Is Mac OS X really inherently more secure than Windows?

Paul Thurrott writes for WinInformant.com, “After a summer of repeated virus and worm attacks, security experts and bored editors are turning once again to an interesting question: How many times does Microsoft software have to be attacked before we stop using it? The situation has become so bad that you can almost hear pundits from the Mac OS X, Linux, and Sun Microsystems side of the fence rubbing their hands in glee. Have we had enough? Is Windows inherently insecure? Of course not. We’re targets because we represent 95 percent of the computing population. Attackers aren’t going to attack Mac OS X users for an obvious reason: The OS has only a few users. If we all jumped ship to Linux, for example, that platform would then come under attack.

“‘The Wall Street Journal’ pundit Walt Mossberg got it all wrong when he wrote that ‘switching to Macs can help users avoid hassle of viruses,’ because if we all did that, the Macintosh would become the target. Apple hasn’t invested in security the way Microsoft has, so the situation would be even worse. And nothing about switching to the Mac helps us with our current applications, hardware investments, and years of experience on Windows. No, what we really need is for the industry to rally around the notion of securing Windows instead of wasting time with silly talk. If you think that the Mac is safer, go for it. But don’t complain when you can’t run the applications or games you want, the hardware is too expensive, or the performance isn’t quite what you’re used to. Sure, the grass is often greener on the other side of the fence, but remember, that statement is true from the other side as well,” Thurrott writes here.

Do you agree with Thurrot’s simplistic concept that Mac OS X security is achieved solely though obscurity? Or do you think The Washington Posts Rob Pegoraro is closer to the mark when he writes, “Windows XP, by default, provides unrestricted, ‘administrator’ access to a computer. This sounds like a good thing but is not, because any program, worms and viruses included, also has unrestricted access. Yet administrator mode is the only realistic choice: XP Home’s ‘limited account,’ the only other option, doesn’t even let you adjust a PC’s clock.”

Pegoraro writes, “Mac OS X and Linux get this right: Users get broad rights, but critical system tasks require entering a password. If, for instance, a virus wants to install a “backdoor” for further intrusions, you’ll have to authorize it. This fail-safe isn’t immune to user gullibility and still allows the total loss or theft of your data, but it beats Windows’ anything-goes approach.”

“Because Microsoft blew off security concerns for so long, millions of PCs remain unpatched, ready for the next Windows-transmitted disease. Microsoft needs to do more than order up another round of ‘Protect Your PC’ ads,” writes Pegoraro. “Here’s a modest proposal: Microsoft should use some of its $49 billion hoard to mail an update CD to anybody who wants one. At $3 a pop (a liberal estimate), it could ship a disc to every human being on Earth — and still have $30 billion in the bank.” Full article here.

35 Comments

  1. I’m laughing so hard I’m going to puke. This is someone who’s fundamental belief system is being so seriously challenged, he’s sticking his fingers in his ears and repeating “la la la” in a loud voice.

    There is only one necessary program that is missing from the Mac, and that is a decent Exchange client.

  2. The more I read from Thurrott, the more I realize he is either an idiot or in denial. He actually criticizes Microsoft quite frequently, but then claims its still better than everything else. I guess he’s like other Windows supporters. I think they are all junkies. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they can’t help it. They are addicted.

    Our network here at work was hit hard by the viruses the last several days. Everyone was scared that their machine would get infected. Of course, me being the Linux Admin, I was not concerned at all about my servers. My desktop was running Linux and my iBook was right next to it. I wasn’t worried at all. I was pissed that our network was slow, but at least I wasn’t going down. Now they want to have a meeting to discuss how to prevent the viruses from infiltrating our network. I know what I’ll be offering.

  3. I got my company to start adding Macs by suggesting that we pepper the office with a few in case of a virus attack. Now those few Macs are gaining popularity within the office.

  4. Paul Thurrott states the virus / non-security situation like there’s not really a problem.

    My God, they say it like it’s a point of pride. Like ooh, our donuts cause anal leakage.

