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Apple Asks Security Experts To Examine OS X Lion 417

Posted by samzenpus
from the kick-the-tires dept.
An anonymous reader writes "For as much as Mac OS X has a reputation for being safer than Windows, security researchers won't hesitate to point out that the opposite is, in fact, true. But Apple's looking to change that. This past Thursday, Apple doled out a beta of OS X Lion to developers. In conjunction with that, Apple is also reaching out to noted security experts and offering them free previews of OS X 10.7 so that they can take a look at Apple's new security measures and reach back to Apple with any thoughts and concerns they might have. Indeed, Apple is becoming a lot more security conscious these days, not only in terms of reaching out to security researchers but also in its personnel hires."
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Apple Asks Security Experts To Examine OS X Lion

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 27, 2011 @04:35PM (#35332628)

    as much as Mac OS X has a reputation for being safer than Windows, security researchers won't hesitate to point out that the opposite is, in fact, true.

    I'm sorry, what? Windows is "safer" than OS X? "In fact"?

    • I had the same thought? I've never seen a credible security report that claimed OS X is more insecure than any flavor of Windows.
      • by n0-0p (325773) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:29PM (#35332936)

        You're joking, right? Apple is historically months behind in patching publicly disclosed vulnerabilities in core libraries they share with other Unix-like systems (Samba and Java are two key examples). Overall code robustness is abysmal in any Apple product I've assessed--they fall over with trivial fuzzing or a few hours of analysis. They're an absolute pain in the ass to deal with when trying to resolve a responsibly reported vulnerability: they often don't seem to have qualified people triaging inbound reports, and when they do finally acknowledge the correct severity of a reported issue it can take years before they finally push out a fix. And to top it all off, their core security counter-measures (e.g. ASLR and NX) are useless as anything more than marketing fluff because they're not implemented consistently.

        Seriously, I've been in the security field for almost 15 years and dealt with reporting vulnerabilities to dozens of companies. Microsoft is a pain to deal with because of their compatibility matrices and long release cycles, but they're generally competent. Whereas Apple is just an absolute train-wreck. The only reason every Mac isn't infested with malware is that they're not a big enough chunk of the market for it to be worth the effort. If they ever cross the magic 15% threshold they're in for a very rude awakening.

        • by Cheech Wizard (698728) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:38PM (#35333006)
          I've been hearing "The only reason every Mac isn't infested with malware is that they're not a big enough chunk of the market for it to be worth the effort." for so many years the effect has worn off. Year after year - You know, it really gets old hearing that excuse. If that really is the case, I hope it continues.
          • by Shikaku (1129753)

            Do you really think you are going to get a malware author to comment on why they don't write viruses for Macs?

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              someone refusing to give their opinion on the internet?

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            And they will still be saying that when/if Mac reaches 49% of the market. "It's less than half of the computers sold, not a big enough target".

          • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @06:11PM (#35333192)

            I've been hearing "The only reason every Mac isn't infested with malware is that they're not a big enough chunk of the market for it to be worth the effort." for so many years the effect has worn off. Year after year - You know, it really gets old hearing that excuse. If that really is the case, I hope it continues.

            I completely sympathize. I've become tired of the same old excuses why faster-than-light travel isn't possible, just like you and the Apple malware thing. I mean, come on. Why don't they come up with new material?

            10% of the personal computing market is Apple. That's it. Now, sure some of the remaining 90% aren't running Windows, but we know that since 2011 is The Year of Linux, the conversion isn't complete, so as of today the majority are.

            Some excuses are repeated because they're... valid.

            • Watch out. Just a few year ago you would have said "5% of the personal computing market is Apple."

            • market share (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Gary W. Longsine (124661) on Monday February 28, 2011 @12:23AM (#35335292) Homepage Journal
              Roughly 10% of the total PC market is Apple. Apple has roughly 0% (zero percent) of the enterprise PC market, which is roughly half of the overall PC market (the number of installed systems is smaller than the consumer market, but consumers tend to refresh less often). So, Apple apparently has about 20% of the consumer market these days.

