Is Mac still the safer bet?

Is Mac still the safer bet?

Summary: If my hardware 2.0 email inbox is any barometer to go by, some people are starting to question their decision to switch to Mac.

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If my hardware 2.0 email inbox is any barometer to go by, some people are starting to question their decision to switch to Mac. Here's an email from Jenny that is typical of a few dozen I've had over the past few days:

The other day I came across a news item that said that there are now viruses that affect Mac. I moved from Windows over to Apple because I DIDN'T want to have to deal with antivirus, firewalls and stuff but I'm now starting to get the impression that I'm back and square one having to deal with this stuff, only on my Mac.

I'd appreciate it if you could answer me one question -- is Mac still the safer bet?

This is a tough question for me to answer without making people's blood boil, and believe it or not, that's not something I want to do (especially when it comes to security). That said, here's my take ...

[poll id="420"]

We have to be careful when discussing the relative malware-resistance of different platforms because it's easy to let superiority bias creep in. For example, I've been running on the Windows platform for years, and I manage dozens of Windows boxes right now. All my systems are, and have always been, malware free.  But I've also seen Windows boxes that had malware in spades.

The facts as I see them are that there's far more malware that's targeted at Windows users than any other platform. But that's not the whole story because there's a whole lot more to take into consideration, such as market share, user patterns, specific OS vulnerabilities and applications vulnerabilities.

Malware targeting Mac, especially malware that relies on user's bad habits (such as downloading warez) it not all that unexpected nowadays, especially given Apple's increasing market share. Cyber-criminals follow the money, and Mac users are now seen as worth putting in their sights (in part this is down to so many new Mac users having migrated from Windows).

Is Mac still the safer bet? It depends. If you're happy securing Windows, and do things with your brain engaged (be careful what sites you visit, what you download, and what you run) then there's nothing wrong with Windows. But if these hassles aren't for you, or you just want to be free (or freer) from having to always keep security in the forefront of your mind, then Mac (or Linux ...) is for you. This current bit of malware won't be the last bit to target Mac, and it's likely that Mac users will increasingly need to think about security, for now Mac is still the safer bet.

Before I close, one more point. I'm not suggesting for one minute that people shift to Mac because it's more resistant to malware. I'd suggest that people thinking about making the shift think carefully about the implications and what might be involved in making the shift. It might be easier to learn how to secure your Windows box and taking sensible precautions against allowing the hackers into your digital kingdom.

Topics: Malware, Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems, Security, Software, Windows

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  • I voted yes, I think its still safer for now.

    Time will tell though, as more attention and if people continue to switch over to mac then more malware will begin to be targeted for them.
    NoThomas
    • Me too...

      (NT)
      Sleeper Service
      • The user is always the weakest link

        I think the OS design is more sound on OS X, requiring fewer security layers. But both are equally secure at this point, largely due to the extra security layers added to Windows over the past few years. Windows achieves security through added internal complexity. OS X achieves it more by design.

        For some reason, the majority of Apple users I know seem to be stuck in the 90's with their opinion of Windows. They look at the holes in early XP and think things haven't changed in 9 years. As somebody who has used both OS's a LOT, the difference between Vista or Windows 7 and early XP are night and day. These days the user has to do something fairly stupid on either OS X or Vista in order to have malware problems.

        The REAL problem isn't any particular OS. It is users with no common sense who click on any shiny link, video, picture, or email that strangers send to them. It's users who open any web page link that looks cool. It is users who ignore common sense when creating passwords. Stupid users in general are the real weak link in the security of any operating system.

        I haven't had a malware infection or computer virus on any of my computer systems in over a decade. I still scan for them, but I've never had one.
        BillDem
        • You have noticed that...

          Well, it's blatantly obvious that the users who get viruses are the users that pirate software! It's not a hard thing to figure out; don't pirate, don't get viruses.

          For any honest, savvy computer user, Mac is the hands down choice. For someone like Joe Grandpa, the Mac would be the choice too. Joe could click on any damn link he chooses and not get infected. On the other hand, viruses can be intercepted in a single click on the internet... IF ANY ONLY IF YOU'RE RUNNING WINDOWS!

          It's a no brainer for me. Finally, buying all my software has paid off!
          bitshiftr
          • Disagree...

