There are two types of people in the Mac world – those who think you need anti-virus software and those who don’t. The reality is that, although viruses are a non-event for Mac users, security is still important.
Malware, software that is introduced to your Mac by fooling you into installing it, is out there – as we saw with the Flashback scare last month (www.macworld.com.au/50353) in which more than 600,000 Macs were said to be attacked by malware – as are phishing sites that are very adept at scamming you out of credit card and other personal information.
Security conferences and experts have shown proof-of-concept Mac viruses, but the threat is now real.
If you take a look at the shelves of your local software reseller you’ll see that there’s very little ‘anti-virus’ being sold these days. It’s all about the broader category of security.
Security software takes into account the threat of potential incoming connections by using a firewall, implementing phishing protection so that you’re not fooled by websites that try to steal personal information and ensuring that your system is not vulnerable to threats from software that unwittingly makes your system vulnerable. Here are two examples:
Norton Internet Security for Mac
In the old days, Norton had a deserved reputation for creating anti-virus software that rendered Macs close to unusable as it churned through CPU cycles and memory. However, Norton totally rewrote the software a couple of versions ago and it’s now far leaner.
The latest version of Norton Internet Security for Mac is made for OS X 10.7 but comes with Norton Internet Security 4 if you’re running OS X 10.4 to 10.6. Installation is painless and does an automatic check to ensure that it’s fully up-to-date before prompting you to reboot for the setup to complete. There’s then a short wizard that configures the software for your specific needs.
Although your Mac comes with its own firewall, Norton’s is location aware. If you use a laptop and move between different networks, it allows you to have different firewall settings for different connections.
The Safe Search feature, which works best with Firefox rather than Safari, checks each page you browse to and compares it to a list of known safe and dangerous sites. If you search using either the Norton toolbar – which uses Ask.com as its search engine – or Google, results that are scanned as being safe are marked with a green icon. Unsafe and unknown sites are also labelled so that you can make a decision as to whether you should visit them or not.
CPU and memory use when Norton Internet Security for Mac is idle are tiny – 1.3 percent CPU use and just 17MB of memory. When the software is doing a scan that rises to just 10 percent and 32MB.
Norton Internet Security for Mac is a solid product that provides security as you’re using your Mac without getting in the way.
Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition
Sophos’ free product only scans your Mac and attached storage for viruses – there’s no protection for web browsing or extra features to further secure your computer. However, if you share files or storage devices such as portable hard drives and memory sticks with Windows users, it’s important that you keep your system clean so that you don’t become an unwilling vector for malware.
This Sophos edition is made for OS X 10.7 Lion. It’s available as a free download and installs easily without the need for a further reboot. When sitting idle, Sophos doesn’t use any CPU as it quietly sits in the background, waiting for something to do. When scanning a USB stick or the local hard drive, CPU use rose to between 10 percent and 20 percent. Memory use peaked at about 20MB while scanning and about half that when idle.
Assuming you have the OS X firewall enabled, Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition provides good, basic protection for your Mac.