Mac Security Essentials

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Mac Security Essentials

Are Macs really more secure than PCs? The answer is complicated.

Technically, Macs are not inherently more secure than Windows PCs—and by some measures, they are definitely less so. Over the past five years, Microsoft has made huge security improvements to Windows, and Apple now lags behind Microsoft in implementing library randomization, data execution protection, and other advanced security features.

But Apple continuously releases OS X security updates, fixing numerous vulnerabilities that could allow someone to take over your Mac for shady purposes.

And Windows faces a constant onslaught of attacks that dwarfs anything OS X experiences. That’s because the days when malicious hackers wrote viruses and took down Web sites just for fun are long past. Now they do it for money. Since the vast majority of computers run Windows, focusing efforts on that platform is just a more profitable use of their time. In addition, there are fewer nefarious tools for Macs, and fewer attackers with OS X programming experience. So there are fewer attacks on Macs.

Could that change? Absolutely. Most security experts agree that as the Mac’s popularity and market share increase, so will the risks.

Proactive Defense

So what’s the average Mac user to do? We’ve told you before about common dangers, and about the everyday practices that will protect you and your Mac from both today’s threats and tomorrow’s potential ones.

Many of those aforementioned tips depend on OS X’s built-in security tools—primarily the firewall and programs like FileVault and Disk Utility, which can help you encrypt your data.

With tools like those built into the OS, why do so many Mac software vendors—including big names like Symantec and Intego—offer their own security programs? When are the tools built into OS X enough, and when (if ever) do you need additional help?

To answer those questions, we looked at three categories of security software—firewalls, antivirus applications, and privacy programs—and determined the seriousness of the dangers they try to protect against. We then evaluated OS X’s built-in tools, decided when (if ever) third-party security programs might be necessary, and made some recommendations.

In the pages that follow is new and updated advice for keeping your Mac safe. At the same time, we urge you to go back to our previous security stories and make sure you’re following their advice, too.

The bottom line is that the best defense is common sense. As computers become more secure, criminals will shift their efforts from deceiving machines to deceiving you. A little bit of skepticism mixed with a dash of paranoia will protect you better than any tool can. No computer is immune from attack. By educating yourself and taking basic, often free, precautions, you can continue to enjoy a safe computing experience, even if the Mac world becomes a little riskier.

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