I have always preferred PCs over MACs. The first computer I started on however was an Apple ][e followed of course by the Mac Classic. Shortly after that I discovered PC’s and MS-DOS and I was hooked. Over recent years I’ve had numerous debates and conversations with individuals over which system is safer, Mac’s or PC’s?
Mac’s less susceptible to malware?
I think the general perception is that Mac’s are safer, but I don’t believe that the general public sees the whole picture. Apple would love for us to believe that they are dominantly better when it comes to security, and most people think they are less susceptible to malware with a Mac. Is this an accurate picture? Looking at the most current operating systems for both machines (Windows 7 and Mac OS X) it seems that the majority of security experts agree; one or the other there isn’t a big difference. Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist at Cryptography Research is quoted as saying, “The fair answer is that with the latest versions of each operating system there isn’t a compelling security reason to pick one or the other. It used to be that Apple was doing a better job, but with Windows 7 Microsoft has caught up.”
The biggest concern for the average home user is the threat of being infected with a virus. With this in mind I can understand why the average user thinks Macs are safer. Simply put there is not the same number of malware threats for Macs as there are for PCs. Mac’s hold only about 10% of the market share (Some sources say as low as 5.8%), for that reason alone the hackers that are writing malware are investing their time in targeting PCs, it’s simply a bigger market. Charlie Miller, a principal analyst at consultancy Independent Security Evaluators, says “At some point the market share of Macs will reach a threshold to interest attackers, and then things will quickly turn bad for Mac users.”
Thinking of buying a mac?
If you’re thinking of buying a mac (and the reason I mention this, is because I have a few friends who are considering making a switch), then determine what’s motivating the switch and why. You must be aware that you are dealing with two platforms that will always have vulnerabilities. There is no impervious system. They both need to be updated and patched on a regular basis, they both have bugs, and they can both be exploited by hackers when zero-day’s are found.
My favorite quote on the topic comes from Joe Stewart, director of malware research at SecureWorks: “The answer is ‘for the average user, at this moment in time it is less risky to use Mac OS than Windows.’ The paradox is, by promoting that idea we’ve just made Macs a little less safe, since we are potentially increasing Apple’s market share by a tiny fraction, making it more of a viable target over time. Fundamentally Mac and Windows suffer from the same weakness–human programmers make mistakes and users are easily social-engineered. Whichever platform has the most users is ultimately the riskiest to use.”
I think Joe says succinctly what I’ve been attempting to communicate in numerous conversations with friends. Mac’s will not always be as safe as we currently think they are. And the tide is probably turning soon.
Threats will always exist for both systems
Malware will not go away, and it is only going to increase on the Mac side of things. Currently researchers are identifying over 50,000 new malware samples a day on windows systems, so it would be logical to gravitate towards a mac strictly based on current risk of threat. For me it’s just not as fun, tackling malware and cleaning up computers is a fantastic hobby for me. Still nothing beats good old fashioned common sense, if you have some that is. Social-engineering threats exist on both platforms, and if you don’t browse safe you’re liable to click on that threat and invite the malware right into your home, maybe giving away some critical personal information in the process. It happens every day.
An excellent article with more quotes can be found on CNET, PC vs. Mac in Security: Experts Share their opinions.
As well Paul Henry recently wrote an article titled Yes Virginia, Mac’s Can Get Viruses, read it on his blog.
So fill us in, what platform do you feel most secure on?