Is Macintosh OSX more Secure than Windows XP?

3 August 2005

I can’t speak for others but I personally could go the rest of my life without hearing how much more “secure” Apple’s OS X operating system is compared to Window’s XP. It doesn’t help when it seems like you’re constantly hearing of all the horrible malware attacks on XP machines.

To me it’s always been a numbers game more than about the operating systems themselves. I believe hackers can hack any unprotected operating system. This is apparent in the security statistics from Secunia’s Security Advisories in July (’05). I believe a determined hacker or group of hackers can hack any operating system if given enough time and motivation. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the majority of people who have an opinion on this matter, whether informed or not, usually seem to think that OS X is inherently more “secure” and that “the code was written better”, that they have “better security measures”. But is it all just “Smoke and Mirrors”.

….and please if you are a Mac or Linux user send all your hate-mail to 😉

What do I mean by this? Not that OS X isn’t a good, or even great operating system, just that Windows, without a doubt is the heavyweight champion as far as percentage of users. This explains why it gets all the focus and judgment when a new virus or attack comes down the pipe. This is the reason why almost all software companies write programs for Windows. OS X would be lucky to have a third the software available for it. Manufactures want to make money, so they make sure they have a version of their software that runs on the Windows platform, to maximize profit margins—that seems simple enough.

This goes for hackers, spy ware/adware, or any malware creators as well. There are two types of hackers in this world—the ones out for the money and the ones that just can’t help themselves. The hackers for hire are looking for sheer numbers, they’re throwing out the virtual fishing nets, trying to ensnare as many unprotected systems it can. This makes Windows the main focus for these attacks,for the basic reason of “getting more bang for your buck”, so to speak.

The reason I even wrote this article was based on something I read, an article from Secunia. The article featured statistical graphs showing attack percentages over a year and a half on the different Operating Systems. One would normally expect to see in these graphs that Macs with OS X would show nigh a spark to a flame compared to the Windows XP. So imagine the interest I had in this article when I saw that it was not so—the comparison, taking everything into affect, was not so lopsided—the percentage was nearly neck and neck.

This graph shows the security advisories for Mac OSX


This graph shows the security advisories for Windows


According to these graphs Mac OSX had 52 security advisories, and windows XP 78. Security advisories include everything from holes in the operating system to attacks—yes, Windows isn’t the only OS with security holes! By September 2004 Secunia tallied 36 advisories on security issues with OSX, many of them allowing attackers to remotely take over the system. This was comparable to figures on operating systems such as Windows XP. The proportion of critical bugs was similar: 33 percent of OSX vulnerabilities were “highly” or “extremely” critical while XP was 30 percent.

Now, consider that Windows is estimated at having 90-95% of the PC market and Mac only 2-3%. When you look at things with these numbers in front of you the Macs don’t look as secure. Not any more secure than Windows anyway. Maybe if Macs had the market saturation that Windows operating systems do then they would have to deal with the same issues regarding security holes and exploits being put into the public eye for scrutiny. From the numbers it seems like this would only be in the distant future if Apple ever catches up in the market.

Which leads us back to my constant underlying theme—keep your system, and all protection software up to date. Use firewalls, be careful of what you download, and read my articles and you’ll be protected against most everything the world of PC’s can throw at ya. Just running off to get a Mac will not solve your security problems.

Stay safe out there,

~ Chad

Chad Stelnicki

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