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The security question: Is Windows really unsafe?

At one point during my research for this article, I ran Parallels on my Mac Pro for the first time in a while. I wanted to tweak the virtual machine’s settings, which requires shutting it down. Before I could do so, Windows XP informed me it was installing a few updates. (I have the automatic update enabled.) Eventually, the updates were applied and the virtual machine shut down. I tweaked my Parallels settings and restarted the virtual machine. When XP finished booting up, I was surprised to see Windows’ built-in malware detector pop up on screen.

Somehow, my virtual Windows XP installation had been infected by a member of the rbot family of malicious software. Thankfully, Windows found and removed this hack all by itself.

I hadn’t done much more than surf the Net and run some Office applications on that particular machine. It’s certainly possible that I visited a malicious Web page. Or maybe someone had sniffed out my machine from the Net and attacked it remotely.

But I still have no clue how my Windows XP installation got infected. I’d turned Windows sharing off on my virtual machine, and my home network sits behind a router that uses network address translation to hide my machines’ IP addresses from the Net.

From now on, I’m going to need a good security program for my virtual Windows machines. (Friends have suggested AVG Free, for starters.) I’m not too worried about Windows infections getting to my OS X installation, at least not yet. But I’m glad I’m not a full-time Windows user.—ROB GRIFFITHS

[ Senior Editor Rob Griffiths runs the Web site .]

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