General Question

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

Do Macs get as many viruses as Windows computers do?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7887points) January 21st, 2011
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16 Answers

Seelix's avatar

I always heard that they do get fewer viruses, but not because they’re “safer”, per se. I was told that it was because virus writers want to infect as many computers as they can, and because more people use PCs worldwide, writing viruses for PCs would infect more.

Macs are becoming more popular, though, so I’m sure more viruses are cropping up.

tedd's avatar

@Seelix Very correct. As MAC’s have taken more market share, their virus numbers have increased.

MAC’s really aren’t any better then a comparably built PC (like a Toshiba or a Vaio or something like that). They market them as the hip, cool, unbreakable, “just works” thing cuz they know how to advertise… But really its a matter of preference. In fact when I worked in a computer shop about a year ago our repair department tended to see almost a 50/50 split of MAC’s and PC’s in for repairs, even though numbers wise theres far more PC’s out there. The other big draw back was we weren’t allowed to repair MAC’s on our own. By contract with Apple, we sent EVERY MAC computer to their facility for repairs.

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torchingigloos's avatar

Not yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Not to mention once someone comes up with an iTunes virus most of the world will be completely screwed. Again, it’s only a matter of time.

mrrich724's avatar

I’ve never had to run antivirus software, and I’ve never had an issue. I do NOT miss not having my computer accessible for 1–2 hours at a time b/c Norton is running.

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squirbel's avatar

In the 15 years I’ve used Macintosh computers, I have not run any anti-virus software and have visited many questionable [warez, etc] sites. I have never gotten infected with a virus.

I have had PCs as well, and I regularly wipe them clean [fresh OS] once they get infected doing the same activities. I’m used to it on the PC.

And before someone starts in by saying “Well you don’t know where to look for a virus or whether you’ve been infected”, I do.

The myth that virus creators are attracted to the largest market share is just that – a myth. What makes Macs strong is how the OS is built from the ground up with security in mind. It’s a child of UNIX, which is also security minded. You never hear of Linux viruses, right? The reason viruses work is because of weaknesses in the system that get exploited. Not because of a market share relation. That’s alot of FUD.

gorillapaws's avatar

@tedd sorry but your data is faulty. Macs have essentially 0 viruses in the wild. There are a few proof of concepts that have been made and subsequently patched to prevent the exploits, and Trojans exist (Trojans are where the user authorizes a bad program to run after being tricked into thinking it’s a good program, which is different than a virus which is a program installing itself without authorization and then spreads). No system is bulletproof, and Macs running OSX are no exception, but the reality is that a good portion of the guts of OSX are based on UNIX which makes it very secure by design through it’s permission system. The fact that it’s a smaller target helps, but even if you adjusted the numbers to account for popularity, OSX is still thousands of times more secure for the average person.

Of course if you sit a hacker down in front of one, they’ll be able to break in, but it’s not like you plug the thing in and you get flooded with malware.

jerv's avatar

The simple answer is no.

Macs are difficult to infect, due largely to the fact that OS X is based on Unix. Linux and OS X have quite a bit in common; enough so to make them equivalent for purposes of this discussion. That makes both Macs and any PC running Linux inherently virus free for reasons detailed in The short life and hard times of a Linux virus”:

As others have pointed out, most crackers try to maximize damage and thus target Windoze systems. That isn’t the whole story though. Put one way, why fight to infect one computer when you can infect five without any effort at all? Whether or not crackers go for Windoze systems because they are more numerous or merely because they are so damn easy to infect is irrelevant.

That said, Macs are still easier to infect than a Linux box. If there is a Mac virus or other problem, it may take days for Apple to figure things out and code a patch to fix it. By contrast, most major Linux problems are solved so shortly after discovery that it borders on precognition. Linux simply has too many “white hats” and I think it safe to say that many thousands of people in all time zones will be quicker to respond than one department of one company, and often do a better job quicker too.

@gorillapaws Agreed. For an average person, I can think of few things less secure than Windoze. It lacks the basic inherent security features of UNIX-oid OSs and thus requires a degree of tech-savvy to secure.

@mrrich724 Norton… /facepalm.

@squirbel Not a myth so much as an overstated theory. It has not been prove, but it hasn’t been disproven either.

gorillapaws's avatar

@jerv excellent point about the speed of patches coming from the Linux community.

tedd's avatar

@gorillapaws If MACs had the same market share as PC’s, I don’t care what they’re based on or what you do to secure them…. hackers would find a way. You think Windows is being designed loosely?

squirbel's avatar

“You think Windows is being designed loosely?”

