Why is Apple’s Mac OS X so much more secure than Microsoft’s Windows?

BBC News “ClickBack” program’s online column answers questions and comments from viewers on technology matters:

Henry Winckelmann from Oxford said:
I’m disappointed, but not particularly surprised, to see you reporting on potential security issues on the yet to be released Windows Vista. Isn’t it true to say that any such piece which does not refer to secure operating systems with a proven track record (such as Mac OS X) is simply encouraging ignorance in the computer-using population? Shouldn’t you at least state the obvious, namely that there are wildly better, well proven alternatives to the feature-poor, insecure code which finds its way out of Microsoft?

BBC’s ClickBack:
Welcome to the age-old argument about which is more secure – Windows, Linux or OSX.

Henry, if you are saying that Mac OSX has had less security attacks than Windows, then you are absolutely right. No-one has ever denied that.

The question has always been: Why? Is it because it is more secure? Or is it because fewer people try to hack Apple?

All the security experts we have spoken to say the same thing – whilst OSX is a beautiful piece of software, it is still a highly sophisticated operating system, and it still receives regular security patches, just like Windows.

Apple only has small percentage of the market, tiny compared to Microsoft, and the logic is that if you are going to write a piece of malware that goes after the most people, do you write it for OSX, which, according to Apple, has around 15 million users, or do you go for Windows, which, depending on whose numbers you use, has anything up to a billion users?

I think it is a fair argument.

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Mr Skills” for the heads up.]

MacDailyNews Take: Note first that ClickBack did not answer Mr. Winckelmann’s central question, to paraphrase, why did their report on personal computer security fail to mention the most secure PCs, Apple Macs?

Now, in their response, ClickBack asks whether Mac OS X is inherently more secure OR is Mac OS X more secure because fewer people try to hack it. The response is flawed. The real answer is quite simple: Mac OS X is inherently more secure AND Mac OS X is secure because fewer people try to hack it.

There are 19 million Mac OS X users according to Apple (Steve Jobs, WWDC 2006), not 15 million as ClickBack states. Regardless, this is certainly a smaller number than Windows users, but it is not a small number by any stretch of the imagination. The only small number is the number of Mac OS X viruses in the wild that have affected Mac OS X users: zero (0). The absence of a single virus, for over five years of Mac OS X’s existence, proves the platform’s inherent security. It is not without flaws, however: flaws that Apple routinely fixes before they affect users. Since fewer hackers are looking to exploit Mac OS X (and because Mac OS X’s Unix foundation is time-tested by decades of use), Mac OS X users are even safer.

Windows suffers such massive and ongoing security woes for the inverse reasons that Mac OS X avoids such issues: Windows is inherently insecure and Windows is insecure because many people try to hack it.

By design, Mac OS X is simply more secure than Windows. For reference and reasons why Mac OS X is more secure than Windows, read The New York Times’ David Pogue’s mea culpa on the subject of the “Mac Security Via Obscurity” myth here.

Related articles:
Apple Macs are far more secure than Windows PCs – September 26, 2006
Chicago Tribune falls for the ‘Security Via Obscurity’ myth – August 14, 2006
Oxymoron: Microsoft security – August 12, 2006
With exploits in wild, Microsoft Windows braces for yet another critical worm attack – August 11, 2006
Microsoft’s oft-delayed, much-pared-down Windows Vista hacked at Black Hat – August 07, 2006
Ballmer analyzes Microsoft’s One Big Mistake, Vista… er, ‘One Big’ Vista Mistake – August 02, 2006
Symantec details more security holes in Microsoft’s Windows Vista – July 26, 2006
Symantec researcher: At this time, there are no file-infecting viruses that can infect Mac OS X – July 13, 2006
Sophos: Apple Mac OS X’s security record unscathed; Windows Vista malware just a matter of time – July 07, 2006
Sophos Security: Dump Windows, Get a Mac – July 05, 2006
What Microsoft has chopped from Windows Vista, and when – June 27, 2006
Security company Sophos: Apple Mac the best route for security for the masses – December 06, 2005

Apple: ‘Get a Mac. Say ‘Buh-Bye’ to viruses’ – June 01, 2006
Apple Macs and viruses: Fact vs. FUD – May 26, 2006
‘Mac security’ garbage reports continue to proliferate – May 10, 2006
ZDNet: Reduce OS X security threats – ignore security software – May 05, 2006
Unix expert: Mac OS X much more secure than Windows; recent Mac OS X security stories are media hype – May 03, 2006
Macs and viruses: the true story – May 02, 2006
Anti-Mac FUD machine shifts into overdrive – May 01, 2006
FUD Alert: Viruses don’t catch up to the Mac – May 01, 2006
BusinessWeek: Apple should hire security czar to combat uninformed media FUD – March 09, 2006
Spate of recent Mac security stories signal that Microsoft, others getting nervous – March 06, 2006
Mafiasoft: Microsoft to charge $50 per year for security service to protect Windows – February 07, 2006
Computer columnist: anti-virus software purely optional for Apple Macs, not so for Windows – November 01, 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

90 Comments

  1. Of course virus writers would try to be the first to crack OS X. Look at those two bozos from Security Works who faked a security hole in a driver to get at Mac users. Heck, one of the morons even insulted Mac users and their “smuggness.”

  2. i’m still waiting for all that malware and those security problems that we Mac users were promised eariler this year. remember all those warnings of doom? dire predictions of the imminent crash of Mac systems worldwide? all the Windows fanboys and Mac Haters gloating because the Mac platform was finally going to have A VIRUS? well, dammit… I’M STILL WAITING!! lordy knows i wanna go out and spend money on antivirus crapware. yeeeah… riiiiiight.

    as i’ve said before, when the Mac malware starts flyin’, call me. i can be reached at 867-5309.

  3. Well since ClickBack’s “experts” say that Mac OS X is only more secure than Windows because it’s not as popular, then I’m not interested in Mac OS X.

    If on the other hand Mac OS X were more secure than Windows because of some inherent design, then I would switch immediately (if not sooner).

    Therefore, I will stick with the sticking cesspool that is Windows.

    Bunch a fsking idiots!

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  4. This is crazy. So in the same breath, one can argue that Rolls Royces and Lambourghinis are more secure than Honda Accords because fewer people attempt to steal them than they do Honda Accords. (because there are fewer of them made than Honda Accords. What’s this person’s e-mail address so I can have a go at him?

  5. Why OS X is not affected by viruses should be irrelevent for the target audience. Why don’t these bozoes simply come to the logical conclusion of their own argument :

    Macs are more secure now, and if we follow their logic (or ours) will remain so for a long time.

    Same conclusion wether it’s from inherent design or less market share or both :

    Just get a Mac now !!!

  6. good ol bbc taking our money by force through tv licencing producing such bullshit as this that stupid fu*k*n wedding movie and all the other crap digital channels that just show repeats and now taking to practicing politician tatics of avoiding the question by giving an different answer

  7. Wow, such unashamed bias from the Beeb, a news service. Like the guy who wrote that piece is a public relations officer at M$.

    Yeas, we’ve heard it all before a thousand times, but this is different, this is the BBC!

    I am really quite shocked at the implications, when I think about them. It means the BBC cannot be trusted to be telling you the truth, or giving honest or competent advice, on ANY subject.

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