Windows owns 80% of the desktop operating market share – and it always has.
So it’s no surprise that it has plenty of vulnerabilities and gets attacked regularly. While many consider MacOS to be more secure, it’s not strictly true.
In this article, we’ll cover the most secure operating systems available, with the pros and cons of each. Unlike with other sites, we’ve purposefully neglected to put them in an ordered list as each of them are different in their ease of use and the level of privacy they provide. Therefore, if you want to find the most secure operating system that you’re still comfortable with, then we’d recommend trying out all of them.
In short here are the most secure operating systems available:
Keep reading to find out about each one in more depth and detail, as well as some additional useful information at the end of this article.
However, there is one important thing to consider. Protecting your computer isn’t as easy as clicking download on the right OS. You need to be comfortable using it, and also take additional steps to secure your software and hardware.
Linux, which originally stems from Unix, has been the choice of a secure operating system for years. Its open-source nature is a great starting point. However, its biggest strength is that it can be easily customized to suit your needs. Unlike Windows and Mac, Linux has a huge community dedicated to keeping it secure and since it’s inception it’s been largely virus-free.
Since it’s open-source there are plenty of resources for it online to learn how it works and personalize it to your needs. Of course, this means you’ll need to learn how to implement the security and privacy features which are important to you.
Linux has a lot of different versions available so it can be difficult deciding which one to start with. Indeed some of the other systems on this list are based on Linux. However, for beginners, we’d recommend Ubuntu as it’s one of the largest and most well maintained.
OpenBSD is aptly named after the Berkley Software Distribution Team who developed it at the University of California in Berkley. As the name also suggests, it’s completely open-source and completely supported by donations. In line with this, they are completely open and transparent about any issues they may have.
The OS prides itself on being completely portable, secure, standardized, and cryptography integrated by standard. In fact, it’s only suffered a handful of attacks in the last decade. Unfortunately, all this comes at a cost – it’s not user friendly. If you’re lacking technical know-how and coding skills, then likely this won’t be the system for you.
By default OpenBSD comes with; a firewall, a web server, a mail server, and a customizable desktop. On the whole, it might not be pleasing to the eye, but it does its job of being a secure operating system extremely effectively.
Whonix is an operating system based around privacy, security, and anonymity. It achieves this through a system of isolation – similar to sandboxing. At the core, it’s a Debian based operating system combined with Tor. The former provides the core functions, while the latter provides the open relay network and secure connection.
On a deeper level, Whonix runs two virtual machines (VMs). One is called the Workstation, this is the Debian base, and applications can’t leave this. The other one is the “Gateway” which is the Tor layer. All network connections filter through the Workstation then through the Gateway.
The system comes packaged with a number of Tor services at the ready; Tor Browser, Tor Messenger, Tox, and Ricochet. Alongside this, it also has encrypted email, secure data transfer, and a host of other software programs. The VMs are compatible with a host of operating systems, namely VirtualBox, Qubes OS and Linux KVM.
On the whole, another OS that’s technically heavy but great for user privacy, security, and anonymity.
Tails was released in 2009 and is short for The Amnesiac Incognito Live System. Its name is a clear indication of what it does – it keeps no files.
Tails is extremely lightweight and can be run from a USB stick or a Live CD. Apart from the operating system, it does not use any hard-drive space. Instead, everything runs from the RAM, and when the system is shut down this is completely wiped.
As with other OS’ on the list, Tails utilizes the Tor network to keep anonymity to a maximum. Downloading Tails is simple, and while installation can take some time due to the encryption, this is also a simple process.
Unfortunately, the project receives a large amount of funding from the US government. Therefore, those worried about backdoors should probably avoid this system. However, on the whole, it’s a great tool.
Qubes calls itself a reasonably secure operating system. Honestly, this is fairly modest of it, as it’s probably the most secure on this list. It’s based on Fedora (a Linux distribution) and is even endorsed by the infamous Edward Snowden.
Similarly to other OS’ on the list, Qubes uses a system of isolation. Each program is launched in its own virtual privacy machine. Therefore, even if one part of the system is infected, it won’t propagate to the rest of it.
Unfortunately, like many others on this list, it takes a while to get the hang of it. However, once you’re there, it’s a great secure OS.
According to founder Joanna Rutkowska, in an interview with Vice, “The users who need the protection offered by Qubes the most are human rights defenders—journalists, activists, civil society groups.” Qubes may have a tough learning curve, but if your security is a top priority, it’s well worth exploring.
Unlike most of the other operating systems on this list, PureOS is user friendly. It’s completely free and has a large range of options to customize and modify it. It’s also open-source and easily modifiable so that you can make it suit your needs.
Unfortunately, it’s relatively new so it’s yet to prove it’s worth, but if you’re looking for something more user friendly then this could be a great alternative for you. Of course, it does come with the downside that it’s less secure and private than the others on this list.
Security Features to Consider
When you’re choosing your operating system, below are items to consider. Of course, this isn’t a definitive list. As you dive down this rabbit hole, things will become more complicated, and you’ll learn to take things to a new level.
Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware
In all honesty, you should have anti-virus and anti-malware install no matter what operating system you’re using. These are simple products and help protect you against common malware and virus’. Unfortunately, each defender has it’s own pros and cons and none of them are foolproof. Lastly, you should always keep these updated as there are new exploits appearing on a daily basis.
Sandboxing and Isolation
Sandboxing and isolation is the act of separating elements from the core system. Though most operating systems, and even browsers to this to some level, none of them are truly effective. It can be as simple as creating a virtual machine, but this is impractical. Learning full in-depth isolation is extremely difficult and unless you plan on making this a career it’s better if you look at one of the operating systems already doing this effectively.
Encryption is self-explanatory. However, not only should you consider encrypting your hard drive but also your internet connection. The former can be achieved with a number of different software, while the latter can be achieved with a VPN.
Alongside all of the above, there is a range of additional privacy tools that you can use. Tor, Private Messaging, and secure email just to name a few. As you start researching and building out your system more and more, you’ll pick these up naturally.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is the most secure operating system?
If we had to choose from the list above, Qubes OS would have to be our top option. Of course, it’s not the easiest to use hence for beginners the others could be more useful.
Is Linux the most secure OS?
Linux distros are definitely secure, and most of the operating systems on this list are a secure Linux version. So in short, yes, as it is, with the correct implementations.
Is Mac safer than Windows?
Apple’s ecosystem is safe. By default, it is safer than Windows, and there are fewer attacks on it. However, as with all operating systems, your vulnerability depends on the additional measures you take.
Is Linux safer than Windows?
Yes. Of course, a Windows user using the correct tools could be safer and more secure online than those using a stock version of Linux.
What’s the most secure operating system for mobile?
So far there is no clear winner on this front. Both Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile and Ubuntu Touch are in it for the running. Time will tell if they get picked up and if they remove secure and safe.
So those are the most secure operating systems. Do you think we’ve missed one, or have experience with one of them. Then let us know in the comments.