Apple Macs are inherently safer and more secure than Microsoft Windows

“The Macintosh is no safer than Windows,” according to Leo Notenboom, writing for Ask Leo! “I firmly believe that the Macintosh operating system and Mac applications contain their share of vulnerabilities. More than Windows? Fewer than Windows? I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter, because they are there. So why don’t we hear about Mac exploits like we do about Windows?”

Notenboom explains, “I do not own a Macintosh. I’ve come very close a time or two for various reasons, but have yet to do so. What follows is my opinion based on my understanding of the technologies involved, the state of the industry, and some assumptions about how hackers think.” Notenboom is primarily a software engineer concentrating on Microsoft’s Windows platform.

Notenboom writes, “The reason you don’t hear about massive vulnerabilities or spyware or any of that other stuff we’ve come to associate with Windows. Not because it couldn’t be done, but because no one’s bothered to do it. It’s not worth it. This is where we start trying to think like a hacker. If you wanted to cause trouble, would you write something that upset 1 out of every 25 computers? Or would you target the other 24? If you wanted to install spyware, would you write it such that it worked on 4% of computers or 96%? If you hated Microsoft, would you write a virus for the Mac? The answer for all of that should be fairly obvious. Apple and the Macintosh simply aren’t as big a target as Microsoft and Windows. As a result, you are inherently safer on a Mac, because almost no one is actively trying to cause you trouble.”

“The Mac is safer, albeit only because it’s not as big a target,” Notenboom writes. “That’s not to say that Apples aren’t worthwhile computers … in a nutshell, they rock, and I know it. Apple’s known for a superior and consistant user interface, as well as a fairly seamless hardware experience. But Windows wins market share on cost and flexibilty. And given that more market share makes you a bigger target … maybe Apple’s happy to let someone else take the bullets.”

Full article here.

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MacDailyNews Take: Oh, alright, here we go again. First of all, 16% of computer users are unaffected by viruses and assorted malware because they use Apple Macs, not 4%. Wouldn’t a hacker gain the greatest glory by creating the world’s first virus for Mac OS X, instead of virus number 119,587 (or whatever it’s up to today) for Windows? Why not collect the $500 prize for proof of the first Mac OS X virus? There are zero-percent (0%) of viruses for the Mac OS X platform that should, logically, have some 16% of the world’s viruses if platforms’ install bases dictated the numbers of viruses. The fact that Mac OS X has zero (0) viruses discounts “security via obscurity.” There should be at least some Mac OS X viruses. There are none. The reason for this fact is not attributable solely to “obscurity,” it’s attributable to superior security design.

The reason why some desperately (or ignorantly) cling to the “Mac is secure because it’s obscure” myth, is Stockholm Syndrome with a generous dollop of Cognitive Dissonance thrown in for good measure. It might make Windows sufferers feel better, but “Security Via Obscurity” is a myth. The continued repetition of the myth could also be borne of ignorance or a desire to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) to keep Windows users in the fold. Security concerns have become a major reason for people switching from Windows to Mac OS X. The New York Times’ David Pogue explained all about Mac OS X’s superior security versus Windows over two years ago when he admitted he’d fallen for the myth here.

Still not convinced? Try this one on for size: according to Apple, there are “close to 16 million Mac OS X users” in the world and there are still zero (0) viruses. For five years and counting. According to CNET, the Windows Vista Beta was released “to about 10,000 testers” at the time the first Windows Vista virus arrived. So much for the security via obscurity myth.

Could Mac OS X have vulnerablities? Of course, it could. Would Mac OS X ever inflict even a tiny percentage of the damage Windows’ pervasive use has inflicted upon the world. No. Mac OS X is designed to protect the user. More info: Top 10 Mac Security Benefits (pdf).

