Companies spend a lot of resources on ensuring that their systems are secure. For example, they may have their own security operations center along with firewalls, SIEMs, and identity management solutions for cybersecurity. For operating systems, companies have anti-malware solutions installed on the devices themselves. But what about the inherent nature of a particular operating system. Is Mac more secure than Windows devices from hackers? In this article, we look at the different factors that compare cybersecurity operating systems.
So we have three leading operating systems in the world. First is Windows, the most used operating system, especially in the enterprise area, then we have macOS, the Unix-based operating system used in Apple computers and finally, open source Linux (and associated distributions) that are barely used by a select group of people. for niche applications.
According to experts, the reason why Windows is considered less secure than competing operating systems is not because of a lack of security standards and innovation from Microsoft, but because of the large attack surface and the dominant use in companies. The size of people using Windows is huge, and because of this, hackers around the world target the operating system more than the others.
Most new malware is therefore specifically designed for Windows. On the technical side, Windows is just as, if not more, secure than other operating systems. In fact, Microsoft’s Windows operating system security technology has rolled out significant innovations in recent years to address cybersecurity issues. It has even distributed ML models to continuously scan for potential threats and has the largest signature database for malware.
But the persistent attacks that use potential or outdated vulnerabilities in the operating system are being exploited by hackers for their sinister purposes. So the Windows operating system does not come with any inherent flaws that make it more vulnerable than other platforms. It’s just that malicious hackers will try to target Windows over Linux or macOS because of the greater likelihood of successful attacks, simply because of the attack surface and the number of users.
Microsoft has also taken a very proactive stance in rolling out regular Windows updates so that any vulnerabilities can be updated quickly. Windows comes with Anti-Malware software as standard, which is very capable of detecting all kinds of malware using things like signatures, YARA rules and reputation controls, although it will not protect your organization from more advanced attacks.
In addition to this, Windows also has a sandbox installed in stores, which protects a PC from threats that other security systems may have missed. Windows also uses code signing controls, which results in less data manipulation. On a Windows device, code signing is performed both at the time of installation and the first application run.
Mac OS has a reputation for being secure by default. But that mostly means that there are no more network services that can be attacked. Apple T2 Security Chip Built-in with many newer Mac models – keeps Mac OS more secure than ever. Secure Enclave processor in the Apple T2 chip provides the basis for Touch ID, secure startup, FileVault and encrypted storage. The T2 chip also presents a standard tactic to prevent free and open source software from being uploaded. macOS system security includes the startup process, software updates, and the ongoing operation of the operating system.
Macs face fewer viruses compared to the Microsoft Windows operating system. MacOS is not free of malware, and we see vulnerabilities in the operating system from time to time. PCs have become more popular, with the number of Windows operating systems connecting to the Internet far exceeding Macintosh or Linux. The result has been an influx of cyberattacks targeting PC users and the Windows operating system. But now times are changing, and Mac OS X’s market share is about 10%, so cybercriminals are taking notice and starting to look at the Apple operating system.
System Integrity Protection (SIP) is a security feature of Apple’s macOS operating system introduced in OS X El Capitan in 2015. It consists of many core enforced mechanisms. This protects against modifications to processes without a special privilege, even when run by the root user or a user with root privileges.
Linux is completely open source, unlike other operating systems, which means that there are literally thousands of people across the globe who tear the Linux source code every day. The open source community looks at each and every security issue and then issues a security update for it. The more you get to see and look through your code, the better. On the contrary, when you only have a select team of people (as with Windows and macOS) to review the code, you will definitely encounter some important issues and you will have far more vulnerabilities than the global crowd.
Many industry experts say that Linux can be more secure than both Windows or macOS. Linux has advanced options for sandboxing any process, and the reason why some analysts and users view Linux as more secure than Windows and macOS. Linux implements various aspects of security that are meant to complement each other. Instead of looking at antimalware or firewalls, Linux somehow acknowledges that permissions solve 99% of cybersecurity issues.
For example, Fedora is a Linux distribution from the Red Hat community-run Fedora project. Fedora uses security-enhanced Linux as standard, implementing a variety of security policies, including forced access controls, that Fedora embraced early on. Fedora makes a hardening wrap and does safety hardening for all its packages using compiler functions such as position independent drive (PIE).
Contrary to popular belief, it helps with open source to fix security issues very quickly and detect security flaws due to collaboration. On the other hand, many additional security measures are lacking on Linux such as code signing and sandboxing. Due to its free use of open source, as well as little security support, Linux OS is not very proud of anyone. According to some organizations, open source code is not secure because people can access that source code, and this is just not the right logic today. On the contrary, many companies use Linux operating systems such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which are specifically hardened for computer security.
Across the world, just over a quarter of desktops have a variant of Microsoft Windows, with Mac OS 10 a very distant second with just over 10% market share. Windows and Mac OS are very different operating systems in terms of the underlying code with modern versions of Windows based on the Windows NT kernel and Mac OS instead based on UNIX.
If you look at vulnerabilities in Mac, Windows or Linux or really any operating system, it’s very similar. Because it is a very difficult task to build an operating system, and therefore everyone has similar problems. So technically, the Mac is not particularly secure than Windows. But the biggest problem is what attackers are targeting. If an attacker tries to target as many people as possible, they will not go for a smaller installation base (macOS or Linux).
There is nothing specific about Mac OS that makes it inherently more secure. Instead, the differences between Windows vs Mac OS and Linux mean that malware often has to be coded separately for each platform. So a Mac is not necessarily harder to attack or less vulnerable than a Windows PC.
Hackers go for an operating system with the largest installation base, ie Windows. Therefore, most malicious software only works on a Windows system. This means that if someone runs a Mac at home and they accidentally click on a malicious email link, malicious software is not likely to run because it is only meant to run on a Windows system. That does not mean there are no macOS attacks out there, but it is rare. So the point is that yes, Macs are more secure than Windows systems, but probably not for the reasons people think they are.
The good news is that Microsoft and Apple have developed quite comprehensive ways to secure users’ systems, and while neither of them is perfect in any way, both companies invest a lot of resources in finding and patching vulnerabilities usually in a fairly accurate way.
Hackers also do not specifically target Linux due to low usage among business users. Compared to Windows and macOS, it has the smallest market share and less than 5% of the OS market. Now it’s good that Linux does not give users administrator access by default and therefore limits the damage that users can do by clicking on links so that they can be malicious. It is believed that Linux has more people working to detect vulnerabilities in the platform, so that they can catch threats faster than the competition.
Each operating system has its own advantages and disadvantages. There are differences between the operating systems when it comes to important security features such as built-in tools against malware, sandbox, system protection and code signing. It is up to an organization and an individual to make an informed choice about choosing a particular operating system platform that better fits the security objectives.
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