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Are Macs safer than Windows laptops? We asked the experts

When it comes to getting a new laptop, many of us have a favourite operating system. But, which platform is actually the safest – Mac or Windows? 

We spoke to several security experts to get an idea of how vulnerable each platform is, what attacks you need to watch out for and how to keep your device safe – no matter which one you use.  Here’s what we found out.

Which platform has been targeted more? 

Fennel Aurora, security advisor at F-Secure told Trusted Reviews, while it can feel wrong to think of hacking and distributing malware as a business, that’s essentially what it is, and like any business, it all comes down to profit. 

“Cyber criminals are doing cost-benefit analyses on where to use their R&D resources, just like any normal company would”, explained Aurora. 

“Where is the biggest market? Which market segment has the most people willing to pay? Which market is easiest to enter? Which market has the most competition?” 

Chris Hauk, consumer privacy champion at Pixel Privacy, add that right now the largest and easiest market to for hackers to enter is still Windows. 

“Windows machines are generally targeted much more than Macs, simply due to their sheer numbers,” explained Hauk.

“Targeting Windows machines provides more bang for the buck. However, thanks to its improved sales in recent years, the Mac platform is becoming a more attractive target for bad actors.” 

Antony Demetriades, VP at McAfee added that despite this, Apple users should be careful not to get too comfortable. 

“Many users have believed Macs to be untouchable by hackers, giving Apple devices a reputation for being more secure than other PCs, including Windows”, said Demetriades. 

“But Macs are also vulnerable to viruses and have security measures that can be susceptible to fraudsters.” 

Aurora backed up Demetriades assertion adding that, in many instances, Mac users are considered the more desirable victims. 

“In general iOS and Mac users are more valuable targets and can be more profitable if the crime company is able to put in the effort to develop more complex malware,” said Aurora. 

“These targets are generally profitable either from the generally richer users paying up for ransomware, or by working for governments and corporations with deep pockets behaving criminally to target protesters, journalists, opposition leaders, union organizers, whistleblowers, and anyone else inconvenient to their continuing abuses of power.” 

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Which is more secure – Mac or Windows? 

Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech told Trusted Reviews, the issue for Windows lies in how widespread the OS has become. This makes it a challenge for Microsoft to monitor for vulnerabilities across such a large range – and number – of devices. 

“Mac is probably more secure on the whole because Apple is in full control of both the hardware and software, whereas Windows has to be adapted to many different brands and models,” explained Bischoff.

“That, on top of the fact that fewer people own Macs, creates more gaps in Windows cybersecurity that are discovered more quickly.” 

F-Secure’s Aurora added that Apple’s marketing around security means that, while Macs can be more secure, it’s important users don’t get overly complacent – especially considering the higher value placed on hacking Apple devices. 

“Macs are generally more secure than Windows machines to start, and because of that people are often encouraged to be complacent around installing security software and other monitoring, and there is less competition from other criminals,”  warned Aurora. 

Demetriades agreed, adding: 

“While Apple goes to great lengths to protect all its devices, this doesn’t make your Mac immune to computer viruses, Whether hackers physically sneak onto your device or scam you via apps, sketchy websites or phishing attacks, viruses and malware can create several problems.”

So, what kinds of threats should you watch out for? 

David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky told Trusted Reviews, while it can be easy to just tell people not to click dodgy links, many cybercriminals will put in the effort to disguise their attacks as trusted websites or exciting opportunities. 

Common threats can include keyloggers that expose your passwords, crypto-mining software that takes advantage of your computer’s power to mine crypto-currencies and Trojan malware that performs data-stealing attacks while hiding in plain sight. 

“Most malware, for whatever platform, relies on social engineering, i.e. tricking someone into doing something that jeopardises their security,” Emm explained  

“Hence the number of phishing attacks designed to try and persuade people to click on links to fake sites hosting malware (this could be adware, a banking Trojan designed to steal their money, malicious crypto-currency miners or any other type of malware) or capturing personal information such as passwords.”

Aurora agreed with Emm adding that cyber scams are, in their essence, just that – scams. Many criminals will use the same marketing tactics used by scammers offline, too. 

“A lot of avoiding scams comes down to taking a breath and pausing when you feel yourself being pressured or suddenly excited by a too-good-to-be-true opportunity”, explained Aurora. 

“This applies to websites your visit, emails you receive, text messages, social media, phone calls, and even while outside face-to-face. Scammers find you where you are and try to use things that are familiar to you to gain your confidence”.

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What advice would you give users to stay safe? 

There are a few steps you can take to ensure your devices stay protected and reduce your risk of being the target of cyber scams. 

The obvious one is to install antivirus software. You can find a rundown of our favourites in our best antivirus guide, but our current top pick is Kaspersky Internet Security for its excellent performance and handy feature set. 

It’s also a good idea to invest in a VPN to protect your data while surfing online. You can see the best VPN services we’ve tested in the attached guide.

Our experts also had the following advice to share. 

“Apply updates to operating systems and applications and back-up your data regularly. Think PUB – protect, update, backup”, said Emm. 

“Although it’s age-old advice, avoid suspicious emails or messages from unknown senders. Hackers often use phishing emails or text messages as a means to distribute malware, so do not open suspicious links”, said Demitriades. 

Emm advises users to avoid responding to unsolicited messages and to only use trusted sites: “Use ‘https’ and always type in the address yourself (or use bookmarks/favourites) rather than click on links”, he warned. 

Aurora, meanwhile, recommends registering for a password manager to keep tabs on unique passwords. 

“This is the only way to have a unique strong password on every account, meaning that even if one account is hacked, the damage is contained to that one account”, explained Aurora. 

“In addition, the autofill and synchronization of passwords across devices that you get with good password managers means it’s easier to use every day than trying to remember and type out your passwords”. 

Aurora also advises users to switch on Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA/2FA) when available – especially when it comes to your email. 

“If possible, use an app like FreeOTP or a USB hardware device like Yubikey instead of your phone number with SMS. And save those backup codes in your password manager. If you can only do SMS, please still do that, it is better than nothing”, he said. 

“Regardless of whether you’re Team PC or Team Mac, it’s important to understand that both are susceptible to cyberthreats which are constantly changing”, concluded Demitriades.

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