Switchers Guide

Switchers Guide: Understanding Mac security

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When it comes to security, using Windows can feel like living in the heart of a big city—the kind of place where you can install all the locks and alarms you want, but you still worry. The vast number of computer users who run Microsoft operating systems form the biggest, juiciest target cybercriminals could dream of. Which is why there are more than twenty-two million unique examples of Windows malware out there.

Using the Mac, by contrast, is like living in the country. Even if you don’t arm your home like a fortress, chances are vastly lower that anyone will break in, simply because the Mac is a much less attractive target to bad guys. Documented examples of OS X viruses and spyware doing damage to real Mac users remain astoundingly rare. So while OS X security software such as Norton Anti-Virus certainly exists, a high percentage of Mac users do without it.

Which is not to say switching to the Mac means you should stop worrying about Internet risks entirely. Like any operating system, OS X isn’t hacker-proof: Apple regularly releases fixes for newly-discovered vulnerabilities, and is sometimes criticized for moving too slowly to do so. And some threats and annoyances, such as phishing and spam, aren’t platform-specific.

So what’s a smart Mac newcomer to do?

  • Stay informed about Apple’s updates and install them promptly via Software Update (located in the Apple menu).
  • Use OS X’s security tools (it’s had a firewall for years, and Snow Leopard introduces a basic malware scanner).
  • Take advantage of safety measures built into the software you use (all major OS X browsers have malware filters, and Apple Mail includes anti-spam features).
  • If you run Windows on your Mac via Boot Camp, VMware Fusion, or Parallels Desktop, protect it just as you would any copy of Windows—it’s just as vulnerable. (Both VMware and Parallels bundle security software.)
  • Keep your wits about you. OS X users may have much less to fret about than folks who run Windows, but you don’t want to be the one who discovers that hackers have finally turned their full attention to the Mac.
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