Yes. They haven’t updated their architecture since Windows 3.1.

gorillapaws's avatar

@tedd Put it this way, there are thousands (millions?) of people who hate Apple and would love nothing more than to see them go down in flames. Many of these people are able to write code. Don’t you think there would at least be some viruses floating around given those statements?

OSX has roughly a 10% market share, but much less than 10% share of the malware out there. Do the math, and you’ll realize that there’s something more than the fact that they’re fewer Macs out there to explain the discrepancy.

jerv's avatar

@tedd Did you read that article I posted? Yes, I linked it again for emphasis. Before OS X, Macs actually did have quite a few virii, but the fact that OS X is based on BSD makes OS X such a hard target that it really isn’t worthwhile, especially not when there are so many non-viral ways to infect a computer.

Crackers have been trying to make a virus that can infect UNIX-oid systems for decades, and thus far they have always been on the losing end of the arms race. The really, really, really truly uber-leet, “makes Kevin Mitnick look like a retard” coder might be able to get a virus that lasts a couple of weeks before being curb-stomped and face-raped. More often, the lifespan of a *NIX virus is measured in hours at most; not enough time to spread too far. As I said, too many “white hats”.

tedd's avatar

Sigh…. guys… you don’t need to know that much about computers, to understand that people will always be jerks, and if the ONLY thing we had today was MAC, there’d be virus’ for it in a snap. Shit people broke the iPhone and iPad in less than a day each. If someone thought there was money in it for them, or didnt’ have the easier alternative of a PC to hack…. I would bet you every dollar I’ll make for the rest of my natural life they’d just move to MAC.

jerv's avatar

@tedd Don’t get me wrong, there is some malware out there for OS X and iOS. However, it is all more of the Trojan variety; it won’t infect you, but it can trick you into infecting yourself. That sort of thing is more of a social engineering though, and relies on the user bypassing the safeguards that make *NIX-oid systems so hard to infect. Put another way, you could get into a bank vault a lot easier if the bank guards opened the door for you and invited you in than you would otherwise, and the best locks in the world will not prevent that sort of thing.

There is plenty of money to be had for hacking UNIX-oid systems. Do you realize how many servers (including banks, the DoD, and many commercial sites) run Linux, BSD, ? If it were nearly as easy as you think then our entire infrastructure would’ve been slammed hard by cyber-terrorists. I still have electricity and a bank balance, and I know that they’ve been trying to change that, so the only logical conclusion is that they still haven’t found a way to make a virus live in the world of UNIX. Considering that Unix has been around since 1969, they have had plenty of time to find it’s flaws, so maybe, just maybe, there are factors you have not considered here.

Oddly, they are the same factors that Apple fan-bois consider a weakness. Do you realize how many people are slamming doors and plugging holes in Linux and Android? And it pays off too:
”....the Linux kernel scored better than run-of-the-mill commercial code. Proprietary software, in general, has 1 to 7 flaws per thousand lines of code, according to an April report from the National Cybersecurity Partnership’s Working Group on the Software Lifecycle, which cited an analysis of development methods by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

For a 5.7 million-line program, such as version 2.6 of the Linux kernel, that roughly adds up to between 5,700 and 40,000 flaws….The project found 985 bugs in the 5.7 million lines of code that make up the latest version of the Linux core operating system, or kernel”

Hmmm—- a Bohemian bunch of anarchists put out better, more secure code than the for-profit software companies like Microsoft and Apple. And I have seen some of the numbers for Apple and beleive me, they are no better than Microsoft when it comes to leaving exploitable flaws in ther software. In fact, they are worse than Microsoft and, in some instances, even worse than the much-maligned Adobe.

However, that is just the application stuff. Apple used enough BSD code in OS X to make the operating system damn tough; their flaws are in the code they did entirely themselves for things like Quicktime, Safari, or the Apple-proprietary things that differentiate OS X from BSD. And there are flaws there. Charlie Miller has won the Pwn2Own hacking competition three years straight by hacking Snow Leopard/Safari. Still, there are no flaws that would allow a virus. All of the many successful hacks against OS X/Safari required the user to click on a link or otherwise authorize access; again, a trojan, not a virus.

If the only thing today was Mac then us old-timers would re-build PCs. Some people (myself included) don’t like totalitarian regimes. Others prefer function over fashion. Some just like speed.

You are not entirely wrong though. There are always people that are going to be jerks.

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