Do I really need antivirus for my Mac?

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I know viruses are a big problem on Windows, but I have a Mac. It doesn’t seem that Macs get infected by viruses. Should I run an antivirus program on my Mac, and, if so, which one?

I’d rather not spend lots of money on something I don’t need.

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Coming from a background as an anti-virus developer, you can probably guess what my answer is likely to be. But I’ll qualify it…

Yes, you should run an anti-virus on your Mac. But there is much MUCH less malware for OS X than there is for Windows.

Every week, hundreds of thousands of new samples of PC malware are analysed by security labs, compared to a small handful for Mac.

But that’s not going to be much comfort if you are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of one of those Mac malware attacks. (By the way, most malware these days – for both Windows and Mac – is not technically a “virus”, but more likely a Trojan horse).

But as well as running an anti-virus on your Mac, you should also follow good security practices – such as keeping your system and apps up-to-date with security patches (I’m looking at you Adobe Flash…), and being wary of clicking on unsolicited links or opening unknown applications.

You can be your very own best weapon against attacks by keeping your wits about you, and staying knowledgable about threats. But I would still recommend running an anti-virus too.

Good suggestions for a Mac anti-virus? There are some good free offerings out there, including solutions from Sophos, Bitdefender and others. If you are prepared to pay a little cash (which might be a good idea if you need support should you ever become infected) then there are well known solutions like Intego too.

A new entrant to the Mac anti-virus market is Malwarebytes. Well, Malwarebytes may be new to Mac, but the product itself is based upon Thomas Reed’s AdwareMedic and so has a good pedigree.

Earlier this year, ran a detailed test of Mac anti-virus products which is probably a good starting place for your investigation:

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Turn on Gatekeeper on your Mac.
Switch on the firewall on your Mac, it is in the settings panel.
Don’t download from sites like Softonic, or Torrentsites.
Don’t use Adobe Flashplayer,
Adobe PDF you can do without, Preview opens your PDF’s
Use your commonsense on the internet .

If an Antivirus programs makes you feel safe, than do, you will be helping Windows users!

What you absolutely need nowadays on a Mac is what have been mentioned before,
what was called Adware Medic and is now called Malwarebytes anti malware for Mac, free, great and will get rid off a long list of adware (which are no viruses).
Switch it one once a week.

All my work with Apple Products since 1979 and being a moderator (among other things to do with Apple) I have solved over 900 problems in 18 months, never ever a virus problem!

An extra tip don’t use cleaning programs.

Success with making up your mind about this. Let us know the decision, please.

MacAdam, the Netherlands

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The answer to your question really depends on your definition of need. The quickest and easiest answer is: there is not a single operating system immune to malware. Many will tell you otherwise but they are mistaken. To be the safest as possible, you should. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to (really depends on how you interpret it): you might be fine just like some under Windows might be fine (keyword is might).

The below includes some history as well as why there appears to be no (to some people) – but is actually ‘much less’ – malware under MacOS.

As I’ve pointed out here (and elsewhere) multiple times, the most notorious worm of all – the Internet Worm (or ‘Morris Worm’) of 1988 had three attack vectors of UNIX systems. If it wasn’t for a poorly thought out method (on how to keep the worm active on each system), he might have gotten away with it – he made it appear to come from another university; but his method starved the system of resources which dropped them to their knees. I’ve also given the example of the Ramen worm that affected Red Hat Linux (though the bugs had been patched for some time before the worm was released). There are other examples. Mac OS malware exists too as is shown fairly often (far more often than Linux but it has nothing to do with what is possible). Mac OS is based on NeXT and BSD Unix. NeXT is also Unix. We all know DOS and Windows are full of malware.

Computer viruses – as a concept – is quite old. I seem to recall that the concept was in literature before it actually happened. Adding reference to the article: (called ‘Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata’ by John Von Neumann)

There are two things to consider, then for Unix (and MacOS):

1. For Unix users (like me – even though I primarily only use Linux these days, this point is still relevant) what is most commonly exchanged is source code, which means those who know the language(s) the software is written in, can audit it themselves (to an extent – the only 100% sure audit is when you write the software yourself). I don’t know how this works with MacOS, though.
2. The target audience is a lot smaller. This applies to both Mac OS and Unix more generally.

Ask yourself this finally: if you were writing malware – for whatever purpose – wouldn’t you want it to infect as many devices as possible? Of course the answer is ‘yes’. This is how it was way back when it wasn’t so much about theft/fraud/etc. This only adds ‘proof’ to the myth that only Windows has malware.

As Graham reminds you, if you don’t follow safe computer practises then you will have problems whether you have an antivirus or not – an otherwise very secure environment can be completely worthless because a user doesn’t care.

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This has to rank amongs the biggest cons of the century and even beats Nigerian scams. So many Apple user fell for the ‘Apple can’t get malware’ scam that if there was money attached to it, someone would be very rich indeed.

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Something everyone is forgetting, we have a responsibility to other Internet users. Regardless of whether you are using Mac/Linux/Windows we are all susceptible to malware attacks, be it by dodgy emails, cross site scripting etc. Using Mac/Linux may protect the root account, and the payload may not fire, but the malware can still sit there waiting for you to pass it on.

Apache is probably the most used Web server (and generally runs on Linux), but the websites they hosts are not immune to having various threat vectors waiting for the unsuspecting (blind) passer-by.

Having an AV/Malware solution may not seem necessary on such “invulnerable” systems, but it may warn you that something IS wrong and stop you passing it on.

  • coyote
    Cheers to that! I’m glad someone gets this – we’re all responsible for our part of the global security of the Internet. Thank you for pointing this out; this is something I – and others – have written about before, but yet people just don’t get it. Every vulnerable system leads to an additional vulnerable system including because of spam botnets (and other DoS and DDoS botnets – yes, people, spam is a form of a DoS attack because it fills in inboxes and it wastes many many – network included – resources, even when the mail is rejected or filtered in some way!).
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