Which option is stronger in the debate over Mac vs. Windows security? Anyone with an ear to the digital soil has probably heard the "rumor" that Macs are generally more secure than Windows PCs. However, the verdict isn't exactly succinct enough for anyone to be lured into a sense of total security when clapping away at their keys. The truth is that both options have strengths and vulnerabilities. While Microsoft and Apple do their part to build complex security platforms with constant patch updates, no machine is safe unless the user sitting in front of it knows how to keep it secure. Next, hack into the truth over Mac vs. Windows safety.
PC or Mac: Which Is More Difficult for Hackers?
Macs are typically more challenging for hackers to access. Macs have an entourage of security features, including email encryption, secure data backups, and more. The proprietary angle also generally makes Macs a little safer than PCs. It's not just the sophisticated safety architecture built into OS X that makes Macs safer. It's the fact that hackers are in the business of succeeding. What does that mean?
Macs simply account for a much smaller market share compared to Windows PCs. As a result, hackers don't target them as often. Hackers are more motivated to design bugs and malware that attack more users because this is how they get higher success rates. The difference isn't even a small one. While Windows users account for 75% of all desktop and laptop computers, Macs account for just 15%. It turns out that the same universality of Windows that makes it so great for connecting users is also what makes this operating system so much more vulnerable to breaches than other options.
Threats Targeting Both Macs and Windows
Hackers don't always necessarily target "computers." Most scams are focused on targeting the users of those computers. In fact, human mistakes account for roughly 90% of cybersecurity breaches. The most common way hackers get into machines and networks is through phishing attacks. Both Mac and Windows users are equally at risk because phishing emails and messages are sent out indiscriminately. The goal is to get a user to click on a link, open a file, or provide a sensitive piece of information while believing they are responding to a legitimate message.
While the code might be slightly different, attack software that works on one machine can essentially work on all devices. Macs are just as susceptible to infection by viruses and malware as Windows PCs are. While a combination of high-tech security and lower attack rates appears to make Macs safer, for now, the reality is that Macs would likely lose their "security" edge over Windows machines if they eclipsed them in user popularity.
History of Major Mac and Windows Attacks
Apple users were warned of the "worst attack in years" in 2019 when a serious malware issue took the world by storm. 2019 ended up being a rare year when almost twice as many attacks were recorded against Mac endpoints compared to Windows. Many people blamed Apple's lax attitude for its failure to develop protections against Mac-specific attacks. Of course, many people remember the revelation from a few years back that all Macs manufactured before 2014 were subject to backdoor overrides that enabled hackers to take over devices by installing software capable of overriding Apple's factory firmware.
Windows has also had its fair share of high-profile attacks and vulnerabilities. In 2021, the "zero-day" flaw was discovered. This flaw made it possible for hackers to breach all versions of Windows to take over computers. Researchers estimate that nearly 30,0000 businesses and local governments were affected by a massive attack on the Microsoft Exchange email server due to the zero-day flaw. In fact, this "breach" was more like a three-month spree of hacking Windows that allowed hackers to exploit vulnerable systems before it was detected. This high-profile hack joins a long list of news-making Windows attacks, including the 2020 Microsoft/Solar Winds hack, the April 2019 webmail hack, the October 2013 bug-tracking database hack, and more.
How to Stay Safe Against Windows and Mac Hacking
The best defense is an up-to-date system. Hackers do what they do by exploiting security flaws. Microsoft and Apple stop hackers from doing what they do by constantly designing and deploying security patches. Simply enabling automatic updates can keep a user safe against all known threats. Some other good digital hygiene practices include:
- Follow the rules for creating strong passwords for Apple ID or Microsoft login screens.
- Limit application access to cameras, file systems, and more to limit channels for entry.
- Use a VPN (virtual private network) when connecting to the Internet away from home or the office.
- Never click on links received through email or text. Use a reverse email lookup when you receive messages from unknown senders.
- Don't constantly recycle passwords.
- Avoid using passwords that are personal to you in any way.
- Consider using a password manager.
There are also some Windows-specific and Mac-specific security measures to consider. For instance, using a Microsoft user account with limited privilege when using a machine for day-to-day tasks can help to limit the damage done if a malware infection breaks through. When using a Mac, be especially vigilant regarding pop-up windows because the Mac setup stops malware from doing much until you provide permission. That permission may be hidden within a convincing-looking pop-up screen that isn't official.
Final Thoughts on Keeping Macs and PCs Safe
Be skeptical 100% of the time when using Mac, Windows, or any other operating system. Every device that's connected to the Internet is a device that's potentially connected to scammers. In addition, practices that include limiting access, being smart with passwords, and keeping your security system up to date can help to make your system just hard enough to breach for hackers that it remains untouched.