Are Mac Users Worried About Security? Our Survey-Takers Are…But Only a Little.

By  |  Monday, December 8, 2008 at 10:59 am

macvirus2Last week, I got curious about whether Mac users spend any more time wrangling with security problems than in the past…or at least stressing about potential security risks. I decided to conduct a quick survey to get real feedback from real Mac users. The results (via the wonderful PollDaddy) are in, and for the most part they confirm what you might guess: Most respondents aren’t too concerned about security, don’t run much in the way of security software, and have never been attacked by viruses or spyware. Strong security is one reason why they choose the Mac over Windows. But they’re justifiably concerned that the growing percentage of computer users who use Macs could lead to more assaults by the bad guys.

First some disclaimers: We did no screening of survey respondents, so their take on things may or may not map to the Mac population at large. (For what it’s worth, some of the ones who expanded on their thoughts via our final, free-form question are clearly advanced users who are familiar with OS X’s Unix-based underpinnings.) 175 people took our survey–a small pool,  but a statistically significant one. Bottom line: The opinions expressed below are those of the folks who chose to take the survey. (I think they’re interesting ones, and I thank everyone who took the time to participate.)

Full report after the jump…

We started with a pretty basic question: “Are Macs’ reputation for having fewer security issues than Windows PCs a major factor in your choice of the Mac platform?” For 50% of respondents, it’s a factor but not a gigantic one; for 27%, it is gigantic; and for 23% it isn’t a factor at all.


Next, we asked about which security-related issues nag at Mac users the most. The striking thing about the results was that the vast majority of respondents are not very worried or not worried at all about every type of attack we asked about. About ten percent are very or somewhat worried about viruses; about fifteen percent are very or somewhat worried about spyware. A larger minority–around thirty-five percent–said they were very or somewhat worried about spam and phishing attacks (which makes since, since these gremlins are largely platform-independent).

If there are vast hordes of Internet villains attacking Mac these days, they seem to have bypassed most of the folks who took our survey. Ninety-two percent of respondents told us they’d never experienced a virus or hacker attack on a Mac; 6 percent said they had. Only 2 percent said they weren’t sure. (In the Windows world, at least, it’s a dead certainty that there are lots of folks who have been attacked and don’t know it–even though their data has been stolen and/or their PC has been unwillingly enlisted into an army of evil bots.)

Only nineteen percent of respondents told us they were running anti-virus software on their Macs (if I’d guessed based on gut instinct, I might have gone for an even lower number, though). Eighty percent don’t use anti-virus protection.

Given that OS X includes a firewall, it’s no surprise that firewall protection is fairly high: 77 percent of respondents said they use OS X’s firewall or another one,  versus eighteen percent who don’t. (We didn’t ask about hardware-based firewalls such as those built into routers, but it’s possible that most of that eighteen percent are relying on those firewalls to protect their Macs.)

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5 Comments For This Post

  1. avro Says:

    There has been a lot of comment on this in the past week and most of it seems to fall into the Mac Market-Share MalWare Myth. The oft repeated Microsoft PR contention that Macs don’t suffer from MalWare because of the small percentage of computer users who have Macs. This has never been proven and as Macs become more popular we are not seeing more exploits. Macs are probably safer because of elevated permissions and architecture. The bad guys are trained in attacking Windows and many of these come from the old Eastern block. Mac architecture is unknown to them and unless Apple sets up a Mac U in Moscow it is likely to remain that way.

    Let’s stop all this FUD.

  2. mss Says:

    I agree that the Mac Market Share Myth is FUD. Our Macs used to get viruses BEFORE OS X. We’d run Nortan (Symantec) Anti-Virus and occasionally snag something. This was in the mid to late 1990’s when Mac market share was much lower than it is now. Nowadays, on OS X, I’ll occasionally run an anti-virus program. Nothing’s ever shown up.

  3. DAG Says:

    According to the Old Testament, when did Noah build the ark?
    Before the rains came and before the flood.

    One day there will be a significant and serious OS X exploit and those not ready will be bitten hard. The smug FanBois will not garner one iota of sympathy because of their arrogance and ignorance.

    Besides, Macs make good vectors for malware- the Typhoid Marys of the computer world.

  4. Partners in Grime Says:

    Considering there are no Mac OS X viruses in the wild, and what AV software does is check virus signatures, then there’s not much sense running Mac AV software at this time.

  5. avro Says:

    @ DAG

    The problem is the AV companies are always behind the curve. A new piece of MalWare comes out and they have no protection and by the time they do, it has been modified.

    Not so much building an Ark as building a Maginot Line, absolutely useless. The Bad guys just go round it and bite you on the backside.

    Your Typhoid Mary comment: Is it Mac Users’ fault if you decide to use an insecure OS? You have a choice. You could get a Mac.

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