15 Tech Myths: Busted and Confirmed

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Myth 13: Macs are safe from malware attacks.

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Graphic: Chip Taylor

Photograph: Image Courtesy of Apple
True believers in the Mac's inherent impregnability found their faith sorely tested recently, when security researcher Dino Dai Zovi took home a $10,000 prize for remotely hijacking a MacBook Pro running Mac OS 10.4. It took Dai Zovi less than 10 hours to uncover a vulnerability within Apple QuickTime and set up a Web page to exploit it. (Windows versions of QuickTime are also vulnerable to the hack.) Later, in an interview with Computerworld magazine, Dai Zovi declared the Mac OS to be less secure than Vista. (That grinding you hear is the sound of Steve Jobs gnashing his teeth.)

This is hardly the only known Mac exploit. In January, security researcher Kevin Finisterre and a hacker known only as LMH completed the Month of Apple Bugs project, which revealed a new Mac security vulnerability every day. And in February the first Mac OS 10 worm was identified. Considered relatively harmless, the OSX/Leap-A worm spread via Apple's iChat instant messaging application by forwarding itself to the user's buddy list.

Still, Mac users are far less likely to encounter viruses and exploits than Windows users, if only because Windows malware exists in far greater numbers.

Myth 14: Color inkjets that use combination ink cartridges cost more to run than those that use separate cartridges.

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Photograph: Image Courtesy of HP
Here's a bit of common wisdom that actually appears to be true. "With a combination color cartridge, the yellow ink could run out, and you would need to replace the remaining cartridges as well if you wanted to print with yellow," says Epson's Cheryl Taylor. She says that individual ink cartridges maximize efficiency and lower your costs over time.

Basically, that's true, confirms Charlie Brewer, who writes the Hard Copy Supplies Journal, a monthly newsletter about digital imaging supplies. "It costs more to print with most tricolor cartridges than with individual tanks," he says. "Now, there could be instances where the individual tanks are way more expensive than a low-cost tricolor tank, but I can't think of any."

If your printer uses individual cartridges, it pays to make them last as long as possible. To find out how to eke the most out of each cartridge, check out "Six Savvy Ways to Get More Prints for Less Money" for tips on extending the life of your ink cartridges. You'll also want to take a look at ink-saving tips from online store PrintCountry.com.

Myth 15: If someone has hacked your PC or turned it into a zombie, you'd know about it.

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Not necessarily, says Lawrence Baldwin of MyNetWatchman, which tracks bot networks. If hackers have turned your computer into a spambot, for example, your system tray might warn you that your computer is sending hundreds of e-mails--but only if you've got security software scanning your outgoing e-mail. Malware often shuts down your antivirus software, firewall, or Windows Update service so it can operate unfettered on your system.

In fact, says Baldwin, many users are oblivious until their ISP informs them that a bot has been detected at their IP address, or their e-mail starts getting rejected because their address is on a spam blocklist--or the Federal Bureau of Investigation knocks on their door asking why they've been launching denial-of-service attacks. According to Baldwin, it's foolish to rely entirely on security software to protect your computer.

So how can you tell if your PC's been compromised? If your machine suddenly becomes sluggish or takes too long to start up or shut down, it may be infected. "But," he points out, "these could also be symptoms of lots of different things that are potentially unrelated to malware." In most cases, users are to blame for allowing rogue software--such as files downloaded from a peer-to-peer network--to execute on their systems. As Baldwin puts it, "you need to either get smart or get off the Net."

Contrary to popular belief, contributing editor Dan Tynan is not a mythical creature, churning out endless lists for PC World. He is, however, a legend in his own mind.
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