Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Yes they are.
No they are not.
And I just know what the comments on this article are going to be like...
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 because:
Position #2: The Macintosh is much safer than Windows.
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 you trouble.
But, don't get too comfortable yet, because:
Position #1, revisited: The Macintosh is no safer than Windows.
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 on Windows.
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.Update:
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..
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