As usual, the mac media is all over a recently published Consumer Reports article that reports the already well-known chestnut that “Macs are safer than Windows PCs”:
On Windows PCs:
In a nationally representative survey of more than 3,200 households with at-home Internet access, one-third said a virus or spyware caused serious problems with their computer systems and/or financial losses within the past two years.
Half the respondents reported a spyware infection in the past six months. Of those, 18 percent said the infection was so bad they had to erase their hard drives. To avoid spyware, 51 percent of all online users reported being more careful visiting Web sites, and 38 percent said they download free programs less frequently.
The incredible vulnerability of Windows is no longer news (which is sad in itself). What’s interesting is when the report mentions Macs:
“Macs are safer than Windows PCs for some online hazards. Only 20 percent of Mac owners surveyed reported detecting a virus in the past two years, compared with 66 percent of Windows PC owners. Just 8 percent of Mac users reported a spyware infection in the last six months vs. 54 percent of Windows PC users.” (emphasis mine)
This report is still very positive for Macs, but the numbers quoted are very surprising.
First of all, how many Mac users were actually surveyed? 20% reporting “viruses in the past two years” seems very, very high. That’s one in every five Mac users - a staggering number of infections, if accurate. The significance of the number changes, however, if there was only 100 mac users surveyed (and potentially an inaccurate sampling).
I’d also be curious what Consumer Reports considers as “detecting a virus” - does this mean that the user actually had an infected system, or that their virus software only found a virus (say, in an attachment in an email)?
The 8% reporting spyware is even more surprising. The Mac community is extremely vocal, and I can’t remember a single time that I’ve read on any of the sites I frequent (such as Macintouch, Macfixit, Macworld, and many others - I have no life) reporting spyware infections.
Just because it hasn’t been reported online, though, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. Still, I’ve yet to see evidence (anecdotal or empirical) that there are spyware out there that actually run on Macs.
In general, this report is still good news for Macs and for Mac owners, but I think getting the numbers right is critical. The fact that Macs are, for the most part, easier to use and much safer than Windows PCs is a key selling point and it’s worth getting the message out as accurately as possible.
I’d love to see a definitive survey done with a huge sample of users (numbering in the hundreds of thousands, if that’s realistic) that gets down with irrefutable numbers how safe Macs and Windows PCs really are. With our governments, financial industries, and the infrastructure that keeps the important bits (pardon the pun) of our lives running relying on computers more and more, information like this isn’t just helpful consumer advice any more; it’s part of the common good.
Have you ever been infected with spyware or a virus on Mac OS X? If so, please post in the comments the circumstances and how you fixed the issue.