Is the Mac Really More Secure than Windows?
A security expert looks under the hood of both systems to explore their relative strengths and weaknesses.
For starters, please note that I didnt say that OS X (Tiger) is more secure than Windows (XP, Vista, or otherwise). No, thats not at all what I said. I said Im more secure on a Mac, and I truly believe it.
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But, not being one to accept such claims from others without justification, Id like to elaborate here why I believe this so passionately. The answers arent necessarily as simple as you might think. Heres a brief rundown of the issues that I believe are most pertinent to my perception of security.
Familiarity with security mechanisms One of the things that lured me over to OS X from Windows XP and Linux (but thats another topic for discussion) is that under OS Xs pretty GUI lies BSD UNIX, for all intents and purposes. Ive been using UNIX systems since the early 1980s and Im very comfortable there, right down to understanding the underlying security mechanisms quite thoroughly.
By and large, OS X conforms to these established conventions. Familiar (to me) commands like chown, chmod, and such, work just as they do on UNIX systems.
During much of that time, Windows predecessors didnt even have a security model (apart from read-only attributes on files). Things have improved in Windows, but the interface has always been awkward to me. I grew to understand and appreciate having an administrative user that could install programs and run the system, and a normal class of users who could run programs, for example.
Qualitative score: OS X gets a B+ while Windows gets a C-.
Separation of data and executables In my familiar UNIX land, all programs are stored in areas of the file system that were outside of the control of users. Specifically, directories including /bin, /usr/bin, /usr/sbin, /usr/local/bin, and so on are where programs go. Users, on the other hand, login to their own directories, such as /home. Among other things, this makes various administrative tasks like backing up user data, system data, etc., well organized and easy to manage on UNIX systems.
Apples OS X extends the UNIX conventions by putting additional (mostly desktop) executables in the /Applications directory. All user data, however, resides in the /Users directory tree.
Several generations of Windows, on the other hand, have seen programs installing configuration data (e.g., .INI files) in /Windows or its equivalent. Program files have been stored in various places over time as well. Nowadays, many programs install in the /Program Files folder and user data is generally in the /Documents and Settings folder, but thats not always adhered to.
Qualitative score: OS X gets a B+ while Windows gets a D-.