Sorry to say that Apple platforms are still more secure

Sorry to say that Apple platforms are still more secure

Summary: Even after Apple dragged its brand through the mud over the recent SSL/TLS coding bug for iOS and Macs, its computing platforms are still the better choice for security.


Despite Apple's recent SSL/TLS coding screwup (now repaired), non-Mac users must face the fact that life isn't fair and Apple's Mac platform and the iOS platform are still more secure than their Windows and Android counterparts.

Sorry to say that Apple platforms are still more secure

I wrote a similar post in 2007 and the facts haven't changed so very much. Yes, the installed base of Macs is way bigger and iOS is a major computing platform. But looking at the historical trends and relative market sizes, the Apple platforms are way underrepresented in the malware department. Yes, there have been attacks, but few in comparison with the competition.

For example, looking at the Kaspersky Labs' 2013 security overview, the Mac is mentioned only once, and that for cross-platform malware, such as attacks through MS Word or Adobe PDF. There was no mention of a specific new Mac or iOS malware incident (SSL/TLS bug won't show up for a year). Instead, the report is all about Windows and Android.

Searching through F-Secure's Monthly Security Updates for 2013, I could only find one solitary mention of a Mac or iOS vulnerability, and it was for Microsoft Outlook for Mac. There has be something Windowsy behind it. 

Of course, it's not all good news. In general, Mac users are still careless about malware and potential vulnerabilities for attacks. Dr. Web reports that there are still some 30,000 Macs infected with Backdoor.Flashback.39 — down from more than 800,000 in 2012. Still, according to the report, it is currently the largest botnet in the world. But these are solitary attacks.

Naturally, there's more work needed to be done on the security front. Apple needs to make its platforms more secure, and Apple users must become more vigilant and stop thinking that all security problems will be dealt with by the relative obscurity of the Mac platform and the closed system of iOS.

Still, over the past several years, the two commercial security programs that I run have yet catch a piece of Mac-specific malware. My three iOS application platforms are secure — or so I believe. Is there any PC or Android user who can say the same? However, every day I have to deal with Windows malware flagged in my Windows virtual machine and my Mail folder.

Now, before the sky fell in with the SSL/TLS bug on iOS and Macs, Apple published a Secure Coding Guide for its developer community. Ignoring the irony, it's interesting reading.

Of course, secure coding is important, whether writing for Macs and iOS devices and Apple wants its developers to understand that. The Secure Coding Guide in Apple's Developer Library starts by defining the whos and who-done-its, making it seem a bit strange — as if any programmer on earth wouldn't understand the definition of "black hat" or "script kiddies."

So far, OS X has not fallen prey to any major, automated attack like the MyDoom virus. There are several reasons for this. One is that OS X is based on open source software such as BSD; many hackers have searched this software over the years looking for security vulnerabilities, so that not many vulnerabilities remain. Another is that the OS X turns off all routable networking services by default. Also, the email and internet clients used most commonly on OS X do not have privileged access to the operating system and are less vulnerable to attack than those used on some other common operating systems. Finally, Apple actively reviews the operating system and applications for security vulnerabilities, and issues downloadable security updates frequently.

iOS is based on OS X and shares many of its security characteristics. In addition, it is inherently more secure than even OS X because each application is restricted in the files and system resources it can access. Beginning in version 10.7, Mac apps can opt into similar protection.

Topics: Apple, Android, iOS, Operating Systems, Security, Windows

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  • Nope

    The Apple *platform* is far worse than any other, due to the way Apple handles security.

    As a *user* of the platform you may still be more secure against *broad* attacks because the yield from attacking other platforms are still higher simply due to the numbers.

    Please learn the difference. The OS X *platform* is as insecure as it ever was.
    • Apple is much better, because "security via obscurity" argument does not ..

      ... work any more. iOS is the biggest and richest application platform (Android has surpassed iOS in terms of free downloads few months ago, but not in monetary value, by far), and yet 79-93% of all malware only threatens Android, with iOS most of the time never showing up in a chart pie because how little number of threats is for the platform.

