Newbie2Security: Are Macs Safer Than PC?

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Image courtesy of The Noun ProjectA reader recently asked: “I’ve heard that Macs are safer than PC’s. Is that true, and why or why not?”

Well, unfortunately the answer to “Is that true?” is a complete “No.” Macs are not safer than PC’s at all, read on to find out more.

Macs *do* have fewer pieces of malware written specifically to attack them, that is indeed true.

Malware is a security industry catch-all term for any software specifically written to attack and/or damage a digital system or steal information from such a digital system. That can be a virus, trojan, or worm – but it can also be software that encrypts your data and holds the unlock key hostage (ransomeware) or software designed to steal your usernames, passwords, etc.

That being said, there are several things to keep in mind that make Macs as exposed as PC’s (Windows-based machines) these days:

1 – Malware is less about how many different kinds of it exist and much more about how often the ones that do exist succeed in attacking your computer, phone, etc. Mac malware absolutely exists, and though there is less of it; it tends to be very widespread in a very short amount of time. That means while there are fewer kinds of Mac malware, they’re more likely to find their way onto your devices. It only takes one piece of malware to wreak havoc, so the numbers don’t matter and Macs are not inherently safer because there’s fewer pieces of it out there.

2 – Modern attackers are moving away from machine-specific or Operating System-specific attacks. While before the methods used to infect a machine were loaded email attachments and network-based attacks; these days they’re more likely to take advantage of tools and platforms that work on both Windows and Mac. Google Apps, Microsoft Office Online, Adobe Flash Player, Java, and many others work nearly identically on both Windows and Mac since these software packages run in the browser or are just modified versions of each other for each platform. Chrome on Windows and Chrome on Mac are not identical, but they are close enough to each other that an attack that works on one will work equally well on the other. Recent ransomware attacks that were spawned through an infected Flash app are a great example of that. The attacker wrote slightly different payloads for Windows and Mac, but the actual attack worked the same on both platforms; making it much easier for the whole attack to happen – and just as likely to happen on Mac as it was to happen on PC.

3 – Attacks may not need to talk to your computer to impact you at all. Attackers are working hard to compromise websites and online applications directly. That means they can steal personal information and data without ever having to actually compromise your machine at all – PC or Mac. Since these attacks happen at the Service Provider side (such as your bank website or online shopping vendor); you don’t have to fall victim to anything on your own computer to fall victim to the attacker.

So, as you can see, no matter if you’re on a PC or a Mac, you’re no safer on one vs. the other. You need to take reasonable precautions to make sure you’re not getting attacked just as much on your MacOS-based devices as you do on your Windows devices. Oh, and for those who say Linux is the answer; just remember that anything that doesn’t attack your machine directly (see point 3 above) will still hit you – even on Ubuntu or RedHat.

Stay safe, no matter what Operating System you use.

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