Windows 10 and Mac OS are two of the most popular operating systems in the world. Both operating systems utilize security features to protect user data and minimize threat risks. However, both have different security and privacy standards. The competition between Mac OS and Windows 10 has been ongoing for years, and the question remains: Which is better for privacy?
Mac OS is better for privacy and is a more secure operating system than Windows 10. While both operating systems offer similar security features, Apple shares fewer user data with fewer third parties and has a more secure browser (Safari). Windows 10 has a lesser reputation for data sharing.
This guide will look at the specifics between operating systems to compare and contrast their security and privacy features. Read on to learn more.
Similarities between Windows 10 and Mac OS
Before we dive into each operating system and its pros and cons, let’s first discuss the basic similarities between the two.
Windows 10 pros and cons
Windows 10 offers multiple forms of protection to keep your device and data safe. It includes boot-up protections, built-in malware & antivirus protection, a secure app store, automatically installed software updates, and a “find my device” feature that lets you find a lost or stolen device using GPS.
As of 2021, more people use Windows 10 than Mac OS.
Unfortunately, because Windows 10 is the predominant desktop operating system, it’s at a higher risk of cyberattacks. Hackers target Windows 10 more often than Mac OS simply because it has more users.
Many Windows 10 threats target system vulnerabilities, meaning that downloads aren’t the only way to end up with a virus or malware. As a result, Windows 10 operating systems require more security upkeep to keep them safe. Fortunately, Windows 10 threats continue to slow over the years.
In addition to more cyber threats than Mac OS, Windows 10 runs on different devices, making it more vulnerable to attack. Each brand on which Windows 10 runs has its own systems and configurations. That means that when Windows 10 runs, it’s at the whim of these other brands’ configurations.
Also, Microsoft has been under scrutiny for its data collected about users.
Microsoft Edge consistently gathers user data and sends it to third parties. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about what Microsoft does with this information. Moreover, this data gathering is questionable in terms of security and privacy. However, Microsoft gives users the option to turn some data-sharing off, which we’ll discuss in this guide.
Windows 10 Trusted Boot
Before Windows 10 is booted up, it’s protecting the firmware, operating system, and other files. Windows 10 supports Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UFEI) and uses Trusted Boot for these protections.
Before the system boots up, the chips installed on the motherboard analyze the operating system files.
If there are any attempted unauthorized changes to these codes or configurations, the chips will prevent them. If the chips cannot prevent the changes, the user will receive a critical warning on the next boot-up.
Microsoft Defender Antivirus
Windows Security is the center for all of the security upkeep on a Windows 10 device.
The built-in antimalware and antivirus software on Windows 10 is called Microsoft Defender Antivirus. This antivirus software runs in the background and detects and prevents malware and viruses from compromising the computer and its files.
As soon as Windows 10 boots up, Microsoft Defender Antivirus is activated.
Microsoft Defender Antivirus runs quietly in the background and constantly scans for malicious files, viruses, and other security threats. Protection is in real-time, and updates are automatically downloaded to keep the device safe and protect it from security and privacy threats.
However, Windows users need to maintain this security. The operating system, third-party antivirus software, drivers, and browsers must be updated regularly to ensure safety. If users bypass updates, they’re essentially putting their computer — and their privacy — at risk.
The Microsoft Store, available in Windows 10, boasts a wide range of apps for your computer or other devices. Microsoft verifies that all apps are safe and adhere to privacy, content, and security standards before they’re available for download.
These protections ensure that users aren’t downloading malicious files to their devices.
When developers submit apps to Microsoft, they’re scanned for any files that might harm the computer. If any packages in the app show malicious files, they won’t make it through to the app store.
Even though apps are screened before entering the Microsoft Store, they’re scanned again with SmartScreen upon download, and the first time the app is run. We’ll discuss SmartScreen more in-depth in the “Edge Browser” section of this guide.
Unfortunately, the Microsoft Store’s scanning process isn’t 100% secure. So now and then, an app with shady intent makes its way through. Fortunately, Microsoft is quick to address these issues.
Windows 10 constantly scans for and updates software to keep the device secure. These operating system updates maintain security and protect user data. In addition, Microsoft has a reputation for taking a more proactive approach to discovering and resolving any security vulnerabilities.
