Macs are Safer than PCs, Right?

Great rivalries always spawn the greatest battles. And while there are many examples we could point to, perhaps none are as heated and controversial as the war that’s constantly waging between Mac and PC.

Sony recently released a statement saying last year’s data breach cost $15 million. Other corporate giants have faced similar attacks, and we’ve seen bugs like Shellshock and Heartbleed cause a lot of panic. Unfortunately, advancements in technology have simultaneously created an era of computer viruses and malware, meaning people need to consider security whenever making tech purchases. So with this in mind, which computer system, Mac or PC, will keep your information better protected from external threats?

Before getting started, it’s important to clarify the parameters. When discussing the Mac versus PC debate, it’s often a comparison of Apple’s OS X and Microsoft’s Windows. Nothing against Linux, but 98% of machines run these other two systems, so it’s more relevant to focus on them. Also, when we discuss security threats, we are focusing primarily on virus and malware attacks.

With those specifics in place, which system is safer? I would have to put my money on OS X right now. Actually, maybe safer isn’t the best way of putting it. Instead, let’s just say that OS X is less likely to face attacks.

“There’s nothing inherent in how OS X is built that makes it much more resistant to viruses”

You may remember almost a decade ago when Apple started its Get A Mac campaign. It focused on the key benefits of owning an Apple machine over a traditional Windows computer, in the hopes of converting people to Mac. One of the ads alluded to the fact that Windows machines were more likely be infected with viruses than their Mac counterparts. Many interpreted this as Macs being invulnerable to viruses and malware. This, of course, is far from the truth.

Despite what some people may say, there’s nothing inherent in how OS X is built that makes it much more resistant to viruses or malware. And for those who still aren’t convinced, back in 2010 and 2011, Apple users faced the OS X Pinhead and BlackHole RAT trojan viruses that infected thousands of computers. More recently, there was the Mac Flashback trojan. It’s pretty well documented that Macs can, and do, get viruses.

With that being said, how can I then claim they’re safer? Well, despite these specific examples, there are far more viruses and malware that target Windows machines than any other system. Despite what you might think based on the ever-growing popularity of Apple, 90% of the world's computers still run Windows.

If you were a hacker, and were creating a virus or malware to target as many machines as possible and cause widespread attacks, you would focus your efforts on what will create the greatest return. If you’re looking to cause the most damage, and increase your chances of success, you’re going to target the most common computer system. Essentially, Macs are safer because statistically you’re less likely to be infected due to the lower number of viruses built to infect OS X. 

This idea is further reinforced in the mobile market. When it comes to smartphones and tablets, the debate is iOS against Android. Numbers show that more than 90% of mobile malware exists on Androids. Why? Well, because Android owns over 80% of the mobile market.

In the era of BYOD and questions regarding BYOD security, it’s important to know which devices are more likely to be targeted. That way, your organization can build additional protections that provide improved security. However, just to repeat and clarify, no operating system is perfect. Just because everyone who works for you uses MacBooks and iPhones doesn’t mean they’ll never have a virus. You’ll always need additional tools to help protect devices and your network.

About the Author

Rick Delgado is a business technology consultant for several Fortune 500 companies. He is also a frequent contributor to news outlets such as Wired, Tech Page One, and Cloud Tweaks. Rick enjoys writing about the intersection of business and new innovative technologies.

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