get through? And what about emails? Can others sniff and get info using
Yes they are.
No they are not.
And I just know what the comments on this article are going to be
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
First, a disclaimer: I do not own a Macintosh. I’ve come very close a time
or two for various reasons, but have yet to do so. What follows is my opinion
based on my understanding of the technologies involved, the state of the
industry, and some assumptions about how hackers think. Yes, that last point is
perhaps the most important part of this discussion.
I answered by saying that a Macintosh is very safe (presumably in comparison
to Windows based computers) and that it is also not any safer. Let’s look at
why I say both.
Position #1: The Macintosh is no safer than Windows.
All software has bugs. Period. There is no such thing as perfect software.
Systems are too complex for all possible outcomes and situations to be
predicted and handled properly. Developers are human, and development teams are
similarly complex systems that can only produce imperfect results.
Why do I go out of my way to say that? Because “all software” includes
Macintosh software, and security exploits are simply the result of a class of
programming or design error or “bug”.
I firmly believe that the Macintosh operating system and Mac applications
contain their share of vulnerabilities. More than Windows? Fewer than Windows?
I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter, because they are there.
So why don’t we hear about Mac exploits like we do about Windows? That’s
Position #2: The Macintosh is much safer than
I recently read that Macintosh has 4% market share. Over generalizing, that
means 1 out of every 25 personal computers is a Mac.
And that’s the reason you don’t hear about massive vulnerabilities or
spyware or any of that other stuff we’ve come to associate with Windows. Not
because it couldn’t be done, but because no one’s bothered to do it.
It’s not worth it.
This is where we start trying to think like a hacker. If you wanted to cause
trouble, would you write something that upset 1 out of every 25 computers? Or
would you target the other 24? If you wanted to install spyware, would you
write it such that it worked on 4% of computers or 96%?
If you hated Microsoft, would you write a virus for the Mac?
The answer for all of that should be fairly obvious. Apple and the Macintosh
simply aren’t as big a target as Microsoft and Windows. As a result, you are
inherently safer on a Mac, because almost no one is actively trying to cause
But, don’t get too comfortable yet, because:
Position #1, revisited: The Macintosh is no safer than
Some things are platform independent. You asked specifically about sniffing,
which I take to mean monitoring your internet traffic. The answer there is that
the Macintosh suffers from all the same vulnerabilities that Windows or any
other computer on the internet does. Internet traffic can be monitored, plain
text email can be captured, email and websites can still fool you into doing
things you shouldn’t.
So please, don’t think you’re totally safe because you’re on a Mac. Safer,
yes, but immune? Not at all.
So if the Mac is safer, albeit only because it’s not as big a target, why
is Windows so popular? That’s a complex questions that’ll generate about as many
opinions as anything else. My thoughts: You can get Windows on a wide variety
of computers from a wide variety of manufacturers … you can only get Apple’s
operating system for Apple’s hardware. There’s more software available for Windows.
Macs tend to be more expensive. Many corporations and schools have standardized
That’s not to say that Apples aren’t worthwhile computers … in a nutshell,
they rock, and I know it. Apple’s known for a superior and consistant user
interface, as well as a fairly seamless hardware experience. But Windows wins
market share on cost and flexibilty.
And given that more market share makes you a bigger target … maybe Apple’s
happy to let someone else take the bullets.
As I expected the Mac crowd has weighed in loudly. Perhaps the best
“counter-argument” I’ve seen so far to my article is here: MacDailyNews: Apple Macs are inherently
safer and more secure than Microsoft Windows. I put “counter-argument” in
quotes, only because we arrive at the same conclusion – Mac’s are safer – we
just get there through very different means.
I encourage you to read the many comments below. The furor is that I’ve come
to the right conclusion – Mac’s are safer – for the wrong reasons. In between
the “Leo’s an idiot” statements (which, of course, I hope you’ll ignore), is
good information, and many more reasons Mac users love their Mac’s.
While there are many articles that discuss the points tackled here, a reader pointed me to this one –
“Broken Windows” – I found it to be a well stated summary of much of what my commentors are saying.