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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Apple’s popularity increasing need for Mac antivirus software

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver November 23-29, 2010 issue #1100 High Tech Office column

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 the future.

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 Essentials.

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