    Nuff said

  5. Talk about sticking your head in the sand. Thurrott is just in total denial as are the majority of Windows users these past couple of weeks thru all of these attacks. Just let them believe whatever they like. They’ll continue to have to deal with viruses and worms while the rest of us that know better will not. You can lead them to the water, but you can’t make them drink it…

  6. Paul Thurott is like the Iraqi Information Minister.
    He will not believe Windows is a POS, even if Bill send him a nice hand written letter thanking him for his part in obtaining world domination through information theft.
    Shortly thereafter Bill will release copies of PT’s E-journal, obtained through the nice backdoors in PT’s wonderful MS software, describing his latest breakdown due to stress from keeping up with MS updates.

  7. These non-tech MSFT apologists seem to miss the obvious– that most MSFT viruses are a problem because of Microsoft’s sheer stupidity– leaving ports open with “sobig” and allowing email attachments to auto-exec (”I love you”, from a few years back). Virii occur on the Mac– remember the OS 8.X autostart worm, but with much less frequency. the problem isn’t hackers looking to make the widest possible impact; its that fact that the stupidity level at Apple is WAY less than at MSFT.

    Anyone catch that NPR story (no doubt “commissioned” by MSFT) about the hard quiz question MSFT grills interviewee’s with? My question: if they DO hire smart people– where do they end up? Do they piss off bozo-Allchin and get fired? Or maybe they just all go over to the Mac BU. My expereince is that MSFT’s Mac products suck les than their Windows products.

  8. I can’t believe this guy thinks that Windows is hit because it has a 95% market share (his numbers, not mine), but that it wouldn’t be a good thing to then diversify the market. What if Mac, Windows, and Linux all had about 33% of the market, wouldn’t that lesson the effects of viruses?

  9. Also, the government has to take it’s far share of the blame on this Microsoft thing. If they’d look for alterntives to Microsoft, then their employees and outside contractors would switch as well to be on the same platform. No more monopoly, no more being able to target the weak guy with the market share.

  10. i have more macs(4) than i do pcs(2).
    but still, i hope i dont sound too biased to mac users.

    there are a few reasons why my main work machines are pcs;
    – i can secure my system so i dont have most of these problems.
    – they perform better.

    i love mac aesthetics and design, (which is what i do myself, so i’m not a techie 🙁 ) but i can tell when i takes less time to render a scene on my pc.

    * caveat – this is based on g3 and g4 macs. the g5s look and sound good, so i’ll have to give it a go.

    cost isn’t a problem for me, so i just buy whatever performs best. i dont like to see pc users bash mac users about cost – more money spent doesn’t automatically mean you’ve got a better product. and i think mac users shouldn’t be so defensive.

    i hope i haven’t offended anyone. take care all.

  11. Paul Thurott has been bashing Macs for as long as I can remember, and he usually ends his tirades with “The company deserves good hardware on which to run its excellent software” to make sure his inbox doesn’t fill up too fast with Mac users lambasting another one of his lame articles. I seriously think Mr. Thurott has risen to his level of stupidity by trying to emulate his idol, Bill Gates.

  12. UNIX, the basis of OS X, has been around for three decades. As a result, the holes in it have been fixed. Various virii, worms, trojans, etc., simply can’t get it unless people open new holes (such as turning off the firewall). It’s true that OS X also has security through obscurity, but you would think that at least one bozo would have created an OS X specific virus since this OS’s introduction 2 years ago. So far, the score is Windows: 70,000, Mac OS 9 and earlier: 50, Mac OS X: zero. Do the math.

  13. its 2:18am here, dead tired.
    sorry for all the spelling mistakes.

    and paul thurott does seem to bash macs a lot.
    though i dont think he’s the worst anti mac guy out there.

    i think a lot of it (bias on either side) has to do with what appeals to the user. macs scare me in one sense (mac’s branding’s a little too strong for me, i just want a powerful and graceful machine) but appeal to me in another, its deft approach to its interface and product design, and being part of a community that seems to have a very strong sense of belonging.

    if macs were a majority of the market, i would have to say some of the appeal is gone (for me, at least).

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