              There are automated, automatically propagating exploits for obscure BBS systems, for IIS back when it was a tiny sliver of the web server market, for data base systems installed on a tiny fraction of web servers, in numbers utterly dwarfed by the installations of a single model of MacBook Pro.

              What's it gonna take for y'all to give up on the "market share" ghost?
              • Mod parent (Score:4, Informative)

                by Billly Gates (198444) on Monday February 28, 2011 @04:17AM (#35335986) Journal

                True.

                IIS and SQL Server injections were on the rise when Solaris was still king of the internet server market a decade ago. Windows Server back then was not the dominant player yet had most of the backdoors. The reason Windows has more viruses and trojans is due to activeX and shoddy design for IE and Windows. Not because it was the dominant client operating system.

                I would mod you up if I had points. I have been refuting this until I am blue in the face.

                It has nothing to do with popularity. Fact is in 1999 all you had to do was wrote a few lines of code in C++ to do a delete a partition and put it in an ocx container for activeX and voila! Anyone visiting your site lost their hard drive! Yes security was that bad in the 1990s with Windows.

          • Look at the development tools. On Windows, you have Visual Studio which makes writing exploits rather easy. It can show you a memory dump of any address, help you debug programs with a very easy UI, and Microsoft is kind enough to provide Detours to let you hook functions in system libraries.

            On the Mac? Honestly, you have to admit that Xcode and other development tools are much less robust than Microsoft's. You'd have to work a lot harder to create malware.

            • by Microlith (54737)

              It can show you a memory dump of any address, help you debug programs with a very easy UI

              This is nothing special, I can do the same with GDB (or rather, DDD.) And GDB/DDD will work on (indeed, come with) OS X.

            • I"m a developer too and I don't think there is a better IDE than UNIX shell and associated tool chain. Of course it requires you to actually learn to read and write instead of clicking on pictures to program (and forget about XCode, it's a complete crap). There are really good tools for OS X like dtrace, disassemblers, assemblers, gcc, gdb etc. Anything you may imagine doing, there is a tool for it out of the box so to speak. Yes, these tools are just not packaged into MDI interface with dumb editor, but th
          • by the_humeister (922869) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @07:15PM (#35333636)

            No kidding. I use Plan 9, and I have never gotten malware. Definitely it's due to its better security architecture.

        • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @07:48PM (#35333818)

          Apple is historically months behind in patching publicly disclosed vulnerabilities in core libraries they share with other Unix-like systems (Samba and Java are two key examples).

          This is interesting because as of Lion, Apple isn't maintaining a JVM. Samba isn't even running by default. That doesn't mean it isn't an issue, but it also doesn't mean OS X is particularly vulnerable as a desktop as a result. The small number of exposed services makes many of those potential vulnerabilities fairly moot. Add onto that the default sandboxing for some services and the increased use in the next version, probably has a lot more real world impact than rate up updating libraries that are not exposed on the majority of users' systems. For example, the zeroconf daemon exploits a few years ago were problematic on numerous OS's but were completely ineffective against OS X because of the MAC sanboxing.

          Overall code robustness is abysmal in any Apple product I've assessed--they fall over with trivial fuzzing or a few hours of analysis.

          It seems like some Apple products are really hit and miss in this regard. Some of the developers are very security conscious and some seem to give little or no thought to security at all.

          They're an absolute pain in the ass to deal with when trying to resolve a responsibly reported vulnerability: they often don't seem to have qualified people triaging inbound reports, and when they do finally acknowledge the correct severity of a reported issue it can take years before they finally push out a fix.

          That has not been my experience. My former company submitted a small number of vulnerabilities to Apple through the public facing bug report system, and they were reasonably responsive, replying within a week or two and doing a good job of crediting us with the fix in the next security patch.

          And to top it all off, their core security counter-measures (e.g. ASLR and NX) are useless as anything more than marketing fluff because they're not implemented consistently.

          Their NX is well implemented from my understanding. Did you have a specific complaint about it? ASLR is only applied to libraries, but is applied widely in Lion. The sandboxing is well implemented but not ubiquitous and is more widely applied to userspace apps in Lion (we'll see how far). The malware detection is half assed and I've heard nothing about improvements in Lion. But it sounds like most of your complaints in this regard are already on the table in Lion.

