We’ve all heard the hype that Apple’s Macintosh computers are immune to the computer viruses that plague computers running Microsoft Windows but is it true?

If you look at this question carefully, this turns out to be a case of the devil being in the details. Right now, Macs are less likely to be affected by the viruses currently on the loose, referred to as “in the wild” but it’s not actually because they are somehow immune to all viruses. But there are several factors that make virus infection less likely if you use a Mac.

The Design is not as Transparent
Apple is traditionally not forthcoming about the design of their operating systems or hardware. This means that details that would make creating and distributing an effective virus are not as readily available as they are on Windows or even Unix/Linux operating systems. While it appears to be a small bonus for security, this has the drawback of making it more difficult for a broad range of applications to be developed for the Mac OS as well. Badly designed applications mean more security issues and attacks are easier. It also makes it harder to develop really good security software.

Security Defects Are Concealed
When security defects are found, Apple has a tendency to not be proactive or forthcoming about them with users. This means that it’s both harder to verify security concerns or guard against known attacks but there is a claim that it means fewer copycat attacks are made against Mac users. This is just a guess, however, as there’s no way to really measure this.

Fewer Applications are Mac Compatible
Because many viruses are targeted at applications on a particular operating system, the more applications that exist for that operating system, the more chances there are for someone to find a way to write a virus that attacks it. It’s also true that the quality and attention to detail of the authors of some applications is not the best and the more overall applications there are, the more there will be that are not well-written.

Smaller Number of Targets

This is really the key reason for the relative lack of Mac-specific viruses. Writing viruses is actually big business for criminal enterprises and they want to get the most bang for their buck. The huge market share of machines running Windows is a much larger target than that of any other operating system or platform out there. This is true now but it may not be true at a later date. As the number of Mac users grows, the attractiveness of building a virus specifically aimed at Macs will also grow.

So while Macs may be more resistant to the viruses that exist now, that is because these viruses were not written with the Mac as a target. This can change at any time and all users of personal computers should be sure they have well-rated antivirus software running. This software must be kept up to date to be effective as viruses are discovered constantly and the software manufacturers work to keep their product on top of the new threats.

If you use a Mac and do not have antivirus software, install it today. You may be thankful you did.

(c) 2008 Maura Anderson