Apple’s popularity increasing need for Mac antivirus
by Alan Zisman (c) 2010
published in Business in Vancouver November 23-29, 2010 issue #1100
Riding on the coattails of Apple’s wildly successful iPod, iPhone and
iPad, sales of the company’s Macintosh computers have outpaced the
personal computer industry as a whole.
Part of the attraction to the Mac has been the belief that they are
immune to the ongoing security assault that affects Windows users.
So far, that’s been a good bet. Mac users have been able to sit back
and watch while their Windows-using colleagues suffer from viruses,
spyware, scareware and multiple infestations of malware.
Some of that has been the result of what might be called security by
obscurity – there is much less payoff to the bad guys in targeting the
much smaller Mac user-base. Equally the case: the Mac’s OS X, like
alternative PC operating system Linux, is based on Unix – designed for
multiple users with security in mind, and harder to infect.
Windows, despite Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to beef up security,
remains at its core a less secure system.
Mac (and Linux) users are subject to just as much spam and phishing
scam emails as anyone else and can inadvertently pass on virus-bearing
email attachments to their more vulnerable Windows-using colleagues.
(And Macs and Linux PCs running Windows in virtual sessions are just as
vulnerable to infections as any other Windows system.) Despite this,
few Mac users bother to install any sort of security software, and
generally haven’t suffered any consequences.
Security vendor Sophos (headquartered in the U.K., with a major
facility in downtown Vancouver) thinks the time has come for Mac users
to take security more seriously. In a Sophos-sponsored survey, 95% of
respondents believed that the honeymoon was over, feeling that Macs
would be increasingly targeted in the future.
At the beginning of November, the company released Sophos antivirus for
Mac, free for home users. It claims to protect users from all known
malware, “both Mac- and Windows-specific threats including
Trojan-horses, viruses, worms and spyware.” While only a small number
of Mac-specific threats have been identified, Sophos notes that Macs
have recently been targeted by faux versions of commercial software on
pirate download sites and erotic video sites that require specific
viewer software that contains malicious code.
Sophos’ free software runs in the background without requiring manual
system scans and can disinfect existing infections. It can clean
Windows malware from infested USB flash drives plugged into a Mac.
Home users can download the free product from www.sophos.com/freemacav.
It runs on current Intel Mac models and on older PowerPC Macs, running
operating system versions 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard), or 10.6 (Snow
Leopard). The company also offers Sophos Antivirus ($165 per year –
free trial available) for Mac and Windows small-business users, along
with a variety of other security programs.
Sophos is not alone in hoping Mac users will become more security
conscious. In October, Panda Security released Panda antivirus for Mac
($50 per year for home users – free trial version available). Panda
vice-president Ivan Fermon predicts that when the Mac’s worldwide
market share reaches 15% – it currently hovers around 10% – “hackers
will begin to aggressively target attacks.”
Panda claims to have identified 5,000 strains of Mac-specific malware,
a number that is growing by about 500 each month. (By comparison, Panda
Labs is identifying 55,000 new Windows-focused threats each day.) A
nice feature: Panda’s Mac product will check a connected iPhone or iPad
for malware – devices that are likely to be increasingly targeted in
While there are fewer Linux than Mac users, they might also want to
install security software. Perhaps the easiest to use: Avast for Linux
– again, free for home use. (The Czech company also offers free and
paid products for Windows.)
While security software is increasingly being recommended for Mac and
Linux users, for Windows users, it’s an absolute necessity. For home
and small-business users, my recommendation: Microsoft’s free Security