          The only reason every Mac isn't infested with malware is that they're not a big enough chunk of the market for it to be worth the effort.

          You are way, way, way oversimplifying. Their market share is plenty to be attractive. Not having to fight other bot operators over the Mac market share would be very profitable. There are worms now with dozens of different Windows attacks fighting over the small share of vulnerable Windows systems, adding macs to that would be a considerable increase. Also, if you work in network security you are no doubt aware of the trend towards malware that mines data such as account info and credit card and bank account info. Macs would be a goldmine in that regard. Rather, I think OS X's lack of exploitation has to do with good choices for default services, some sandboxing, lack of malware author familiarity with non-windows development, and failure to properly create multi-vector worms that contain OS X attacks in conjunction with Windows attacks. Market share alone does not explain what we see in the wild.

          If they ever cross the magic 15% threshold they're in for a very rude awakening.

          People said the same thing with 5% and 10%. Part of the joy of arbitrary goalposts in internet forums is the lack of accountability. They're so easy to shift over time... unless, of course, you have specific reasons and data to suggest why 15% would be the specific number we need to consider.

        • The only reason every Mac isn't infested with malware is that they're not a big enough chunk of the market for it to be worth the effort. If they ever cross the magic 15% threshold they're in for a very rude awakening.

          Like everyone you mix up market share with install base.
          Who cares how many "compputers" a company is selling per year? Only investors ....
          The install base of Macs is likely around 30% in 1st world countries.
          The Mac is per definition more secure, despite of your good points, as a user is not ru

          • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Sunday February 27, 2011 @09:42PM (#35334458) Journal

            Uhhh...you DO know none of the problems you listed apply to Windows since Vista, yes? Let us be consistent here, I mean it isn't like we are comparing Win 7 to system 7 either, so at least compare like to like.

            And if Mac is so secure, why does it consistently fall first in "pwn to own"? To me pwn to own seems like the fairer test, since you A.-have an equal reason to pwn all three machines (because you get to keep it and they are nice machines) and B.-have the same bog standard software like flash that a good 90%+ of the public is likely to have.

            The simple fact is ALL OSes are seriously complex pieces of code now, and with complexity comes vulnerability. The main weakness in Windows (running as admin) was removed with Vista and now with 7 you simply never run as admin (even the admin account in 7 has less rights than the old XP admin, and like *NIX and OSX is almost never needed) and with DEP, ASLR, and file and registry virtualization Windows has gotten pretty damned secure. Sadly though all the security in the world doesn't stop social engineering and working PC repair I can tell you nearly every infected PC that crosses my desk was infected by the user via social engineering tactics.

    • TFS is poorly worded; but refers to the fact that(while Windows suffers the, er, Lion's... share of attacks) Microsoft has been much more aggressive with rolling out architectural changes like ASLR, driver signing, etc. In pwn2own and like contests, the Windows systems are now most typically taken down by flaws in the (still deeply sucktastic) set of commonly used 3rd party software.
    • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @04:59PM (#35332762)

      as much as Mac OS X has a reputation for being safer than Windows, security researchers won't hesitate to point out that the opposite is, in fact, true.

      I'm sorry, what? Windows is "safer" than OS X? "In fact"?

      Every single year, OSX loses the Pwn2Own competition first. Windows and Linux always go down on the same day. No matter what version has been current, OSX has always been less secure than Windows when both are up to date on patches. If Apple changes its security culture, it could mean big things for Apple in corporate environments.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:17PM (#35332846)

        If Apple changes its security culture, it could mean big things for Apple in corporate environments.

        I don't think I'll live to see the day that I hear, "Nobody ever got fired for buying Apple," like I've heard for both IBM and Microsoft.

        Corporations buy the OS that the applications run on. Period. Security will forever be a redheaded stepchild.

        • by Kenja (541830)
          "We should switch to IBM Lotus Domino/Notes!"

          "You're fired."
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Every single year, OSX loses the Pwn2Own competition first.

