It happened again. I helped a former Windows using friend switch to a Mac. Once everything was setup and running– it took less than an hour– complete with basic app recommendations and a good backup strategy, my friend wanted to know what antivirus app to use.
I said, “None. It’s a Mac. Just don’t open suspicious email or open webpages from scurrilous sites and you should be fine.” That didn’t work. My friend insisted that every personal computer needs an antivirus utility. Her former Windows PC had two; Windows Defender from Microsoft and one from Trend Micro, both of which appeared in a recent tech article with an antivirus recommendation I read last week.
Nothing I said could convince my friend that the Mac didn’t really need an antivirus utility. So, I opened up the Mac App Store app and entered the search keyword “antivirus.” To my surprise, a dozen or so antivirus utilities were on display, some free, some expensive, but all with claims to rid and protect a Mac from viruses.
Here’s the deal. I’ve been using a Mac for about 20 years; since just after Steve Jobs returned to save the company, and I’ve never, ever had to use an antivirus app. I don’t even know a Mac user who has used an antivirus app, yet there are about a dozen on the Mac App Store so someone, somewhere has been convinced that Macs need virus protection.
The app developers who sell such utilities all claim that Macs, too, can obtain a virus, so some protection is better than no protection; Norton, Trend Micro, and others think so, but they have a vested economic interest in scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting Mac newbies. Most of what I’ve read over the years tell me that the Mac user’s biggest problem is standard phishing attempts and Trojans, which require a user to install the malware, but if there is anything floating around in the wild which could cause you trouble, it’s not well known, not well publicized, and probably a non-issue.
Tech writer Matt Egan on the pros:
There are no technical reasons why the Mac OS cannot be targeted by cybercriminals. Indeed, there are exploits in the wild: albeit they are principally Trojans, and require a user to erroneously install them.
Then there’s the argument that security comes through obscurity and the Mac’s smaller marketshare makes it a much smaller target for malware makers. That’s bogus. Mac users in well developed nations are more well to do, and have more to risk, so wouldn’t a malware maker want to target the affluent?
If the risk is so great then why doesn’t Apple even bother to turn on the Mac’s built-in firewall?
It’s also worth remembering that the end user is always the weakest link. In many ways security software exists to save you from bad decisions – installing apps that appear to offer something for nothing, but turn out to be spyware or viruses. Even Mac users can fall victim in this way. So for the price of a cup of coffee each week, it makes sense to install security software and then forget all about it.
There’s also an argument that the Mac user at home has less to worry about than an office environment full of Macs. Fair enough. What antivirus application does Apple use in its Cupertino, CA headquarters?
A lengthy search on Google provided absolutely zilch. If Apple recommends an antivirus utility they’re keeping quiet about it.
Matt Egan on the cons:
In practice cybercriminal gangs are focused exclusively on Windows because there are more Windows users, yes, but also because Windows is still easier to hack. As a Unix-based operating system the Mac OS is by its very nature sandboxed. It’s like having a series of fire doors – even if malware gains access to your Mac, it is unable to spread to the heart of the machine. Macs are not unhackable, but they are more difficult to exploit than are Windows PCs. So just as a burglar could break into a house with an alarm system but will probably choose the unprotected dwelling next door, a Mac makes a less attractive target in a world in which only attractive targets tend to be attacked.
Does that make sense? Yes, of course. If anything, malware makers are pragmatic and go where they get results. Mac users have an OS that is based on Unix. Mac users upgrade to the latest versions more frequently than Windows users. So, the holes that malware would use to compromise a Mac are constantly being closed.
In the end, my friend acquiesced and we avoided the antivirus installation. And remember, even on a Mac, a vulnerability does not an exploit make. What about you? Got antivirus protection on your Mac?