Earlier today I came across a CNET blog entry wherein Ina Fried discusses the recent purchase of a refurbished iPod that arrived with a virus on it. Although Ina's article is about an iPod, it reinforces the reality of today's threat landscape: malware can come from anywhere.
As we look at the Genesis of Computer Viruses (see The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense, by Peter Szor), we can't help but remember the days when the vast majority of personal computer malware spread via physical interaction between computers, usually in the form of floppy disks. These early viruses operated as file infectors where the virus would replicate itself into any file it could find. As a floppy disk was inserted in to the computer, the [usually] memory resident virus would scour the floppy for new victims. By the time the user had finished copying the needed files to the floppy, the virus had also finished infecting them. Now when the floppy was inserted in another computer and one of the infected files was executed, the virus would infect any files it could find on its new host and then wait patiently to start the whole process over again.
As the Internet grew in popularity, personal computer malware seized a golden opportunity to increase the rate at which it could spread. No longer did floppy disks provide the best avenue for replication. As new breeds of malware became increasingly efficient at infecting user's machines without much wrong doing on the part of the user - via browser, email client, and operating system vulnerabilities - a lot of attention was placed on the new threats and users were encouraged to alter their browsing and download habits to avoid accidentally visiting potentially malicious web sites or downloading potentially malicious applications.
All of this newly-focused publicity about the dangers of the Internet caused some users to forget about the always real possibility of malware arriving from non-Internet sources. Just like the early days of file infector viruses spreading via floppy disks, the sheer number of portable devices, that contain storage, in use by today's average computer user creates an environment that fosters the continued circulation of file infector based malware - new and old.
Since most anti-virus applications had humble beginnings in protecting against floppy borne file infectors, but have been built up to consistently detect the latest threats, anti-virus software has always provided the best mechanism to avoid being affected by malware throughout the evolution of the personal computing threat landscape - and this holds true whether you have less than perfect web browsing habits or are simply connecting a newly purchased or borrowed MP3 player, digital picture frame, or thumb drive to your computer.
So what does all of this mean? Can users continue to think of security as a personal computer proposition only? Ina's story brings up an interesting "myth busting" point - today security is more than protecting your personal computer - it's about protecting you, your interactions, and your devices. Today, even devices that we fast and furiously plug into our computers can be points of introduction to all the spooky stuff on or off the Internet. While headline news attacks have changed dramatically in the past few years - the good news is, one thing hasn't. If you're practicing good hygiene on your computer by installing security software - you're much more likely to catch these unwanted intruders, even on your cherished devices, before they get a foothold on your system ... be it Mac or PC.
Message Edited by jgonzales on 02-11-2009 07:04 PM