The update cycle for Windows 10 is very aggressive in comparison to Mac OS. However, these updates are critical to the system, as they detect the latest threats and prevent them from compromising the system.
Encryption secures your data by scrambling it into unreadable code. This data cannot be read without a sophisticated decrypting program, and only authorized users have access to the information.
Standard device encryption is available on all operating systems, including Windows 10.
If you want to use Microsoft’s BitLocker encryption instead, it’s available on their Pro, Enterprise, and Education editions (it’s not available on the Home edition). In addition, some users utilize both types of encryption for additional security.
Windows’ native browser, Microsoft Edge, is quite different from its predecessor: Internet Explorer.
Internet Explorer was considered an inferior browser, so much so that it became a meme. So naturally, Microsoft has attempted to distance itself from Internet Explorer’s shoddy reputation. Microsoft launched Edge in 2015.
Edge has three privacy levels, including basic, balanced, and strict. In addition, privacy settings in the browser are adjusted based on the settings you choose.
SmartScreen is a Windows 10 feature that protects the computer from harmful applications and files. It works in Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Store, and other browsers, including Chrome and Firefox. The program checks all downloaded files and applications to be sure they’re not dangerous.
During a Phishing Protection test carried out by NSS Labs, Microsoft Edge with SmartScreen enabled blocked over 95 percent of phishing attempts and over 98 percent of malware attempts.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has a poor reputation when it comes to data collection. Their data gathering methods are questionable, and because they sell this information to third parties, it’s considered a potential privacy risk.
Microsoft Data Tracking and Harvesting
Microsoft has been scrutinized over the years for its user data harvesting and tracking. They’ve made some improvements over the years but still have a long way to go.
While Windows 10 has dozens of privacy settings available, you have to opt-in, as they’re not the default setting. However, enabling them all doesn’t mean complete security. It seems nearly impossible to obtain total privacy when using the Windows 10 operating system.
Microsoft claims that they’ve made significant improvements to privacy and security, but much of the data is required for sharing and cannot be turned off. This includes user diagnostics, which are traced and include personal identifiers.
When Microsoft traces the websites you visit, your Cortana transcripts, and your location history, it includes your account information with that data. You can, however, delete the data, but less tech-savvy users might not know this is an option or how to delete it.
Unfortunately, you cannot turn off basic diagnostics, as they are set to “required” by Microsoft.
The amount of data that Windows 10 collects on its users is alarming. Microsoft isn’t transparent about what they do with this information, but it’s well known that companies often sell data to third parties as a significant stream of revenue.
Find My Device
When setting up a Windows 10 device, users have the option to activate the “Find My Device” feature. This feature allows users to locate a lost or stolen device via GPS tracking. Unfortunately, the device needs to be connected to the internet and have enough battery power to send its location.
Mac OS pros and cons
Mac OS’s system security includes boot-up protections, built-in malware, antivirus protection, a protected App Store, software updates, and a secure browser.
There is a common misconception that Mac OS is secure by default. Unfortunately, this is not true, and the belief could be detrimental to users that are more relaxed in their security behaviors due to a false sense of security.
Like all operating systems, Mac OS is vulnerable to security and privacy threats. However, Mac devices aren’t as prone to the exploitation of system vulnerabilities compared to Windows 10.
With that said, Mac recently surpassed Windows for the first time in cybersecurity threats. Most of the threat growth, however, is geared towards malicious downloads. As hackers become more familiar with Mac devices, they may begin exploiting system vulnerabilities, but as of now, that doesn’t seem to be a significant issue.
Data harvesting and tracking is an issue with Apple. However, they seem to sell less data than their competitors.
We’ll discuss Apple’s data tracking and harvesting more in-depth toward the end of this guide.
M1 and T2 Apple Chips
Apple uses the M1 or T2 security chips to maintain boot-up protection and additional security for their computers. These secure motherboard chips protect the Mac OS on startup. In addition, they verify that the operating system is authorized by Apple, provide encrypted storage, and security for Touch ID data.
If the chips detect a security breach, the Mac won’t boot up. Instead, it’ll switch to secure recovery and attempt to resolve any issues. No matter which chip your Mac device uses, it continues behind the scenes to protect the operating system as it runs.
Like Windows 10, Mac OS also features built-in malware and antivirus protection through XProtect.