        Could just be that the hackers want the mac the most ;-)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Pwn2Own has never been about "which is more secure". It's *always* been about glory and headlines. It's also been said at least twice (2009 and 2010) that a primary motivation for hacking the Macbook was because it was considered more valuable.

        Want to see which is the most secure OS? Hook a Win 7, OS X, and standard Linux install (let's say Ubuntu) up to an unfiltered network port and see which drops first.

        • by kestasjk (933987) *

          Pwn2Own has never been about "which is more secure". It's *always* been about glory and headlines. It's also been said at least twice (2009 and 2010) that a primary motivation for hacking the Macbook was because it was considered more valuable.

          Citation needed, I've read interviews of these people on many occasions and have never heard that.

          Want to see which is the most secure OS? Hook a Win 7, OS X, and standard Linux install (let's say Ubuntu) up to an unfiltered network port and see which drops first.

          Probably none will; remotely exploitable holes in a default install (requiring no user interaction) are practically non existent due to inbound firewalls.

      • by node 3 (115640) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:28PM (#35332930)

        You mean, once the contest enters the phase where you can run a program remotely, people attack the Mac first, because they want to win the Mac, and Windows and Linux are successfully attacked minutes later.

        • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:47PM (#35333052)

          You mean, once the contest enters the phase where you can run a program remotely, people attack the Mac first, because they want to win the Mac, and Windows and Linux are successfully attacked minutes later.

          No, he means exactly what he said. OSX is less secure then Windows. Charlie Miller (the guy who takes down the Macs first) has mentioned this in an interview here [threatpost.com]. While Apple has improved their security, they are still behind Windows.

          Many pundits have made a lot of the fact that the Mac was the first to be exploited in the Pwn2Own contest. Was the choice of the Mac as the first target because the hardware/operating system combo was more desirable as a prize than the commodity Windows laptops of the other competitors? Or was it just because Macintosh exploits occur with much less frequency than Windows exploits and would therefore be more newsworthy?

          So until this year, applications on Apple were way easier to exploit than Windows. This is because Apple had weak ASLR and no DEP while Windows had full ASLR and DEP. This year, Snow Leopard has DEP, so its no longer trivial to exploit. In fact, I have lots of bugs in Safari that I easily could have exploited on Leopard but will be very difficult on Snow Leopard. So it used to be that that it was much worse, but now its mostly comparable (although still slightly behind)

      • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:39PM (#35333008)

        So it may be less secure. That doesn't mean that it isn't safer. If I had an unlocked house in the middle of the countryside with no one else around, I'd be safe, but not secure. If I had an apartment in the ghetto with with bars on the windows and locks on the doors, I'd be secure, but hardly safe. Granted, the situations aren't that extreme here, but it bugs me when people conflate the two. While I don't believe that security through obscurity is solely responsible for the general lack of Mac malware, there definitely are less people making an effort at exploiting it compared to Windows.

      • by F.Ultra (1673484)

        Windows and Linux always go down on the same day.

        That's strange since Linux has never been a target at Pwn2Own...

      • OK, I'll bite. What does Apple have to do to "change their security culture"?

        Use POSIX-standards of security and auditing? Check.
        Have noted security experts examine their OS before its released? Yeah, that's TFA.
        What is missing?

        • by yuhong (1378501)

          I think it is a lot about the arrogance set by fanboys etc.

        • by PCM2 (4486)

          I don't know much about Apple's "security culture," but since you're asking what's missing from your list, the missing piece would be acting upon the information they receive and releasing security patches on a timely basis.

          • by Cronock (1709244)

            I don't know much about Apple's "security culture," but since you're asking what's missing from your list, the missing piece would be acting upon the information they receive and releasing security patches on a timely basis.

            This is Apple's Achilles' heel, and what they're working to resolve. Look at the recent high profile security hires and it should be rather apparent they at least have a few dedicated people on it these days, when before they would just set a keyboard in a monkey's cage and wait him to pound in a fix.

