Why Windows is safer than the Mac

The code quality is found to be much better overall in Vista

Mac users have long gloated that the Mac OS is safer than Windows. The gloating should stop: There's plenty of recent evidence that Vista is, in fact, a safer operating system than Mac OS X.

The most public piece of evidence is the recent "Pwn to Own" challenge, in which security pros were issued the challenge of trying to break into three laptops, a Mac, a PC laptop running Vista SP1, and a laptop running Ubuntu.

The first to fall was the Mac -- and it took a grand total of less than two minutes for security researcher Charlie Miller to break in.

Miller targeted the Mac for a simple reason --- breaking in was like taking candy from a baby.

"It was the easiest one of the three," he said. "We wanted to spend as little time as possible coming up with an exploit, so we picked Mac OS X."

More than a day later, hackers were still trying to break into the Vista machine. It was cracked only when the organizers of the challenge changed the rules and made the machine easier to break into, by adding a variety of third-party applications, including Acrobat Reader, Flash Player, Firefox, and Skype. A vulnerability in the Flash Player led to the successful break-in. The Ubuntu machine was never successfully breached.

This latest faceoff only confirms what security researcher Dino Dai Zovi noted a year ago, when he successfully broke into a Mac in a previous version of this year's security challenge. In an interview, he had this to say when asked whether Mac OS X or Vista is more secure:

I have found the code quality, at least in terms of security, to be much better overall in Vista than Mac OS X 10.4. It is obvious from observing affected components in security patches that Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) has resulted in fewer vulnerabilities in newly-written code. I hope that more software vendors follow their lead in developing proactive software security development methodologies.

Here's more evidence that the Mac is less safe than PCs: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researchers found that Apple patches vulnerabilities slower than does Microsoft. Researcher Stefan Frei said that "the number of unpatched vulnerabilities are higher at Apple" than at Microsoft.

There's other evidence that the Mac is far from safe as well, including the recent release of a Mac Trojan, called Troj/MacSwp-B. Sophos says the Trojan, "tries to scare Mac users into purchasing unnecessary software by claiming that privacy issues have been discovered on the computer."

The upshot in all this? If you want a safer machine, get rid of your Mac and get a Vista PC.

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Preston Gralla

Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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