            ...as market share increase there will be more frequent and more subtle attacks on the Mac. In addition, the security model in Vista and W7 makes it equally as difficult for drive by virii to crack OS X and Linux.
            Sleeper Service
          • Still sleeping?

            Market share only tells how many computers have been sold of a
            specific brand compared to the total amount of all types of
            computers. Why on Earth would a pimpled hacker bother to keep him
            up to date with such irrelevant info?

            No, maybe the size of the installed base may be of interest but that
            too requires a bit of effort, maybe more than market share.

            You see, Macs are now used by more than 15% of the consumers
            worldwide and still no viruses, zilch, while both Vista and W7 are very predictably being hit by malware.

            http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7842013.stm

            Have fun, sucker! ;-)
            Mikael_z
          • RE:Still sleeping

            your comment explains why MAC people will eventually become just as infected. there is so much money backing hackers and virus writers that the concern is not the pimpled young kid writing silly code, its the well organized, highly financed, cyber criminals, that will find effective ways to exploit the MAC computers.
            As the market share increased, and yes, they DO track the markets, Mac will become bigger targets. They will go where the money is. A person that is susceptible to social engineered attacks on a wondows computer will be just as likely to be attacked on a MAC. And they will be exploited. Mac people get out of you bubble. Take the need for security seriously. As your base becomes inundated with ex-windows users that do not know the difference, you will see more effective attacks. The criminal swill always find a way to part people with their money.
            hiccius doccius
          • 15%

            [i]Macs are now used by more than 15% of the consumers worldwide and still no viruses[/i]

            Wow, for Q4 2007 Mac worldwide market share was 3.12% (according to sales reported through Gartner and IDC). Macs grew almost 500% in 2008!!!
            That is freaking AWESOME!!!

            What's up you non-Mac suckas?!? hahahahaha!!

            [/sarcasm]
            tikigawd
          • @tikigawd: Yes, over 15% *using* Macs worldwide

            Market share and installed base are two different things.
            Do look it up and educate yourself.
            Mikael_z
          • @Mikael_z: My apologies

            My apologies, I mistakenly understood you were referring to market share.

            Care to quote your source, though?
            I hope it's not from RoughlyDrafted.com

            They do claim a 15% Mac installed base, but that conveniently (and admittedly) ignores the fact that WinPCs dominate thanks to their strong presence in business as well as consumer markets.

            By ignoring that portion they are implying that malware writers don't care about the business market, and they only focus on the consumer. That position is, to say the least, ridiculous.

            http://www.roughlydrafted.com/RD/RDM.Tech.Q1.07/9E601E8E-2ACC-4866-A91B-3371D1688E00.html

            But hey, it's RoughtlyDrafted. Spinning is their game.
            tikigawd
          • @tikigawd: Market share is a deceptive number

            It only tells you and the vendor how many machines are sold
            compared to the total #. So far only "market share" statistics are
            commonly published for the public and do not convey installed base.
            If for example 2 people are using computers and one replaces his 2x
            in a 3 year period and the other only does once, market share
            dynamics dictate that one demographic has 75% market share while
            the other has only 25%, even though installed base is still 50/50.

            So I'd take that market share # Microsoft customers to eagerly use in
            their arguments with a big grain of salt, especially considering the fact
            that the lion share of Microsoft's market share consists of dirt-cheap,
            usually crappy machines from Wal-mart et al which are replaced more
            frequently than a typical Mac.
            Mikael_z
          • Macs do not have a global install base of 15%

            Although market share stats based on web access aren't entirely accurate they are indicative. In these the best the Mac has achieved in recent terms is about 9%. Of course, this only represents machines that access the web and hit certain sites which are usually quite US centric.

            Sales figures are generally more reliable - and the argument that refresh rates are different for Macs is specious as they appear to be pretty much the same for Windows OEMs when you average them out and take corporate leasing into account and Macs - these indicate a global market share of a bit less than 5%.

            So, in all likelihood the maximum install base for Macs is probably in the region of 7-8% and, more likely, around about 5%.

            Don't use fansites for your information.
            Sleeper Service
          • @Mikael_z: What?

            [i]So I'd take that market share # Microsoft customers to eagerly use in their arguments with a big grain of salt, especially considering the fact that the lion share of Microsoft's market share consists of dirt-cheap, usually crappy machines from Wal-mart et al which are replaced more frequently than a typical Mac. [/i]

            What does the price of the machine have to do with market share? Who cares if the machine is "crappy" as you say (or Godly as you seem to think Macs are).


