Are Macs more secure than PCs? Not always. Here’s why

13 June 2017 by Mark Williams

Let’s get one thing straight: Mac users are less likely  to be targeted by hackers and cyber criminals than PC users. But that doesn’t mean Macs are definitively more secure than PCs.

Apple makes a point of claiming that its products ‘don’t get PC viruses,’ but that’s a misleading and dangerous claim. Macs do get viruses and they’re just as vulnerable as PCs.

Why do hackers target PCs? It’s basic economics.

According to NetMarketShare, Windows 7 alone is more commonly used than all of the Mac OS X operating systems combined. Windows accounts for over 90 percent of the market, while Mac has a combined share of less than 8 percent. 

For cyber criminals, targeting PCs just makes sense. There are more PC users than Mac users, and therefore greater return on things like phishing and malware campaigns.

Historically, this gave Macs ‘security through minority.’ Macs aren’t inherently more secure than PCs, there are just less of them to target in the wild. Propagating the myth that Macs are immune to viruses or resistant to attack is dangerous, particularly considering that Apple’s sales figures are strong and the number of active Mac users is 100 million and counting.

Macs are just as vulnerable as PCs

‘The truth,’ according to Kaspersky Lab, is that ‘both Macs and PCs are very vulnerable to web threats and cyber-attacks.’

The rising popularity of Macs makes them an increasingly more attractive target for cybercriminals, and as a result we’re seeing more and more Mac users fall victim to viruses, malware and web threats. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Macs do get viruses. Though there are fewer malware programs targeting Mac OS X, the threat is there: Kaspersky Lab estimates that 700,000 Mac users fell victim to the Flashback Trojan virus alone. The notion that Macs are virus-free is dated and categorically false.
  • The Mac’s security mechanisms can be exploited. Apple’s Gatekeeper, one of the core security features in Mac OS X, isn’t infallible. Researchers have been able to bypass Gatekepeer, steal user information and install malware.
  • Macs are not immune to web-based threats. Using a Mac does not, by virtue, protect you from phishing scams or other web-based attacks. If you click a link or download an attachment in a suspicious email, you risk installing malware on your machine.

Beware the user

Let’s be clear: Macs, on the whole, are somewhat more secure than PCs. This is because of the way Mac OS is designed - it’s Unix-based and more difficult to exploit than Windows.

But while the design of Mac OS protects you from most malware and other threats, using a Mac will not:

  • Protect you from human error. A Mac user can still download an application from an untrusted source, click on a link in a phishing email or install malware on their machine, unknowingly or otherwise. This is why education is so important, especially if you’re going to use Macs in your business.
  • Prevent physical theft or loss. Macs, just like PCs, go missing and get stolen. You need to make sure your Mac is password-protected, backed up, kept in a safe place and set up with Find My Mac.

The fact is, a computer is only as secure as its user. If you’re not taking the proper precautions, you put yourself (and your business) at risk - regardless of the operating system you use.

How to keep your Mac safe

None of this means you should avoid using Macs for business or personal use. Indeed, a recent survey of 500 IT professionals from organisations of all sizes found that 96 percent of businesses support Macs.

If you choose to deploy Macs in your business, here’s what you need to do to ensure your system is secure:

  • Install anti-virus software, for example ESET CyberSecurity for Mac (available via Pensar)
  • Keep on top of software updates. The dated notion that Macs are inherently secure can make a person complacent and more likely to ignore critical software updates. Don’t be that person.
  • Invest in education and training. If you’re going to equip your staff with Macs, make sure they’re made aware of cyber threats and trained to identify and avoid them.
  • Get an IT partner. An IT partner can provide you with IT support, manage software updates and deploy anti-malware protection, amongst many other things.

Macs are a good choice for business and personal use, but they’re not foolproof. If you use a Mac be aware of the risks, put the right protections in place and use it wisely.

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