Mac vs. PC: Which is More Secure?

Stephen Yagielowicz
Once upon a time, the answer to the question of which is more secure, the Mac or the PC, would have been drawn upon predictable party lines amongst the ranks of the faithful to either brand — but in the public's perception at least, Apple's robust offering has had fewer issues with security, in comparison to its arch-rival desktop operating system.

While most would acknowledge that the Mac OS has had fewer security issues than Windows, this is in part due to hackers focusing their efforts on the most popular systems where they would enjoy more fruit from their labors, as well as the perception that many of these hackers were Mac-hugging Bill Gates haters opposed to anything Microsoft. Thus, this perception must be tempered with reality in order to advance the discussion.

Because today, many experts say, in a world where firewalls and antivirus software are the norm, the question is a moot point; due to the user now being the weak link and most likely to be attacked by modern hackers specializing in social engineering assaults. This has resulted in Mac users now being victimized online as much as their PC using counterparts — and often sustaining higher individual financial losses as a group.

A recent study from ESET performed by Competitive Edge Research and Communications, examined "the attitudes, beliefs, and experiences of Americans with respect to cybercrime," and uncovered several interesting results, including the fact that most American's are unaware of organized crime's links to cybercrime.

According to Director of Technical Education Randy Abrams, "viruses and Trojans are no longer the purview of pimple-faced punks who never see the sun. Malware has become a tool of the organized crime, but only about one out of five Americans realize it is not the lone wolf who is biting them."

"Not at all surprising is the fact that both PC and Mac users perceive the Mac as being safer, but the statistics show that Mac users are victims of cybercrime just as frequently as PC users," Abrams said. "The most probable explanation for this would be confusing viruses as being cybercrime."

Abrams says that 57 percent of Mac users feel comfortable surfing without antivirus software, while only 27 percent of PC users were so inclined; and that most losses that occur as a result of cybercrime are related to phishing attacks.

"Phishing attacks are just as effective on Macs, Linux, Windows, Solaris, and any operating system since they rely on tricking the user and not upon malicious software or any software vulnerabilities," Abrams stated. "The Mac offers no immunity to phishing attacks and so we see a virtually equal percentage of victim representation across the board."

The report identified ignorance as a major part of the phishing problem; finding that less than half of Americans even know what phishing is.

"It is difficult to defend against something one is not aware of," he said.

Among the study's most interesting findings is that Mac users that become a victim of a phishing attack lose more money than do PC users.

"I'm not ready to proclaim this as fact since we can't explain the finding, but that was the undeniable trend found by this specific study," Abrams said, noting that the survey revealed a lower rate of cybercrime among users of both a Mac and a PC.

"This is probably due to a higher level of computer and Internet knowledge," Abrams concluded. "Being educated to the threats and defenses is a quite effective in decreasing the odds of a user becoming a victim of cybercrime."

While one report won't end the debate over which system is safer, its findings should be taken into consideration when evaluating your next computer purchase. Regardless of how comfortable you are with your system's security, be sure to always use a robust anti-virus solution when surfing the Internet.