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Security IT Hub: Apple’s Mac OS X ‘has made security a non-issue for users’ – November 21, 2005
Computer columnist: anti-virus software purely optional for Apple Macs, not so for Windows – November 01, 2005
Microsoft apologists and why Apple’s Mac OS X has zero viruses – October 24, 2005
Windows to Mac switchers: recommendations and Total Cost of Ownership analysis – September 29, 2005
$500 bounty offered for proof of first Apple Mac OS X virus – September 27, 2005
Hackers already targeting viruses for Microsoft’s Windows Vista – August 04, 2005
16-percent of computer users are unaffected by viruses, malware because they use Apple Macs – June 15, 2005
ZDNet: How many Mac OS X users affected by the last 100 viruses? None, zero, not one, not ever – August 18, 2005
Intel CEO Otellini: If you want security now, buy a Macintosh instead of a Wintel PC – May 25, 2005
Apple touts Mac OS X security advantages over Windows – April 13, 2005
97,467 Microsoft Windows viruses vs. zero for Apple Mac’s OS X – April 05, 2005
Apple’s Mac OS X is virus-free – March 18, 2005
Cybersecurity advisor Clarke questions why anybody would buy from Microsoft – February 18, 2005
Security test: Windows XP system easily compromised while Apple’s Mac OS X stands safe and secure – November 30, 2004
Microsoft: The safest way to run Windows is on your Mac – October 08, 2004
Information Security Investigator says switch from Windows to Mac OS X for security – September 24, 2004
Columnist tries the ‘security through obscurity’ myth to defend Windows vs. Macs on virus front – October 1, 2003
New York Times: Mac OS X ‘much more secure than Windows XP’ – September 18, 2003
Fortune columnist: ‘get a Mac’ to thwart viruses; right answer for the wrong reasons – September 02, 2003
Shattering the Mac OS X ‘security through obscurity’ myth – August 28, 2003
Virus and worm problems not just due to market share; Windows inherently insecure vs. Mac OS X – August 24, 2003

76 Comments

  1. Nothing more to say….

    The truth speaks for itself, and we in the “real IT world” have known these facts for years.

    Microsoft administrators have the ability to secure their machines and with a Apple their is nothing to do but hope for the best… and that is not security.

    ©

  2. Sorry Sputnik, my University is an MS favored site and boasts of its closeness to MS engineers. It still doesn’t stop the place getting taken down by viruses.

    “Microsoft administrators have the ability to secure their machines…” Get real.

  3. What hacker would not want to be the first t wreak havoc with Apple. They would love it.

    If you are using a PC at home when there is a better alternative, well good luck with staying on top of the vulnerabilities. It can become a full time job. Matter of fact for most companies it is a full time job:

    Your friendly IT Professional and he is probably not ever going to recommend a Mac.

  4. Not worth it? A successful Mac virus is the biggest prize there currently is for a hacker. No other exploit will get you more fame and recognition than a successful OSX exploit. Windows viruses are pasé.

  5. Thanks Sputnik.

    I noticed that Leo didn’t answer the questions that his reader asked, so I helped out by leaving a comment that did answer the readers questions.

    Also, I noticed that Leo worked for M$ for years and now makes his living as a “consultant”. I don’t think that his FUD is that surprising.

  6. “Microsoft administrators have the ability to secure their machines and with a Apple their is nothing to do but hope for the best”

    Thats because every IT guy I’ve ever met is a lazy slug that resues to even take 10 minutes to look at the system prefs panel. La La la stick fingers in ears la la la dont want to hear it, might cost me my job la la la.

    Face it moron, it has everything to do with job security for YOU and those like you. Buncha technical college dropouts.

  7. I have a copy of the unclassified document from the National Secutity Agency (the most hush-hush of the American spy agencies):

    Apple Mac OS X 10.3.x “Panther” – Security Configuration Guide

    1) What do you want to bet there is no equivalent guide for Windows? Has anyone seen it?
    2) Does anyone know if this NSA document has been updated for Tiger?

    This is security from the most serious professionals. I think they are on to something.

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