Is Apple more secure than Windows? It’s an ongoing debate – but both operating systems suffer from vulnerabilities despite concerted efforts to upgrade their built-in security features.
In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at their most common vulnerabilities, discuss the best ways to protect your device from cyber threats, and answer whether Apple is more secure than Windows.
Is Mac Safer Than Windows?
Macs are often believed to be more secure than Windows devices, but where does this belief come from?
In the past, most viruses targeted Windows devices as there were a lot more of them. Hackers want to reach as many systems as they can, so it makes sense that they primarily focused on devices running Windows OS, increasing their odds of successfully breaching users’ security.
However, Macs have become increasingly popular over the last decade, so they’re on the radar for hackers today just as much as Windows PCs. With Macs being targeted more frequently nowadays, there’s a lot more data to compare the level of security of the two operating systems and their vulnerabilities.
We’ll investigate the facts to see if the notion that Macs are more secure is founded in reality or just a common misconception among Apple fans.
Are Apple Computers More Secure than Windows? Mac vs Windows Security
We’ll start by looking at the built-in security features the two operating systems have in place to prevent cyber attacks.
When it comes to built-in malware protection, there are several macOS security features to combat malware. The main ones include:
- Gatekeeper — This lets the user specify what types of applications can be installed on the device, effectively preventing unauthorized apps from installing themselves – even if you download malicious software by accident.
- Notarization — A native malware scanning service that scans apps published outside the App Store for malware. macOS also features app sandboxing, running apps in a safe environment and preventing them from interacting with your system files.
- XProtect — Built-in antivirus solution that checks for malicious code using signature-based detection. One thing to note is that XProtect is only effective against malware and viruses Apple recognizes, so while good, it’s not as effective as a third-party antivirus.
When it comes to browser security, Safari is fairly secure and boasts several features that help improve the user’s privacy and data security. For example, it detects when websites are attempting to harvest user data beyond the necessary scope of their functionality and prevents them from sending this data to other sites.
Another key security feature built into macOS is the iCloud Keychain. This lets you generate and securely store passwords, minimizing the chances of your accounts being compromised.
Lastly, macOS also comes with System Integrity Protection (SIP), which protects your system and the integrity of key files, even if someone with root-level access tries to tamper with them. This prevents the injection of malicious code and other changes that could damage your system.
The Windows operating system comes with a built-in antivirus solution – Windows Defender.
Microsoft tried to remedy this by adding Windows Security as an additional layer of defense for Windows 10 and Windows 11. This feature scans your device and alerts you about malware, viruses, and other security threats.
When it comes to application and browser security, Windows does have safety measures in place in the form of Windows Defender Application Controls and website blocking and sandboxing tools on Edge.
Few people use Edge on Windows, though, and the vast majority of users don’t know Application Controls exist or how to use them to improve the security of their PCs.
Windows does have great file integrity protection in the form of System File Protection (SFP) and Mandatory Integrity Control (MIC). These safety measures prevent critical system files from being deleted and protect against unauthorized file manipulation and changes.
Additionally, Windows enables you to use backups to revert to an old system state, restoring your apps, files, and configurations. This can reverse damage done by malware, but it doesn’t guarantee the removal of malware and viruses.
A Look at Each OS’s Vulnerabilities and Exploits Affecting Them
Now we’ve explored the security provided by the two operating systems, let’s take a closer look at their vulnerabilities.
It’s important to understand that both operating systems are vulnerable to viruses, malware, and other forms of cyber threats. Interestingly, while Microsoft Security Center publishes a comprehensive list of Windows OS vulnerabilities, Apple only publicly discloses vulnerabilities on iOS and macOS after they’ve been patched.
According to an extensive research paper on the reported vulnerabilities of Windows 10 and macOS between 2015 and 2021, Windows is slightly more vulnerable than macOS, though the severity of the vulnerabilities on macOS is more concerning.
Here’s a quick reference table with the number of reported vulnerabilities for each system over the seven-year time span:
|Windows 10 Vulnerabilities
Note that the numbers above do not represent the number of reports but rather the number of different types of vulnerabilities reported for each year.
The Most Common Types of Exploits and Their Prevalence on the Two Platforms
While Windows has had more trouble with vulnerabilities in the past decade, it’s important to understand what types of vulnerabilities are the most common for each system.
Here’s a run-down of the exploits the two systems suffered from between 2015 and 2021:
|Denial of Service
Denial of Service, overflow, and memory corruption were the biggest pain points for macOS. Windows struggled more with information and privilege gain – and both operating systems saw a large number of issues with malicious code execution.
Put simply, both systems are vulnerable to all manner of cyber attacks. This goes to show that the built-in protection the operating systems provide is not sufficient. If you want to fully protect your system, data, and privacy, you need a reliable antivirus solution and a VPN (Virtual Private Network) product.
Windows vs Mac Pros and Cons
If you’re having trouble choosing between the two operating systems or are considering making a switch, keep in mind that they both have strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of each.
- More hardware customization
- Generally more affordable
- Built-in website security indicator
- Decent built-in malware protection
- Users can bypass most of the security features
- Still more frequently targeted by hackers than macOS
- Lacks privacy features
- Poor application security
- All apps in the App Store are secure
- Great built-in Safari security features
- Increased user privacy and control
- Multiple anti-malware features
- Complete lack of hardware customization
- App security is tied to the App Store
- High severity of vulnerabilities
The Short Answer to Securing Your Desktop
Considering the number of vulnerabilities both operating systems have, the question shouldn’t be which is more secure but rather how to protect yourself against these common issues, regardless of whether you have Windows or macOS.
The solution to securing your device is, thankfully, simple. You need to install one of the best antivirus solutions to ensure you have impregnable real-time defenses against malware, viruses, network attacks, and other cyber threats.
Additionally, you should consider getting a top VPN app. VPNs can ensure complete privacy and online anonymity, masking your IP, safeguarding your data, and protecting you from phishing attacks and online scams. Many antivirus providers also offer VPNs bundled with their products.
Additional Resources for Mac Security
Want to learn more about antiviruses, VPNs, and other tools you can use to enhance your Mac’s security and privacy? Here’s a list of useful guides to read:
- Best antivirus software
- Best antivirus for Macs
- Leading business antivirus solutions
- Top free antivirus apps
- Best antivirus with a VPN
- Best VPN services
Conclusion – Mac Safety vs Windows Devices
Apple machines are slightly more secure than Windows PCs today. However, the built-in protection on Windows and macOS just isn’t sufficient to combat ever-evolving cyber threats, so it’s wise to have an antivirus and a VPN running on your device.
Many vendors offer bundles that include both, and subscription fees are generally trivial compared to the cost of having your personal information, accounts, and banking information stolen.
Mac vs PC FAQs
Which laptop operating system is a bigger target of virus attacks?
Which is more secure, Mac or Windows?
Is Windows easier to hack than Mac?
Do I need an antivirus for Mac?
- Operating Systems Vulnerability – An Examination of Windows 10, macOS, and Ubuntu from 2015 to 2021 (ASTES)
- Microsoft Vulnerabilities Report (Microsoft MSRC – Security Updates)
- Apple Security Releases (Apple)
- Gatekeeper and runtime protection in macOS (Apple Platform Security)