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Mac Malware Protection: Is it Really Necessary?

Updated on May 20, 2011

Do you really need antivirus software for your Mac? Not too long ago the answer would have been no – there haven’t been any real threats to Mac OS X that would warrant putting any extra load on your system with an antivirus app constantly running in the background.

In 2010 the situation is starting to change. Apple's computers are now so popular and widespread that it’s becoming worthwhile for hackers to focus on the platform. The old half-truth that OS X is safer than Windows is mainly due to the fact that it hasn’t been worth attacking such a small share of computer users.

Today it’s not that small anymore– Apple’s MacBooks, iMacs and others account for more than 5% of the worldwide market share and an even higher number in the US according to most market analysts. So while OS X is still a lot smaller than Windows, its increased popularity has not gone unnoticed by IT criminals. What follows are some general Mac security tips and some thoughts on free and commercial Mac antivirus solutions.

Basic Mac Security

The first and foremost advice is about basic web safety. Safari isn’t known as the safest browser in the world, so Mac owners are by no means immune to safety threats like phishing attacks and theft of personal information.

·         Beware the web’s “bad neighborhoods”

Take care if you find yourself in one of the web’s “bad neighborhoods” (yes I’m talking about porn, but “warez” sites and the like are equally risky). Similiary, watch out for spoofed websites trying to impersonate PayPal, your online banking service or any other site where your information could be stolen.

·         Be careful with email links and attachments

The biggest risk in that case is when following email links – always check the address bar to make sure you are in the right place and remember that no real bank would ever ask for your personal information via email! The same goes for email attachments. Just leave them alone if you don’t know the sender.

·         Keep your software up to date

Snow Leopard added some new and much-needed safety measures and fixes for some known Mac security holes, and Apple has promised to make security updates available as new threats are detected, but no system is fool-proof. Make sure to update your system regularly and get the latest versions of all applications you’re using.  

Free Antivirus Software for the Mac

Apple itself has stated that "antivirus software provides added protection," so let’s have a look at what’s available. Just like for the PC there are some free Mac antivirus solutions as well as several commercial security suites that may or may not be better than the free alternatives.


A free anti-virus app that I have personally used is ClamXav – an open source program based on the ClamAV engine that is also available for several Linux distributions. It has all the basics and is also customizable. For example, you can use other versions of the ClamAV engine if you want to, or select various file types to exclude form the scan.

ClamXav has a support forum and quite extensive documentation, but it there is no paid version with enterprise-level support, so if you need a large-scale corporate solution, other solutions might be better alternatives.


Another free alternative for home users who want to tighten up their Mac security is iAntivirus. It’s built and maintained by the company PC Tools and works like most other antivirus programs. It offers real-time protection against various potential threats as well as scheduled scans of all or parts of your computer for unwanted visitors.

An advantage for you but not so much for your Windows-using friends is that it only scans for threats targeting the Mac platform. Otherwise most Mac antivirus apps also detect Windows viruses, just so you won’t pass them along to unsuspecting colleagues and friends. The good news for you is that it uses a smaller database, has a smaller memory footprint and utilizes less computer resources overall.

All in all, iAntivirus provides most security features the average user might need, and it looks good doing it. On a potentially worrisome side note, Symantec acquired PC Tools a while back. So far, iAntivirus has been free for non-commercial use and continues to be updated, but it is unclear whether Symantec plans to keep providing the free alternative.

For business and commercial use, you will have to use the paid version of iAntivirus. The advantage with upgrading is that you receive full and unlimited support instead of some sparse documentation and a support forum.

Commercial Software

While both ClamXav and iAntivirus are free to use (for home users in the case of iAntivirus), there are several Mac security solutions for those who do not mind paying for it. Most of the well-known security software providers offer a Mac version, including Avast, McAfee, Symantec Norton and F-Secure.

Many Mac users –especially the more experienced ones – are probably still hesitant about resorting to security software. And compared to Windows, the number of malware aimed at OS X is still decidedly small – iAntivirus currently lists 116 threats. On the other hand you can never be too careful. More malware will almost certainly show up in the future, ironically thanks to the growing number of Macs.


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    • profile image

      dinadana 7 years ago

      I can recommend soft of ProteMac company.

      I'm uisng their Logon Sentry.

      I think that protection is neccessary, and more protection can not be unneccessary.

    • gazook profile image

      gazook 7 years ago

      Thanks for the comment, CheekyGirl! Yes, even if Macs are much safer than Windows in general, they're definitely not airtight.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      There is good reason not to take mac security for granted. People do get suckered by the argument that macs are safer than pcs. Good hub.