Get a Mac, they said. Macs don’t get viruses, they said.
What they meant was, “Apple Macintosh computers are much less likely than Windows computers to be affected by malicious programs, partly because the operating system is generally more secure and partly because its market share is so much lower and therefore not as appealing a target.” They absolutely didn’t mean, “Macs are not capable of being infected by a virus.” Because they absolutely are.
Last week wasn’t the first infection of Mac computers, but it is being called the biggest. A Java applet nicknamed Flashback or Flashfake masqueraded as an update for Adobe Flash to weasel its way onto an estimated 600,000 Macs, about half of them in the United States. It made news for the size of the outbreak and for the fact that Apple reportedly knew about the vulnerability for weeks before finally offering a fix.
Complacency is no longer an option. Like it or not, you might have to run antivirus software on your Mac. (And your PC too.) But don’t worry, there are plenty of free options. (For both Mac OS and Windows.)
• PC Tools iAntiVirus: The threat signature database in this product, PC Tools brags, is “not cluttered with signatures for Windows specific threats which your Mac is immune against.” This means you might remain a carrier of a Windows virus in, say, e-mail, but it also means there’s less data to bog iAntiVirus and your computer down. The equivalent Windows software from PC Tools doesn’t have the little “i” in front because, you know, Apple.
• avast! Mac Security: While this wins the award for Most Piratey Company Name, it still bills itself as a beta, which means it’s expected to have bugs. But it has three shields! Web Shield, Mail Shield, File Shield! So, same as pretty much any other antivirus product. I’d worry that the “beta” portends only paid upgrades in the future, but avast! does offer free Windows and Android antivirus products as well, so you’re probably safe.
• Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition: This one’s odd because Sophos does have a Windows antivirus tool, but only the Mac one is free. Favoritism? Too small a market? Whatever the reason, it’s a good deal, because Sophos creates security software for enterprise networks; they know their stuff. And their dejected worm in an apple-shaped cage wins Most Adorablest Product Logo (even though the bars are totally far enough apart for the worm to escape).
• ClamXav: This is the one real system tweakers want. It’s built on the open-source ClamAV engine, but among the many options and settings is the ability to configure your own version of the engine. That means editing text files, compiling code, setting permissions, and generally not writing arty novels or illustrating 3-D painted cityscapes or whatever it is Mac users do with their time.
• Comodo Antivirus for Mac: I found numerous mentions around the Web for all the other programs listed here; not so with Comodo until I searched specifically for it. The first beta was released a little over a year ago — earlier than the avast! beta, actually, but Comodo isn’t exactly a household name. Still, it’s gotten good reviews, with all the components you’d expect from an antivirus program: real-time and scheduled scanning, file quarantine, frequent updates.
Only the banter is infectious at twitter.com/CitizenjaQ.