Mac OS X as Preventive Medicine

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Consolidation on a single desktop and server operating system is a popular idea, but when it comes to security, homogeneity can be a liability. Adding systems running Mac OS X can help create a heterogeneous environment that presents a defense against particularly threatening viruses that target a single operating system.

John Welch, information systems manager for the MIT Police Department in Cambridge, Mass., argues that homogeneous computing environments make it easier for viruses to propagate. "If your network got the Klez virus, for example, in a homogeneous [operating system] population, you're at a much greater risk," he says. Ideally, Welch suggests, you should deploy servers with alternate operating systems throughout your network, which will slow the virus' infection rate.

Apple Computer Inc.'s "Xserve can be that server to break up the virus," he says.

Welch's argument is supported by research reports showing that heterogeneous biological systems have a better defense against deadly intrusions that spread rapidly among homogeneous populations. And studies such as the IBM white paper. "How Topology Affects Population Dynamics," and the University of California, Berkeley, paper, "Warhol Worms: The Potential for Very Fast Internet Plagues," have shown that the propagation of worms on the Internet is impeded when they encounter systems they can't infect.

By slowing down a computer virus' infection rate, Welch contends, IT managers have a better chance of defending their networks.

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in ComputerWorld.

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