Which Is More Secure: Windows, macOS, Or Linux?

By Mike Darrow
Windows vs Linux vs macOS

Let's face it; cyber theft is an issue that can never be fully remedied. The perceived wisdom is that viruses and spyware can be written for just about any platform in existence, no matter how well-engineered an operating system is. With every operating system having its own security problem, 100% bulletproof protection is practically out of the question. 

Of course, massive improvements have put scammers in a tight spot again and again. But then, they do tend to bounce back, which should tell you that the rat race continues. That said, Windows, macOS, and Linux fare extremely well in the area of cybersecurity. Their administration team always work in full swing in an attempt to keep scammers behind the curve at all times. 

So, they don't have a terrible track record or anything along the same lines. The best part is that they keep focusing on building a bulletproof platform. So, the question is, which operating system is more secure? Does Windows have an upper edge over macOS or Linux, or is it vice-versa? Who is the real industry leader in the area of cybersecurity? 

Which One Is The Safest: Windows, macOS, Or Linux? 

Frankly speaking, it’s not easy to pass judgment until we look at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture tells us that each of these operating systems come with their share of pros and cons. So, like everything else in the computer world, the decision to pick the best platform comes down to a user. Therefore, let's take a look at some insights that will tell you which of these platforms should fit the bill for you. 

Is Windows The Safest Platform?

Microsoft Windows

According to many, Windows is the least secure platform of all three operating systems in the discussion, simply because of its sheer size of users. With roughly 80% of the users using Windows, malware writers and hackers are bound to target Windows more than any other platform out there. As already known to many of you guys out there, people have been using Windows their whole lives. Basically, there are more chances of a virus scare in Windows compared to Linux or macOS because of the significantly larger attack area that Windows offers. 

Now, this isn't to say that the Windows operating system comes with some inherent flaws that make it more vulnerable than other platforms. It's just that a virus maker will try to target Windows over Linux or macOS because of the low effort to high return ratio. On the bright side, this has prompted Microsoft to up its game. Yes, the engineering of the Windows operating system is more secure now against all forms of cyberattacks, and Windows updates happen quite frequently too. For instance, the viruses built for Windows 7 won't work on Windows 10, rendering them useless since most users have switched to Windows 10. 

Not to discount the fact that Microsoft also has the most experience in dealing with cyber threats. Windows comes with an Anti-Malware program by default that’s highly competent at detecting malware. Although this built-in antivirus for Windows doesn’t protect a system from highly advanced attacks, it's pretty good at its intended job of detecting malware coming through reputation checks, signatures, and so on. Better still, Windows also has a sandbox installed in its stores by default, which protects a device from threats that other security systems may miss. 

Basically, this safety mechanism provides an extra layer of protection to your device by preventing harmful applications from harming your system. Furthermore, Windows makes use of code signing checks. For those who don't know, code signing ensures less data tampering. On a Windows device, code signing is used both at the time of installation and the first run of an application. Keep in mind that most of these add-on security measures are missing on Linux. So, Windows not only enjoys a lion share of the market, but it also excels in several security aspects of use.

Is Linux The Safest Platform?

Linux Open Source

A lot of industry experts share the opinion that Linus is safer than both Windows or macOS. As hinted earlier, digital attackers don't usually target Linux because of its low usage. Compared to Windows and macOS, it has the lowest market share of a low single-digit. According to some reports, it has less than 3% share of the market. Also, Linux doesn't provide users with admin access by default, limiting the damage that users can do by clicking on links that they shouldn’t be clicking on. Basically, Linux encourages users to use the tools within their platform as opposed to visiting a shady website for downloading certain stuff, eliminating the risk of catching up with viruses in the process. 

It's also true that Linux has more people working behind the scenes to spot vulnerabilities in their platform, allowing them to catch any threat sooner than the rivals. They not only look out for system vulnerabilities, but they also do their best to prevent downtime. So, they do really well on the administration front. What's also worth pointing out is that Linux doesn't really operate in the same way as Windows or macOS. A Linux user usually requires permission to open an attachment. In other platforms, you can merely double click and open a dangerous attachment. On purpose, Linux has some extra steps in place to safeguard your system. 

That said, the fact still remains that Linux can be as vulnerable to attacks without antivirus for Linux like any other operating system out there, of course, in the wrong hands. Not to mention that Linux is used only by a small chunk of people (in comparison to Windows) as it's seen as something that's difficult to use. It's like becoming a millionaire at age ninety, practically not allowing you to use the money to the fullest. Also, it doesn't have anti-malware in place by default, like Windows and macOS. It may be used extensively at the enterprise level, but individual home users are not a big fan of Linux. Basically, their platform is more suitable for advanced users as opposed to beginners, who might not find it user-friendly enough for their needs. 

Is MacOS The Safest Platform?

Apple macOS

The rumor goes that you can't get a virus attack on macOS because it has a very clean record. Well, macOS is safer than Windows, not because it has some ground-breaking security mechanism in place but due to fewer attacks in comparison to Windows. That said, it does provide a secure platform where threats can't access the core files to cause immense damage. On macOS, apps are guaranteed to be sandboxed as well. Threats are basically encapsulated from the rest of the computer, preventing them from mitigating. It works along the lines of a highly efficient antivirus for macOS.

To prevent a hacker from modifying or replacing the core system utilities, macOS has Apple's System Integrity Protection (SIP) in place. It actively blocks insecure extensions and protects a certain part of their core processes from modification. On Macs, code signing authentication technology is available as well, which revokes a certificate in case any app is tied to something malicious that can pose problems to your system. Basically, it has an extensive set of security features that make it difficult for threats to compromise your system. To put it simply, its security model is pretty good.

On the downside, macOS updates aren't as robust as the Windows or Linux software updater. Also, it's costlier getting macOS in comparison to Windows or Linux, and it's nowhere near as customizable as Windows or Linux. Plus, Apple has fairly little experience in dealing with cyberthreats in comparison to the competition. So, macOS does have its fair share of downsides too. That said, an average macOS is less likely to encounter a security breach issue in comparison to Windows because the Windows user base is very large, making it an easy target for scammers.

Final Thoughts

To be fair and objective, it's hard to pinpoint which operating system is better than the other. They seem equally secure. All of them implement sandboxing, code signing, and whatnot to maintain digital hygiene. It's an obvious point, but the truth is, vulnerabilities still exist. Believe it or not, a recent study that exposed scammers found out that nearly 84% of hackers use a non-technical strategy to gain access to confidential information. Therefore, it won't matter what operating system you use. By leveraging social engineering, hackers will easily end up having the last laugh.

So, what really matters is a solid security system that comes with a fleet of protective features to prevent your device from getting attacked in any imaginable way, no matter what operating system is in use. Of course, you should also practice some digital hygiene principles to be less of a cyber theft target, which involves updating your device frequently, not downloading stuff from fishy websites, and properly configuring your system/software. With these digital hygiene principles in place, you will be safe no matter what platform you choose.

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