        • by kestasjk (933987) *
          Better disclosure, a faster patch release cycle, longer back-porting of patches and security features to older releases. There are a few things that would help, and it looks like they've recognized this and are moving in the right direction.
      • by bdsesq (515351)

        OS X doesn't fail. It is either Java or Flash that gets the system in trouble.
        You may have noticed that the Pwn2Own contest is run against stock systems.
        Now that flash and java are not on the system when it ships lets see who fails first.

        And just as a side note the person who crashes OS X first is an Apple hater.
        If he was a windows hater I wonder which system would go down first......

        Even with that OS X passes the first day of testing. So does windows.
        It is only when they can get to the keyboard and send

      • No it won't (Score:5, Informative)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @10:47PM (#35334824)

        Apple's problem in corporate environments is there complete and utter lack of understanding and support of a real enterprise. They want to play make believe at enterprise support but they don't take it seriously. It is a disaster and only getting worse. We've been looking at integrating Macs in to a lab (and we are going to) but will need 3rd party software to make it work well.

        Some big noteworthy things they've done recently are discontinue servers and screw over virtualization. So you can't buy a blade server, the most popular kind of server, for Macs anymore. You can buy a Mac mini, an overpriced tiny little desktop thing ($1000 for a Core 2 Duo server box) and use that, or you can buy a Mac Pro tower. That's it. No rack servers. Ya that is real enterprise support.

        In terms of virtualization VMWare fully supports OS-X server, client tools and all... However Apple won't license it to run on anything but Mac hardware. So if you want Mac VM servers you have to buy a Mac Pro tower and find a place to put that, then get VMWare Fusion on it, which is a desktop solution, not a server one, then virtualize OS-X server on that. That Big rack of high availability, bare-metal ESXi servers that you run Windows, Linux, etc on? Nope, fuck you can't run OS-X on it because Apple says so.

        Apple will never get big in corporate environments until they get real with enterprise support. Not half assed solutions, real support.

    • by polaris20 (893532) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:17PM (#35332848)
      The wording is indeed poor. Charlie Miller (made famous by Pwn2Own, hacking OS X and iOS) has stated several times that OS X is not more secure than Windows, it is safer. Safer != Secure. He goes on to say he prefers OS X, and still recommends it over Windows. Would you rather be the guy wearing a bullet proof vest running into gun fire, or the guy wearing just a T-shirt, but not even in the same county? Until OS X reaches a level of market penetration that Windows has, it'll continue to be less attractive to hackers for profit. Sorry OS X users (myself included): our OS isn't the most secure out there. Security by obscurity isn't security.
      • by ZeissIcon (67281) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @06:01PM (#35333128)

        From the Charlie Miller interview mentioned elsewhere in this thread...

        Another question from the Twittersphere: What OS/browser pairing to you use? Do you do anything special (beyond default settings) to secure yourself while browsing?

        You're not trying to pwn me are you??? Have you ever heard the saying about the cobbler's kids not having shoes? That's me, I'm afraid. I use Safari on OSX with no special settings. This isn't the most secure combination, by any stretch of the imagination, but I like it. It's designed by Apple engineers to be easy to use and 'just work' and it does. The risk of malware is low, and hey, I'm a security expert right :) The risk of a targeted attack is real, except I don't think I'm important enough to be targeted! So I rely on security by obscurity, I guess

      • I agree that safer != secure, but it is disingenuous to suggest that safer = less secure, and to even remotely incinuate that using Windows is like wearing a bullet-proof vest. The summary isn't merely poorly worded, it is a troll.
        • by polaris20 (893532)
          Apologies, I didn't mean to suggest that safer means less secure. Obviously the two aren't always hand in hand. And a bullet proof vest probably is a bad analogy; how about wearing a vest made of aluminum cans? I kid, I kid. :)
    • by kimvette (919543)

      I'm sorry, what? Windows is "safer" than OS X? "In fact"?

      Of course it is; look at how many patches Microsoft releases to improve Windows security. If Apple were better at their job they would release more patches, would they not? Obviously if Apple isn't constantly in firefight modes releasing patches, they're just being lazy. ;)

    • I agree. Citation needed, Bill. Citation needed.