      Macintosh users is much more lucrative target than PC users, considering average cost of Macintosh and well-being of the owners. And there are over 70 million of them. Yet malware and any kind of threats are dramatically less successful and spread. This is because it is much harder to attack this platform.
      • You are hard pressed to find malware for either platform

        Let's be honest here, people who get malware on their phones are using app stores that are known to be sources of rip off and pirated software, both on android and ios.

        Now, if you care to see how android and iOS compare in security, all you need to do is look at something like pwn2own each year. Last year, iOS was cracked in several different ways in a matter of a few seconds and malware remotely installed through the safari browser. This happens every single year, even after every exploit used is reported to Apple. That isn't a sign of a platform that is harder to attack, it is a sign that it is rather easy.
        • I agree with the author

          I think today ios and osx are very secure compared to the competition. What was completely ignored was real data security. Everyone is viewing security as "malware" vulnerable. The problem is this. There are thousands of apps that are not considered malware that can freely steal all the data from your phone or machine. That cool video chat app that has access to your contacts can send it all off to their servers. You might as well post the list to your front door. Unless android gets app ops working in kit kat, we will be slaves to this. Ios has made big strides in providing the users the ability to control apps. Android gives you a list when you install that says, "this app is going to steal all the following data from your phone. Hey we told ya. "
          • Tell it to the......

            ........Mac malware that runs silently in the background without triggering ROOT access commands on a password-protected Guest account, and is able to log keystrokes and phish personal data right out from under your nose without you being even the slightest bit aware of its presence.

            Then, read the article about Charlie Miller's repeated warnings of malware-infected App Store apps, which were ignored by Apple. He got so frustrated that he wrote a proof-of-concept infected app and uploaded it to the App Store, just to prove that it was a real threat. Apple banned his account and tried to sweep the entire story under the carpet.

            Don't be fooled.
          • Yeah, except that is totally not what happened.

        • blarelli

          Malware has come from Google's App Store too! Google is the creator of all malware (opinion).
        • Thank you

          Thank you. I keep hearing about the malware wasteland of android but have yet to see any instance of it I feel I have a better chance of seeing bigfoot.
      • Hilarious!

        Thanks for starting my Friday off with a laugh, kid :) Macintosh users are a "much more lucrative" target because of the average cost of the Macintosh? Hilarity at its finest!

        70 million users as opposed to BILLIONS of PC users. Yes.....they're SO much more attractive a target, huh? :)

        It's easier to attack this platform. It always has been that way. That's why Apple devices fell FIRST, on the FIRST DAY of every Pwn2Own challenge for 5 years straight, without fail. It's why Mac-loving tech security experts are forced to openly admit that Apple is the most exploitable platform in existence. It's why Safari is responsible for 90% of all exploit intrusions. It's why people with a functional intellect snicker whenever someone mentions "Apple" and "security" in the same sentence.

        You now know more than you did before you met me. No charge.
        • There is nothing to admit; there are all kinds of security reports and ...

          ... researches, which state that Mac malware/threats level is nothing comparing to PC. (Let alone iOS versus Android.)
          • I'm sure there are...

            ... as there are all kinds of security reports and 'researches' to the contrary.

            And I'll add this. If there is the illusion of security on the Mac / IOS platform it's due to the fact that end user choices are much more tightly controlled than on Windows and Android.

            As Ben Franklin said "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither."
          • No there aren't.

            But if it makes you feel better to live in your fantasy construct...
          • And if we all lit our hair on fire and took hard drugs we might think...

            ...pigs could fly.

            But its not relevant to anything here. Neither is just "threat level" on its own if all one is thinking about is just the sheer number of exploits created and the efforts to use them, that is when your considering the exploitability of a system generally. The motivation to take the time and efforts to generate those exploits plays a very significant part in the equation of why those exploits exist. Lets all remember, attacks do not come into existence and generate and propagate themselves, people do it and they do it for a reason.

