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Malicious Software on Mac Computers
While hackers and virus-makers have traditionally targeted Windows machines, there has been a slowly increasing threat over the past decade on Mac OS X.
This has been changing due to the increase of Mac users and Mac computers since the start of 2000. With the rising popularity of Mac OS X, and indeed the entire Apple brand, it might be time to protect yourself.
The best way to keep yourself protected, as with PC users, is to be smart yourself. If you avoid dodgy download websites, illegal software, and unsolicited emails, you are much less likely to get a virus. That is not to say that you can be completely safe however, and so installing antivirus software is a good protective step.
As Mac viruses and trojans are in their infancy, so is the antivirus software. Therefore, you will not see antivirus software that promises to destroy thousands of viruses because, simply, there aren't any.
Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac, PC Tools iAntivirus and AVG LinkScanner for Mac are three antivirus software tools that stand out from the rest. The Sophos and PC Tools iAntivirus packages act similarly to PC antivirus software, while AVG LinkScanner is a preventative tool.
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Sophos Anti-Virus for MacSophos Anti-Virus is one of the largest antivirus applications taking up a hefty 200Mb once installed, but it is also one of the most well-rounded applications. Sophos Anti-Virus includes a scanning tool and a live protection tool ('on-access').The main scan is thorough, but as a result is also very slow. While you can set up a custom scan, there is no 'light scan' or 'quick scan' automatically available, which is disappointing. The main system scan takes up about 25% of the CPU usage on my 2010 MacBook Pro with a 512GB hard drive, which is that little too processor-intensive to run in the background. Sophos Anti-Virus would benefit from a scheduler application but unfortunately it does not feature one built-in.The live scan (on-access) is very customizable however; it lets you grant program exemptions, and gives you a variety of options of what to do when an intrusion is detected. These options include everything from instant deletion to warning messages. Sophos Anti-Virus scans deeply, but it is a little too powerful to have scanning as you use your computer.
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PC Tools iAntiVirus
PC Tools iAntiVirus is much lighter weight than the previously mentioned software title. The installation is much quicker and it uses under 100 MB of disk space. Like Sophos, iAntiVirus is 'always running' in the menu and is indicated by a small steering wheel icon. iAntiVirus has the option to perform a 'Quick Scan', which is much faster than Sophos' only option.
Running a 'Quick Scan', iAntiVirus only used between 5 and 10% of the CPU usage, and as a result, is much easier to have running in the background. With the 'Normal Scan' running, iAntiVirus measured around the same CPU usage as Sophos did.
The main advantage here is that iAntiVirus has the option to perform the lighter scan if necessary. iAntiVirus also includes the native ability to schedule a scan. iAntiVirus features live real-time protection as well though this has to be switched on. As with Sophos, iAntiVirus found no threats on my machine.
iAntiVirus is a great tool if you want a light-weight application that's quick to use and can run in the background, but the lack of configurable settings for the live protection mean you can't create exemptions as you would in Sophos.
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AVG LinkScanner for Mac
AVG LinkScanner for Mac is a different from both iAntiVirus and Sophos, it is purely a preventative measure. AVG LinkScanner for Mac only works with Safari and Firefox, so if you use Google Chrome or another third-party browser you will not have any protection.
AVG LinkScanner for Mac is the only tool, of the three, that required a restart, which considering it offers the least protection can be annoying to some. That being said, once installed LinkScanner is incredibly unobtrusive.
LinkScanner's settings are embedded to the System Preferences and split mainly into the browser plugins and the general 'Surf Shield'. Surf Shield is a firewall that protects you even if you're not using Safari or Firefox.
If you do use Safari or Firefox, you may occasionally notice a red cross next to certain links. LinkScanner scans all links in real-time and checks for malicious software so a red cross generally signifies a site that should be avoided.
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Sophos Anti-Virus is the heavyweight of the three antivirus programs but considering the small number of viruses that target Macs, it seems a little much. AVG LinkScanner is perfect if all you need is a firewall, as once it is installed, you won't even notice it running.
iAntiVirus is the best all-rounder of the three though, even if it lacks some of customization featured in Sophos. The scheduled scans and built-in firewall, make it a natural choice for the security conscious Mac user.
- "iAntiVirus - Free Antivirus for Mac", http://www.iantivirus.com/
- Images provided by the author.
- "Sophos - Free Antivirus for Mac", http://www.sophos.com/en-us/products/free-tools/sophos-antivirus-for-mac-home-edition.aspx
- "AVG - LinkScanner for Mac", http://linkscanner.avg.com/Mac/