XProtect is a scanning tool that works quietly in the background when you open downloaded applications or files. This built-in antimalware and antivirus program will alert you to any files or apps that contain malicious data and prompt you to delete it.
It’s similar to third-party antivirus software, but it’s written into the operating system, making it speedy and relatively invisible. In addition, the software is regularly updated, keeping your device protected from the latest threats.
The App Store
App Review protects Apple’s App Store. This program tests each app submitted by developers before they’re allowed into the App Store for download.
For additional security, the Mac OS has Gatekeeper. Gatekeeper ensures that all apps are safe before you run them for the first time.
With this security program, malicious software is blocked and prevented from relaunching. Gatekeeper only allows users to download software from the App Store and verified developers on the web.
Unfortunately, Apple often allows apps that harvest personal information, which we’ll discuss in the “Mac Data Tracking and Harvesting” section.
When new Mac OS updates are available, users are alerted. Users that prefer automatic updates can opt-in to have updates applied when the Mac isn’t in use.
Mac OS has a slower and less aggressive update cycle in comparison to Windows. Despite this, it checks for updates daily and applies them whenever they’re available.
One of the major downfalls of the Mac OS is that after several years, old devices and operating systems can’t install or apply the newest updates. In these cases, the devices become less secure, and the only thing to protect them is investing in a newer device.
Similar to the Windows BitLocker encryption, Mac OS offers FileVault 2.
This encryption software protects all of the data on the Mac. For example, passwords are protected using the Apple M1 or T2 chip, and file-level encryption is activated.
It’s touted as one of the most secure browsers available, as it has privacy protection technology built right in, including Intelligent Tracking Prevention. Intelligent Tracking Prevention locates trackers throughout the web and stops them from collecting your personal information and data.
Privacy Reports are available via the Safari Toolbar. These reports provide users with information on what trackers Safari has blocked and show how Safari protects users during their browsing sessions.
In addition, Safari features full ad-blocking features, as well as secure password storage via iCloud Keychain. The one downside to Safari is its slower update cycle.
Mac Data Tracking and Harvesting
Apple is a closed platform, meaning the Mac OS is made specifically for Mac devices. This is different from Microsoft, whose operating system runs on many other brands’ devices.
A closed platform has the potential to be a more secure system. However, it also means that there is little data about what Apple does with the data it collects.
Apple collects data, but not much of it is sent to third parties. Mac OS offers on-device processing, which is considered a major security advantage.
On-device processing means that Mac doesn’t have to send user information to third-party servers. This dramatically reduces the risk of hacking or data interception.
In addition, data encryption is stored locally. Therefore, it isn’t accessible by third parties or Apple.
When the Mac OS does send data to Apple’s servers, Apple keeps the data as private as possible. Therefore, no personally identifiable information is sent with the data. For example, in Mac OS, Siri requests are sent to Apple’s servers, but your Apple ID is not included.
This is a huge step up from Windows 10 that uses identifiers in their data tracking.
Apple sets a high bar on user privacy. While other companies send user data to third parties and use it as a revenue stream, Apple sells its business using security. Yet, it should be noted that Apple still allows app developers to collect data from users directly. When downloading applications, however, users have the option to accept or decline specific app permissions.
When it comes to privacy and security, Apple isn’t perfect. But they’re doing more than their competitors.
Find Your Mac
If you lose your Mac, you can find it using the “Find My” app. The app locates the device, even if it’s offline or sleeping, using Bluetooth. Once the signal is found, the device’s location is sent back to iCloud so that you can retrieve it.
In addition to the “Find My” feature, the Apple T2 or Apple M1 chip supports Activation Lock, meaning that if you lose your Mac, the only person who can replace or reactivate it is you.
Which is more secure: Mac or Windows?
Even though Mac faced more malware attacks than the average PC in 2019, it still seems to be the safer operating system.
With Mac OS, your data is safer and more private than in Windows 10. In addition, Mac OS decreases the likelihood of hardware vulnerabilities, as it’s a closed system.
While Microsoft Windows 10 continues to improve security, their data tracking and harvesting are concerning. Tech-savvy users or those familiar with Windows PCs may be better able to disable any questionable security settings, but even still, Windows 10 browsing is never fully private.
With that said, both Apple and Microsoft could stand to do more to protect their users’ privacy and data. For example, data tracking should be disabled by default, not an opt-in feature.