Apple yanks antivirus advice from its Web site

Official calls it 'old and inaccurate,' but researcher blames Apple's penchant for secrecy

Apple late Tuesday yanked a controversial support document from its Web site that had urged Mac users to run antivirus software because the recommendation was "old and inaccurate," a company spokesman said Wednesday.

The document, which had become the focus of considerable discussion among Mac users and security experts this week, is no longer available on Apple's support site. Instead, browsers directed to its location display a generic message : "We're sorry. We can't find the article you're looking for."

"We have removed the KnowledgeBase article because it was old and inaccurate," Apple spokesman Bill Evans said in an e-mail Wednesday.

"The Mac is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious software and security threats right out of the box," he went on. "However, since no system can be 100 percent immune from every threat, running antivirus software may offer additional protection."

The now-missing document was brief -- just 81 words -- but it was enough to stir debate. "Apple encourages the widespread use of multiple antivirus utilities so that virus programmers have more than one application to circumvent, thus making the whole virus-writing process more difficult," the document said. It also listed three antivirus programs from McAfee, Symantec and Intego, a small Mac-only security vendor.

Some users, bloggers and security professionals had viewed the document -- which was actually a revision of one first posted last year -- as a change of heart on the part of Apple, which has poked fun at its biggest rival, Microsoft's Windows, for being susceptible to attacks in several television ads over the years.

Several security researchers applauded the move, and agreed that it was time for Mac users to start buying antivirus software. Others, however, called it a tempest in a teapot -- though not necessarily because they agreed with Evans' contention that the Mac's operating system provides adequate protection against threats.

"There's nothing inherent in the [Mac] OS to stop someone from writing a virus," Charlie Miller, a researcher at Independent Security Evaluators and a noted Mac and iPhone vulnerability hunter, said in an interview Tuesday. "But at this point, no one's taking the effort to go after the Mac."

Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Network Security, called the fracas "a big to-do about nothing," but blamed Apple's attitude as much as anything. "If it wasn't for the fact that Apple has been so smug around malware and viruses and such, this would not have been such a big deal," he said.

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