            [i]the lion share of Microsoft's market share consists of dirt-cheap[/i]

            Actually, the lion's share of Microsoft's market share consists of machines made for business. They're not exactly "crappy."

            And of the remaining consumer machines only a portion is in the low-end category. And by low-end I mean with less RAM, less capable video card, etc. That only means the computer is not souped-up, not that the components are of lower quality per se. So by the computer being cheaper it doesn't mean it will last a shorter amount of time.


            I understand the difference between market share and installed base. I just missed that you wrote "using Macs worldwide"

            BTW, you still didn't tell me your source for the 15%.
            tikigawd
          • @tikigawd: The user base almost 4 years ago

            This was almost 4 years ago so I'm pretty sure it has vastly improved,
            thinking about Apple's continued growth at several times the average
            rate of the rest of the computer industry.

            http://www.macdailynews.com/index.php/weblog/comments/5933/
            Mikael_z
          • @Sleeper Service: Yes, likely 5-10% Mac user base worldwide

            [i]"So, in all likelihood the maximum install base for Macs is probably
            in the region of 7-8% and, more likely, around about 5%."[/i]

            Mostly thanks to dirt cheap machines of usually lower quality to more
            or less poor people.

            Of course, comparing a hardware vendor to the total OS shares is
            deceptive to say the least, compared to the Windows share, ALL
            computer OEMs seem tiny.

            A chart for visual clarification:
            http://tinyurl.com/aq6ubh

            Mikael_z
          • Apple's facts

            In their latest quarterly results, Apple reported that, in the US
            personal computer market, they had an 18% market share by
            units and 31% by dollar volume. That is, of all the money
            spent in the US for personal computers last quarter, 31%
            went for Macs--and about 50% of Mac sales in the quarter
            went to users switching from Windows.
            www.apple.com/pr/library/2009/01/21results.html?
            sr=hotnews
            frabjous
          • Well no...

            "[i]Mostly thanks to dirt cheap machines of usually lower quality to more or less poor people.[/i]"

            Or maybe because most people just prefer Windows?

            We can argue stats if you want but I'm afraid your figures just don't tie up.
            Sleeper Service
          • Appearantly you don't read the articles you reply to.

            "You see, Macs are now used by more than 15% of the consumers worldwide and still no viruses, zilch, while both Vista and W7 are very predictably being hit by malware."

            However in the article, as well as several other articles around the web, Macs have been infected with malware.

            Also, Macs have yet to cross the 10% line from what I have seen in the several articles across the web and in print.

            Just saying.
            ShadowGIATL
          • Funny thing

            Did you know that tanks used to be armored on the front side only? It was to save money and because the military didn't think anyone would ever survive long enough to get around to the other side, but they did.
            Those tanks were useful, but easily defeated because of that shortsighted model.

            I say this for a reason, Windows is armored very heavily. Vista was actually armored to the point that many users had trouble running their own software with it. Unfortunately, it's only armored on one side, the front. The registry still leaves a huge security problem. Every last program, every single thing done in Windows, in short, everything you'd ever want to keep away from the bad guys, is located in a single place.
            That's not saying the files are scattered all over in Linux or Mac, but technically they are. They're still easy to access for the user, but viruses have a hell of a time collecting all the various bits and pieces.
            If you really want to make your Windows PC as secure as it can possibly be, never defrag it. If it's 98% fragmented, the virus will have just as much difficulty locating your files as you'll have opening them.
            tmsbrdrs
          • That is why downadup, the..

            latest virus is infecting millions of Windows boxes, including
            VISTA. ALL malware for the Mac, without exception, needs for a
            user to install it. There is STILL no self-replicating virus or
            worm out in the wilds of the Internet. None, zilch, nada
            malware that spreads from Mac to Mac is yet nor has ever been
            found in the wild. Trojans are simply programs, like any other
            programs a user is able to install on their computer, no matter
            what the OS. The only difference is that Trojans do bad things.
            No computer maker can guard against the installation of
            programs by a user. However, a computer maker CAN and
            should prevent the installation of programs without the
            knowledge and OK of the user. THAT is where Windows
            demonstrably has failed so far and apparently is STILL failing.
            arminw