Antivirus Vendors Pounce on Mac Malware Scare


5 Aug 2011
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Coincidence or not, a pair of antivirus software makers are offering new products at a time when Mac malware is making headlines.

The first is Avast Free Antivirus for Mac. Although the product isn't new, this version, now in beta, is heavily reworked from older versions. It includes on-demand scanning of the entire file system and antivirus shields for applications, Websites and e-mail.

The other program is F-Secure Antivirus for Mac, which costs $40 per year. It offers a real-time virus scanner and a "panic button" that instantly blocks all Internet traffic to the computer.

Other companies, such as Symantec and Intego, have offered Mac antivirus software for years.

Mac security has been been a big issue lately due to the MacDefender malware and its variants, which sneak onto the Web through sites that use search engine optimization spam to rank highly in search results. MacDefender masquerades as antivirus software, showing a Web page that looks like a virus detection screen, and then prompting the user to complete the install process. If completed, the malware will ask for credit card information to eliminate nonexistent viruses.

Apple's been attacking this problem itself through a security update that blocks MacDefender and its variants. This has resulted in a bit of cat-and-mouse in which malware makers try to defeat Apple's defenses, and Apple responds with daily updates of new malware definitions.

In other words, Apple's own security update is doing the job of antivirus software, at least for this particular strain of malware. That begs an old question: Do Mac users need antivirus software in the first place?

Personally, I wouldn't install antivirus software on a Mac. A malware threat like MacDefender can be fought off with a bit of street smarts, because it can't install without the user's permission or mutate on its own. As for viruses, which can install and mutate on their own, there's very little evidence of major threats in the wild, and Apple says it has built-in protection against these attacks.

But as MacDefender has shown, the bad guys are showing a greater interest in attacking Mac users. Antivirus software makers will argue that you can never be too careful, but the best response -- and the one that won't tax your wallet or your CPU -- is to pay attention without panicking.
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