“I’ve got a Mac; I don’t have to worry about Viruses.”  That’s what Mac users think, right? In theory, all Windows-based PCs are plagued with viruses whereas Macs are just infallible. Is this perception really true or is it just… well, another myth?

Let’s explore fact vs. fiction to come up with some shocking results:

Myth 1: Macs are inherently safer than PCs

At the Pwn2Own 2010 – a popular hacking contest at the CanSecWest – Mac OS X, Safari and iPhone 3GS were exploited far more easily as compared to their Windows-based counterparts. What’s more, Apple’s latest products are being hacked immediately upon their release. For instance, jailbreaking an iPhone is as easy as pie.

Then why Macs are considered to be less vulnerable? For two reasons: aggressive marketing from Apple and their smaller market share. Hackers naturally write code to control the maximum number of machines, so they must target the largest pool of systems i.e. PCs.

To sum up, Macs are as prone – if not more – to assaults as PCs; they are just targeted less frequently.

Myth 2: Mac users don’t need third-party antivirus like the PC users

It’s been established that dozens of malicious threats target the Mac OS X platform. But Intego – the built-in antivirus in Snow Leopard (Mac OS X version 10.6) – blocked a whopping total of two… yes, 2 Trojans. On top of that, it scans files on a handful of apps, and ignores files from several sources i.e. BitTorrent, FTP files etc. Likewise, phishing attacks are equally hazardous for Macs as well as PCs since the underlying platform is simply irrelevant. Increasing virus attacks have forced Apple to drop their claim that Macs don’t need a third-party antivirus, and now they encourage their users to consider installing one.

Myth 3: Unlike Windows malware, Mac malware is a recent phenomenon

Yet another false notion. Back in the 80s, when Mac had considerable market penetration, the first few viruses were exclusively written to abuse Macs. In the 90s, however, the number of attacks dropped along with Mac’s market share.

Myth 4: There are a handful of Mac malwares as compared to Windows malwares

The number of viruses affecting Macs doesn’t even come close to the number of those attacking PCs. Nevertheless, if we consider the ratio of number of viruses to the number of users, there’s not much to choose between the two.

In the recent past, two Mac Trojans caused a great nuisance. The first one swept across several machines forcing the users to download bogus antivirus, and then another cracked Adobe Photoshop CS4 applications. The latter then developed into a full-grown botnet and infected over 40,000 machines around the globe.

Myth 5: Apple’s Safari is more secure than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer

Symantec’s Annual Global Internet Security Threat Report proved it to be just another myth. Only during 2009, Safari encountered 94 threats while Internet Explorer faced 45 vulnerabilities.

What it all boils down to is…

Irrespective of the reason, at the present, Macs are the safer bet – though not immune to threats. Apple, however, being aware of the situation, is taking the necessary measures. Let’s wait and watch how they cope with their weaknesses in the near future.