Monday, 19 April 2010

Does the Apple Mac need Anti-Virus Protection?

If you are running on the latest Mac OS X at home and you allow Apple to automatically update Mac OS X on demand, then my advice is No, you don’t need anti-virus protection on your Mac at home, well not at the moment anyway. Apple themselves go out of their way to state Mac OS X is not effected by viruses and protects itself from other malicious applications - "The Mac is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious software and security threats right out of the box" - Apple.

A word of caution with my view, which will be highly controversial to some, the Mac malware situation could change in the future should the bad guys decide to target the Mac OS in anger. Theoretically this may happen if the bad guys started to find they aren’t getting any joy out of attacking Microsoft Windows PCs, however this is currently not the case, there are no significant shifts in the malware OS attack vector occurring. In my view, I feel the bad guys will actually move onto targeting the smart phone market in the future, of course this is a market which is well occupied by Apple. In the meantime Mac users should guard against complacency, especially when considering all software will have it faults and therefore will have vulnerabilities to be exploited. Where we have an operating system, we are talking hundreds of thousands lines of code, which is ultimately written by human beings, so it can never be perfect, while operating systems by their nature are a highly complicated pieces of software. So it is safe to conclude no operating system can never be regarded as being ‘secure’ and therefore cannot never be guaranteed to be vulnerability free; there is just no such thing as 100% security. The answer to this problem is to continually fix (patch) the operating systems as vulnerabilities become known, hence the importance of ensuring your Mac OS is automatically updated. Going back to the lead question, today if I was a ‘home’ or mobile Mac user running OS X, I personally wouldn’t bother with deploying anti-virus protection, as the risk is currently extremely low, while Mac OS X itself does have good malware protection built in. I certainly wouldn't criticise anyone who wants to deploy anti virus on your home Mac as matter of precaution, of course the trade off in doing this is an impact on system performance and the cost of purchasing an anti-virus product.

Why aren’t Macs at the same risk of Windows
The fact is the vast majority of malware (including viruses) are written specifically to exploit the world’s most popular operating systems, namely the Microsoft Windows range. There are well over a million documented* “viruses” which specifically target the Windows operating system, while there is only a handful of known viruses which targets the Apple Mac operating system range, and of these, some are actually concept malware produced by good guys, but to my knowledge none currently work against the latest version of Mac OS X. The folk behind writing and deploying malware target the largest market share and the lowest hanging fruit, namely the easiest OS they know is the easiest to exploit from. Microsoft Windows operating systems are by far the most used operating system on this planet and has arguably been one of the weakest for security in comparison to other operating systems like Mac OS.

A third point often raised in this debate, is Windows users are less technologically savvy than Mac users (in other words more stupid!) and therefore are more easier to be "conned" into clicking links which execute and install malware. I think this might have been true in the past, but today I note that many non-techies are using Macs, many people are simply choosing a Mac over a PC as a status or even fashion symbol, so I no longer buy the PC users on average are more stupid than Mac users argument.

Anti Virus Protection is no Guarantee
Anti virus does not guarantee complete protection against all known viruses and malware, AV protection is only as good as AV's latest update, and even then may not be able stop all of the latest malware. So you could well have anti virus installed on your Mac which is bang up-to-date, but if a new type of virus suddenly appears on the scene, the anti virus may not detect the virus anyway, the truth of how ineffective some anti-virus products on Windows PCs is actually quite alarming, but I'll save that one for another post.

Do business Macs need Anti-Virus Protection?
The short answer in my opinion is Yes. Medium to large businesses which have Apple Macs deployed in a mixed Microsoft Windows environment, may well want to consider deploying and running anti-virus protection on their Mac estate.

Why? Macs have been known to harbour Windows based malware, malware which could make its way from the Mac via file sharing on to Windows PCs. Just because Windows malware does not work on the Mac, it does not mean it cannot be stored on a Mac drive, and if that Mac has no anti-virus protection, then the malware files on the Mac drive are never checked for Windows malware, which in turn means the malware files are never removed, and leaving any Windows malware present and dormant on the Mac drive. Should that malware data file make its way onto out of the Mac drive, perhaps via a network share, USB memory device, or server storage, and then onto Microsoft PCs, then there can be real issues in store for the PC estate.

Also there are information security regulations and standards which insist on the deployment of anti-virus protection regardless of the operating system and your perceived risk.

