2012.06 Article: Hands-On with Five Antivirus Apps for the Mac

By Jacqui Cheng (Excerpt only; read full story here.)

(Editor's note: The full article was recommended by fellow Mad Mac members, and it goes into great detail with images on each of the apps mentioned below. I have not used any of the mentioned products, and Mad Mac in no way endorses any of them.)

So Mac invulnerability to malware is a myth. And although such a blunt statement may be a blow to the ego of some Mac users, it remains true. Security researchers from all walks have long argued that it was only a matter of time before the Mac became popular enough that virus, malware, and spyware makers would come calling. Overconfidence precedes carelessness, especially when it comes to technology.

Is it time to begin installing antivirus software on our Macs? We leave that up to you to decide for yourself, but given the spike in questions we've been receiving about which antivirus software is the best, we thought we'd take a look at a handful of the most well-known apps out there for Mac users:
  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus for Mac ($39.95 per year)
  • Intego VirusBarrier X6 ($49.95 per year)
  • F-Secure Antivirus for Mac ($39.99 per year)
  • Sophos Antivirus for Mac Home Edition (Free)
  • Avast! Free Antivirus for Mac (Free)

We're not arguing that Mac users have to install antivirus software if they want to avoid the zombie malware apocalypse. Infection numbers — even for Flashback — are still relatively low when compared against the global number of Mac users. However, we also don't think it's wise to pretend that OS X is completely immune to attacks. It's not — we know it, you (hopefully) know it, and security researchers know it. Even if you feel comfortable navigating the scary old Internet yourself, you may want to consider setting up your less-experienced friends and family members who just can't help themselves when it comes to playing Java games online or opening random e-mail attachments from foreign countries.


  1. I don't want to entirely pooh-pooh the idea that Macs are vulnerable, but let me right here and now drive a stake thru the heart of the foolish claim that hackers will only start paying attention to Macs once they've attained "significant" market share. That's like saying hackers will ignore the CIA's website because it's nowhere near as big as JCPenney's. What you do get if you succeed in cracking the CIA or the Mac is huge egoboo, since they are notoriously well protected, and anyone who can succeed in burrowing beneath their various layers of armor will have bragging rights in the hacker community for the next decade.

    Besides, what exactly do they think it takes to have your market share considered "significant"? Last fiscal quarter Apple had 11% of the domestic market, which translates into about 12 million new Macs a year (to say nothing of all the old ones still in use).

    Furthermore, this is what Wikipedia says about Apple Inc.:

    "As of July 2011, Apple has 364 retail stores in 13 countries, and an online store. It competes with Exxon Mobile as the largest publicly traded company in the world by market capitalization, as well as the largest technology company in the world by revenue and profit, more than Google and Microsoft combined. As of September 24, 2011, the company had 60,400 permanent full-time employees and 2,900 temporary full-time employees worldwide; its worldwide annual revenue in 2010 totalled $65 billion, growing to $108 billion in 2011.

    "Fortune magazine named Apple the most admired company in the United States in 2008, and in the world from 2008 to 2012."

    Does that sound like a company that's so trivial and insignificant that it's beneath the notice of computer pirates?

    No, the reason the Mac hasn't been attacked much is because its defenses are very very strong (beginning with the solid Unix core of the operating system) and because Apple maintains tight control over the way its operating system is integrated with its hardware. Microsoft, OTOH, has to write its Windows operating system to be able to work on a hundred different platforms over which it has no control at all, so naturally there are many more opportunities for springing leaks.

    Nonetheless, as the article points out, "very very strong" is not the same as "invulnerable", and "past performance is no guarantee of future results", as as the money managers like to remind us.

  2. My own advice, for what it's worth, is to not bother to install any anti-virus software until there's really serious reason to worry that your beloved Mac is swimming in an ocean festooned with bugs and germs and gremlins. That hasn't happened yet, and there are very smart people at Apple working to make sure it won't.

    Now, you might be thinking, "Heck, what's the harm in putting on a belt, just in case?". Again, based on my experience only and in no way pretending to be universally applicable, antivirus software behaved almost indistinguishably from the viruses it was supposed to be protecting me against. That is, it was constantly clamoring for my time and attention and slowing down my work flow. It needed constant updates. It was way more trouble than it was worth, especially since it never detected anything.

    And it's barely possible that you're a "belt and suspenders" type and think maybe you'd be best off it you installed two different kinds of malware cops. DON'T DO IT! This is guaranteed to produce bad results. The way these programs work is that they have little bits of code inside them that are known to occur in viruses, spyware, etc. Every time they come across a new file, they compare all their little internal bits of code to everything in the new file to see if they get a match (which explains why they're so time-consuming). What do you suppose happens when the new file is also an anti-malware scanner that also has a ton of these little bits of evil code embedded within it? Fireworks! Alarm bells! Flags waving! People jumping up and down and screaming! And the 2 programs immediately set to work trying to eradicate each other, completely tying up your computer.

    So that's my best practical advice. For now. Of course, the world keeps changing, so whatever I say today may not be true by this time next year. That's why we have user groups.