            What is relevant is that what Ekwensu214 says is pretty much true, and provably so: " That's why Apple devices fell FIRST, on the FIRST DAY of every Pwn2Own challenge for 5 years straight, without fail"

            Sure, if security is so important to you its better for you personally to just give up on any consideration other than security, then fine, I wouldn't suggest a Mac, no way, go Linux.

            The fact is, all the major OS's are pretty secure and don't provide for significant security risk when one uses common sense and reasonable measures, on the other hand none of them are so good they are invulnerable to a concerted effort to break in some how.

            There is really little use and there should be little interest, at least in any major way, about the old battle grounds of "whos more secure". They are all secure enough to be able to use in some comfort your not likely to get broken into if you use some care. That's the level of security the common man needs to get through his computing day and they all work to that degree or better.

            So no argument.
          • That has NOTHING to do with why the Macs went first at P2O

            You simply have, as per your usual, no idea what you're talking about.
          • Macs fell first

            because when you take out the statistical factors of obscurity, monetary and otherwise incentives, you are left with OS vulnerabilities and the Macs failed quickest at pwn2own. year after year.
      • Where do people get the strange idea that

        all Macintosh users are well-heeled? We run two Macs, two iPods and one iPad and our weekly household income for two people is about US$461. The iPad (generation 3) is the newest of our Apple products (my own iPod is about 7 years old) and I did what I always do when I want a luxury item: I went without elsewhere.
        Laraine Anne Barker
        • That's a very good point!

          I think there are Mac users at all income levels but there is one clear point:

          If money was no object, which car, appliance, computer, phone, tablet, etc. would you choose? And clearly Apple wins out when it comes to computers, phones and tablets.
          • WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

            "If money was no object, which car, appliance, computer, phone, tablet, etc. would you choose? And clearly Apple wins out when it comes to computers, phones and tablets."

            Uhhhh...NO. What a horribly nonsensical thing to say!! Where did you get this notion??

            You actually think the only thing holding the Mac back is its cost??? You think if Macs cost 20%-30% less it wouldn't be long before they made short work of the Windows marketshare???

            Really? Are you serious??

            Ha! Boy, if that wild idea had a shred of merit to it Steve Jobs wasn't a genius, he was a complete moron. He would have been the worst business man in the world and Apple share holders should had kicked his butt to the curb for ignoring such a deceptively simple plan to devastate Microsofts stranglehold on Windows market share.

            I think that even if your an idiot who hates Apples guts, you would have to agree that they were not anywhere near so stupid as to not be able to spend a couple years somewhere there sorting out how to drop the price on Macs and blow the PC market away if that's what was holding Macs back. And please please please, don't dare tell me Steve Jobs had no interest in capturing the part of the IT market that is essentially the flagship profile of computing for decades, and that's to say the business and consumer share of the day to day desktop/laptop computing done around the world.

            Steve Jobs wanted that market and he spent his career trying to figure out how to knock Microsoft off that pedestal. And even though hes gone today, the iPad is carrying on that war in his absence, Steve Jobs was brilliant, he decided to give up mostly on the "head on" war with Macs vs. PC and instead he figured out what he needed to do was to change the playing field and then be the first one on it. That's the idea behind the iPad. Its Apples ultimate strike to begin some new market where desktop and laptop computing do not rule, then to massage that new market into replacing desktop and laptop computing as the default flagship profile of business and consumer computing.
        • Reply to Laraine Anne Barker

          I'd like to second your comment. While I do not own a Mac, one of my neighbors does, and he buys used. He says he never paid more than $400 for a Mac. He drives an old used car, and bought his house for $40,000. I had a chance, almost, to by a Mac (G4) on Craigslist for $88, but I wasn't quick enough, and somebody else snagged it. I doubt if they were rich, either. That was a few years ago, when a G4 wasn't TOO far behind the tines. My own income is less than $900/mo, and I'll get a Mac if Linux doesn't work out for me.
          • I paid $100 for my PowerMac G5

            1.8GHz, single processor, 2GB RAM, 250GB Hard Disk, and Super Drive. This was back in 2011. $88 today for a G4 system isn't anything special. There's a PowerBook G4 on CL right now for $75.