PCs, Macs and Security, Oh My

by Mike McEvoy on February 22, 2010

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I’ve considered writing a post about PCs, Macs and security issues for some time. It’s not any easy subject to wrap up in a nice, neat 1,000-words-or-less format. Meanwhile the ongoing debate about which computer platform is most secure has continued. There are lots of different opinions and lots of high energy debate, but there is no real concise answer. Recently I read an article on CNET entitled “In their words: Experts weigh in on Mac vs. PC security”, that addressed the different facets of this issue quite well.

Written by Elinor Mills in the “InSecurity Complex” section of CNET, her opening caught my attention:   “When I am asked the question “Which is more secure, Mac or PC?” I find myself stumbling around for a response because I don’t have a clear-cut answer. I use both. And I use antivirus software with both.” But the real interesting part of her article was that rather than citing studies, statistics and experts she wove in 32 quotes and insights from a wide range of knowledgeable security people along with a short interview with a Microsoft person and a link that Apple provided.

A particularly interesting part of this article discusses the results of a survey of over 1,000 computer users by antivirus vendor ESET.  According to this survey, “while both PC and Mac users perceive Mac as being safer, Mac users are victims of cybercrime just as frequently as PC users.” According to Randy Adama, director of technical education at ESET, “Viruses are a diminishing percentage of what we’re seeing. A lot of attacks have to do with social engineering and that kind of attack is platform agnostic.”

Opinions on PC and Mac Security Issues

There were quite a few insights and comments on the subject of computer security from a number of different perspectives. Here are a few from this interesting article:

Robert G. Ferrell, information systems security specialist at the U.S. Dept. of Defense: “I just don’t think this question (Mac or PC) has any real meaning today. Far more relevant to me are the browser and e-mail clients a consumer is using, irrespective of the operating system or hardware platform. Even more critical from a safety standpoint is the level of security awareness exhibited by that consumer. If you haphazardly visit every link and download every file sent to you in e-mail or posted to your social-networking pages, sooner or later you’re going to get nailed. Period.”

Avi Rubin, computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University: “Right now the Mac is more secure than the PC, but only because the PC still has almost 90 percent of the market. The Mac is no more difficult to hack than the PC, but hackers get much more bang for their hacking buck attacking Windows. So, you’re safer on a Mac…for now.”

Frank Heidt, CEO of Leviathan Security: “I’m tempted to go with the safe answer that the size of the installed Microsoft base makes Apple ‘more secure’ because it is targeted less often. The risk landscape for consumers has changed over the last few years. Operating systems as such are no longer the primary target of consumer-targeted attacks; applications are. In light of that fact, I’d say each operating system has its benefits and liabilities. The real risks lie in the consumer’s browser choice, and security habits. From a browser standpoint, I would choose Firefox over IE, and IE over Safari.”

Paul Kocher, president and chief scientist at Cryptography Research: “The fair answer is that with the latest versions of each operating system there isn’t a compelling security reason to pick one or the other. It used to be that Apple was doing a better job, but with Windows 7 Microsoft has caught up. There are some differences; Windows has a better security ecosystem. On the other hand, Apple tends to have more expensive hardware and has a smaller market share, so it attracts fewer malware writers.”

Steve Manzuik, senior manager of security research at Juniper Networks: “I think for consumers it really comes down to what operating system they are the most comfortable configuring and using. Windows is by far the biggest target, but this is not necessarily because they are the most insecure but more a result of their dominant position in the market. Regardless of the operating system, the easiest way for an attacker to compromise a system is by going after the application level and causing the user to click, open, or run something they should not. Unfortunately, you cannot ‘secure’ user behavior.”

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Much More On PCs, Macs and Security

These quotes are a small sample of the wide range of computer and Internet security opinions found in Elinor Mills article on CNET. While the specific platform – Windows, Mac, Linux – still has a significant impact on computer security, many experts have been shifting their focus towards the security of application software and internet browser software. As well as trying to improve what may be the weakest link in the security chain, The User.  More steps in a continuing evolution that may never end.

Check out all the opinions and insights in their entirety by going to “In their words: Experts weigh in on Mac vs. PC security.”  You may want to skip the comments sections and avoid the flames. This type of debate always inspires passion and the last time I checked there were over 350 comments on this article on CNET.

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{ 1 comment }

Ching Ya February 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Ha.. well Mike, I don’t intend to start a debate here so here I am in the comment section. :-) Being in the IT Business for a few years, I understand it’s hard to reach an unanimous decision for both, which is fine. I agree that consumer plays a big role in deciding, sort of like comparing cheeseburger to a hotdog, not necessarily which is better, just personal preferences (most of the time). ^^ That’s my personal opinion.

Good job on the post.

@wchingya
Social/Blogging Tracker
.-= Ching Ya´s last blog ..Art Of Communicating in Social Networks =-.

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