Where can I get Mac Anti-Virus Protection
If you feel you need anti-virus protection on your Mac at home, or within your business environment, most of the usual big commercial anti-virus vendors provide a Mac OS anti-virus client, personally I'm independent of security vendors, which is important, as I try to keep my advice independent and objective, so I'm not going to be suggesting any vendors here. But there is a free home Mac anti-virus client called ClamXav -, as I said in my blog post last week, I believe anti-virus protection should be free for all home users and provided out of the box by the OS vendor -

The Biggest Threat to Mac Users
Finally home Mac users should be still be wary of attacks made through their web browser and their email client. For instance phishing attack is just as likely to be successful against a Mac user as it is a Windows user, always remember many online fraudsters are targeting your personal information, your credit card details and your online bank account login details, which are often obtained through attacks through web sites (the web browser) or through the Email client, either way by conning the person into sending the details. Some third party applications on Mac can also provide a way in for malware, such as file sharing apps, to be wary about what you agree to install.

This is an interesting topic, and has been hotly contested in the security industry for years, especially between AV vendors with Mac anti virus products to pendle, and Apple enthusiasts (BTW I'm neither!), so if anyone has any different views whether in agreement or not, or indeed recommendations, please post in the comments - Thanks.

* April 2008, the BBC News reported Symantec now claimed "their anti-virus programs detect to 1,122,311


kloug said...

Intego VirusBarrier is the best antivirus for Mac OSX.
You can see a great review from Insanely Great Mac:

Unknown said...

"A third point often raised in this debate, is Windows users are less technologically savvy than Windows users (in other word more stupid!) and are therefore more easier to be ‘conned’ into clicking things which execute malware."

I'm guessing by your comment, typos, and grammar, you're with the windows users then yes?k

SecurityExpert said...

Yes that's pretty poor even by my own English standards, my fault for not proof reading this one properly, sorry and thanks for pointing it out.

BTW I wrote this post partly on Mac OS X and on an iPhone, and I was brought up using the command line, but I do Windows as well.

Unknown said...

I dont know how much Mac needs the antivirus program but i use Protemac NetMine as firewall and antivirus in my computer.

andrew said...

from apple's site

"Security Advice
The Mac is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious software and security threats right out of the box. However, since no system can be 100 percent immune from every threat, antivirus software may offer additional protection.

Anonymous said...

Extremely helpful, thanks!

Unknown said...

I think Mac need a proteciron. More safety cant' be unnecessary.
I'm using ProteMac NetMine.

Stefan Dzimidko said...

At this moment there is a lot o problems with this new malware even, new MacOSX update can't help. But is this a problem? If Mac and viruses work together. In my opinion NO! Always to install a piece of crap, like virus or malware you must provide a root password. In any system with root password you can do anything.
Remember that MacOS i build on BSD, and all real infection can be incjected only there. IMO BSD is the most secury UNIX based system in the world.

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Alexis Preatori said...

Last year, Apple announced that their OS called OSX has been targeted my malicious viruses. Until today, they haven't release an update to fix this.

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Anonymous said...

you can get i-antivirus(mac) for free as long as your not a business, worth checking out, although the more programs you install the slower the mac become.


Anonymous said...

iAntivirus put such a drag on my ssystem. After I removed it and ran a utilities clean-up I was humming again.

web design melbourne said...

Mac is playing the numbers game when it comes to virus. Their system gets penetrated by virus a little less than Microsoft, but that doesn't mean Apple doesn't have its own share of malware.

portillohelp said...

In my opinion, there is nothing secure in the world even if you use the best OS or the best AV. For home users I suggest Linux OS. They don't need any AV try them out.

Top 10 antivirus 2012 said...

Yes it has some protection features but i read out somewhere that it still need antivirus for full protection.

Free Antivirus Download said...

i guessed that yes mac need antivirus protection because malwares easily harm it.

nancy john said...

Antivirus is very important specially for the machine on witch we used internet or save important data to kept safe.

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Unknown said...

It is very informative post.

Emma Harper said...

Well If you own anything that is used to share data and is connected to the internet, It is recommended to have an antivirus...

Unknown said...

I do believe that Mac OS don't need to have an antivirus software installed.

SecurityExpert said...

Q. Can a Mac be infected by malware? A. Definitely Yes.
Q. Are you less likely to be infected by malware on Mac than Windows device? A. Yes, vastly more malware is engineered for and targets Windows OS in comparison to Mac, there are far more Windows devices in the world for the bad guys take advantage of over Mac.
Q. Do you need AV on your Mac? A. I would say it is a 'risk based' decision, depends on what you use your Mac for and how security savvy you are when comes to downloading and installing third party (and possibly rogue) apps.

By far the most important security action with Macs is to keep on top of the updates, as these fix the latest and known security vulnerabilities in the OS, this will help keep you secure from the vast majority of known Mac malware. BTW same thing applies to Windows devices.

Also remember that Anti-Virus is not bullet proof in stopping malware infections.

Unknown said...

Having a 360 antivirus could be beneficial for protection against viruses, spyware and other online threats.

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