaker anymore, suggesting the classic approach for identifying variants of malware is a losing battle overall.
The amount of malware that security companies are seeing come out every year is increasing exponentially (PDF), and with only a few such companies matched against the ever-increasing hacking and malware communities, there is almost no way for them to keep up with identifying malware and creating effective definitions against it. For example, recall the cat-and-mouse battle for security efforts against the Flashback malware, where variants that circumvented new definitions were released sometimes within days of updates being available.
Furthermore, hackers are finding novel ways to target systems that forego the need for classic malware. These have sometimes come by hackers capitalizing on industry mistakes, such as was the case with the recently-found, but long-standing Heartbleed OpenSSL snafu.
What this means is the landscape for cybersecurity is changing to where even more than ever, you cannot rely on a security suite to keep your system safe. If a vulnerability is found, malware variants that exploit it are often spread through malware circles faster than a fix can be issued by the developer.
While there will always be some benefit from tracking down threats and deleting them, this will always be a daunting task to keep effective. However, to one extent, this has always been somewhat the case. Security tools are just options to help you discover and prevent malware from being installed, and are not always successful or correct in their efforts.
Every program Apple hosts on its App Store is required to be sandboxed and digitally signed so only they can be executed when security measures such as GateKeeper are enabled. For personal data, Apple is focusing on encryption and the use of passwords in keychains, offering the easy generation of high-quality passwords for authenticating to Web sites, and managing them in the user’s keychain.
By using these options Apple provides with your Mac, you can stay ahead of the curve in terms of security. Apple does offer some services such as its iCloud keychain, which offer convenience more than additional security, but these are optional. For now, as efforts such as these lean towards blocking malware from the inside instead of eradicating it, there are several things you can do to keep up with the trend and not only ensure your data is safe even if malware ends up on your system, but also avoid malware altogether.
These basically revolve around forgoing the reliance on a security software package to keep you safe, and instead concentrating on layering up your security, starting with how you manage passwords, and then how you package sensitive files, and finally, how you configure your system for use. That being said, the use of anti-malware tools will help this effort, but should progressively not be relied upon as the sole source for your computer’s security.