The world can be a scary place. The online world is no different. While the movies of yesteryear featured burglars driving human-sized holes in bank vaults in order to acquire vast riches, today's movies showcase crooks able to steal millions from the comforts of home. With more people doing their banking and shopping online, phishing has become all the more lucrative. While there is no one piece of software that will keep a user safe, there are certain security practices that do at least make a user a far less attractive target. One serious factor users may not consider is the role their operating system of choice plays in their online security.

Choosing an operating system

Now, there is no “right” or “wrong” operating system to use if a user wants to be secure, and the choice of what operating system to use should ultimately come down to which environment a user is most comfortable in. With that said, it is a simple truth that most current viruses and malware target Windows users. Windows has the most users, which by default also means it has the most uninformed and vulnerable users, precisely the kind of target that cyber-criminals drool over.

Mac OS X is a safer environment simply because it has less users. With that said, it is the second most popular desktop operating system, so users should not make the assumption that it is malware-free. Even Android smartphones can be susceptible to malware these days.

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the platform, the safer a user is from malicious software. Linux and FreeBSD are relatively secure operating systems due to their limited number of users, the diversity of the open source software landscape, and the higher-than-average degree of computer literacy of their users. When a Linux or FreeBSD user receives a virus-laden email, they are less concerned about their own system being compromised and more concerned that they may inadvertently compromise the systems of their Windows or Mac using friends.

Chromebooks are an even smaller target, and given that there is little to the operating system besides the Chrome browser, Chromebook users very little attack surface to worry about.

Adopting safe practices

There are many companies out there profiting by telling consumers that their products or services can keep a user's computer completely safe. Running security software is an important step, but such advice does not paint a thorough picture of how to compute safely. If a family happens to have a PC, an iPad, and a Chromebook in the same house, simply using the PC for all their social networking and using the Chromebook exclusively for banking and work can go a long ways towards being able to bank in peace. Using a Nook to transfer money is certainly possible, and it is a far less likely target than a person's main computer, or even their smartphone.

A person knows not to hide their life savings on the kitchen table. They do not need an understanding of how houses are constructed to know that some rooms are easier targets than others. The goal is not to built a room of titanium walls impenetrable to all burglary, just to make the likelihood of success too improbable to be worth the effort.

Likewise, a thief is not going to bother trying to crack a user's Kindle when they can spend far less effort going after someone else's PC. So stay sharp, and please, if nothing else, use a longer password.