    • by gig (78408) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @06:59PM (#35333532)

      Yeah, it is fucking ridiculous.

      Windows is a tire fire of botnets and viruses. There are banks who give free iPads to their high value transaction customers so their money transfers don't end up in a malware author's account.

      Charlie Miller, the guy who wins the Mac every year at pwn to own, recommends users buy Macs and refuse to install FlashPlayer if they want to be as safe as possible. Just the fact that Mac OS X no longer comes with FlashPlayer and Java reduces the attack surface.

      I mean, just Unix and Software Update alone are better advantages than anything Windows has. It doesn't matter that Windows 7 has some tricks the Mac doesn't have when Windows 7 runs 80% of XP malware.

      I have friends who take their Windows machine in twice a year to get malware cleaned off it. How can that possibly be safer than a platform that has no viruses?

      And 90% of Mac users are using the latest version and receive patches automatically from Apple within a week. More than half of Windows users are on XP. It is pathetic.

      > Apple is historically months
      > behind in patching publicly
      > disclosed vulnerabilities
      > in core libraries they share
      > with other Unix-like systems

      First, we're talking about fucking Windows, not other Unix.

      Apple is slower in deploying a patch than other Unix because it has to work for non-technical users, but then the patch goes out to 90% of the community within a week via their automatic Software Update system, and almost the entire 100% within a month. That removes the incentive to create a commercial exploit. There just aren't going to be enough users to exploit. On Windows, most machines are not up to date on their patches. It's results that matter — % of platform patched, value of exploits lowered — not just how fast you create a patch.

      > Java

      Mac OS X Lion does not ship with Java, and the Java that runs on it is made by Oracle.

      Are you saying you recommend Windows over Mac to a non-technical user?

      Even recommending another Unix to a Mac user is ridiculous, because they are not going to know how to patch it.

      Really, the nerd-blindness in your comment is disheartening. Be practical.

  • How about paying reputable security researchers (or testers) to evaluate the software?

  • Click Here to Install Silverlight!

  • by lennier1 (264730)

    Someone doesn't want to wait until the next Pwn2Own?

  • They should take a hint from Ubuntu. Their names always raise some complaint, but they are funny, intriguing and more importantly they sound like new stuff. Cat ++; is meh.

  • IIRC, this is the version in which they will no longer deliver a Java VM. This alone will drop the vulnerability and patch count significantly. Can anyone with the preview confirm that it is/is not included?
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @05:49PM (#35333058)

    It is disappointing to see the comments thus far have not bothered to mention what potential security improvements are likely to be in the final version of Lion and how effective they might be. So far the ones I've heard mentioned include:

    • ASLR applied to more than just the libraries.
    • More ubiquitous use of the sandboxing framework, enough so that there are now bugs around applications being unable to save files if the file name changes in the Finder, while open in the app.
    • Dropping the custom java runtime, and making a deal with Oracle to maintain it alongside the Windows JVM.
    • A new full disk encryption system built in (branded the same as the old Filevault) with a rapid system wipe.
    • Webkit2 with a sandboxed thread model.

    I'm sure in more security oriented forums there will be some good analysis of these new features, how well implemented they are, and how effective they are likely to be. The Mac App Store offers some potential security improvements by standardizing application updates and pushing them out more quickly and widely and hopefully encouraging developers to make more use of security frameworks already present. Personally, I think the sandboxing combined with the Mac App Store could be a huge boon to security if Apple can get enough developers on board, but I'm not sure if Apple will go that route. Hopefully feedback from experts will help push them in that direction.

  • Metric that counts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cratermoon (765155) on Sunday February 27, 2011 @07:20PM (#35333660) Homepage

    Here's the only metric that really counts in my book.

    If you've ever done desktop support for your friends and family, count up the times you've had to go in and clean up a rooted, malware-laden mess on Windows, either by running a full, time-consuming, malware scan and removal, or just doing a reformat and reinstall. Now do the same thing for your OS X user friends. Adjust for market share and compare the numbers.

    Yeah, brb, going over to friend's house for free beer after I fix his Windows infection.

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