Gary Rosenzweig tackles the controversial question of whether you need to buy anti-virus software for your Mac. There are currently no active Mac viruses and anti-virus software could cause unexpected problems. Staying informed and up-to-date is a better option.
Now, all the time, I get asked "do you need to install anti-virus software on your mac?". Now I can answer this as a journalist, and say "well, it's best to be safe, I don't want to say anything that may change over time", that kind of thing. But I'm going to answer, just as I would a personal friend, and I'm gonna say: "no, you don't need to install anti-virus on your mac". Now, let me explain why. The first thing is, there are no viruses for the mac. I don't mean that there never will be viruses for the mac, I don't mean that there weren't viruses for the Mac in the past, I just mean right now, there are no active viruses for the mac. If you look at the anti-virus software and you read carefully and research, you'll find that they don't protect you against any viruses, because there aren't any to protect you against. I'm talking numbers here, and the number is 0. There are none.
Ok, so what about every once in a while you read a report about some sort of security exploit, or patch that Apple has issued. Well, there are researchers that go and find exploits and they do publish them and Apple does patch them up. But I'm talking about real viruses, thing you can actually get by visiting webpages, downloading software that spread from Mac to mac. They just don't exist now. There used to be some back in the OS 9 days, and I'm sure at some point in an infinite future, there will be viruses for the mac. But right now, there's nothing for you to be protected against, and the anti-virus software out there have no definitions for active viruses for the mac.
Now, I'm not talking about the fact that Mac has a smaller market share, and that's why they're less of a target for viruses. I'm not talking about why there are no viruses, I'm talking about the numbers, 0, there are no viruses for the Mac now. What really makes me angry is that some of the pieces of anti-virus software actually kind of lie to you. They'll say things like "they will protect you against all active viruses currently out for the Mac". Well, that's 0. So, they're telling you the truth, but they're misleading trying to get you to think that there are some active viruses out there. So what are those those programs doing? Well, believe it or not, they're protecting your Mac against Windows viruses, these are viruses you cannot get on your Mac, they affect the Windows OS and Windows applications, but they look on your Mac to see if there are viruses in an email attachment or something else that you have, and to prevent them from spreading to Windows machines on your network. Now, you're Windows machines need to have anti-virus anyway, there's no point also running it on your Mac when it's not actually giving you any benefit for the Mac itself.
So what about that day when a virus does come out for the Mac? Wouldn't it be great to already have one of these anti-virus programs running on your Mac? Well, the thing is, it's not going to protect you, not going to protect you when that virus comes out. So they're gonna protect you hours or days later, when the anti-virus software is updated to protect you against that new threat. Now, also updating at the same time, is going to be Apple, you know they're going to be all over it updating the OS through software update to protect you from this new virus.
So, who's going to get there first, or will they get there about the same time? And what's the track record of anti-virus companies? In the Windows world, track record isn't that great really, when you look at the history of all the anti-virus companies, sometimes these viruses go undetected, without a solution, for weeks or even months. So, you don't know whether or not one of these third party companies or Apple is going to jump on this first, but my bet is on Apple, they have the best interest in providing updates soon as a virus appears.
So another factor is the Apple press, usually guys that are over every little unlikely rumor. You know that the second a virus hits for the Mac, it's gonna be major headlines everywhere. So if you're the type of person that keeps up to date with Apple news, and I think you are, cause you're watching this, well then believe me that you're going to know about any virus that appears, you're gonna know how to prevent it, you're gonna know when there's an update, you're gonna know everything about it. So, your best bet is just to keep yourself informed.
So, what's the harm in running one of these? I mean if you're willing to part with some money, and have an extra process running on your Mac, is there any real big deal? Well, it will slow things down and there are erroneous reports, and there are problems. I for one will never forgive Norton for having part of their security software insert code into every html page that somebody visited on the web. It broke tons of pages on my site, it wasn't my fault, and it took me days to figure out what was wrong, and it was completely unnecessary, which is badly written software. And I'm sure, things like that exist. One of the pieces of software out there right now, for instance, is erroneously identifying emails that don't even have attachments as potentially containing a virus. So, there is a downside to running these things.
So I was thinking of providing a list of anti-virus software for the Mac, so you can check them out for yourself. But I don't even want to encourage you to possibly spend your money on these things, a lot of these just outright mislead you into thinking there's a threat and need to buy their software now. And I don't like over the long run how they've all used press releases to try to scare people into buying their products. They're just using fear as marketing.
Now, while there have been known viruses for the Mac OS 10, there has been at least one trojan. A trojan is when you download a piece of software, and you know you're downloading it, and it's not what it appears to be. This doesn't happen when you download software from Apple or any reputable
source, this happened, in this case, with an older version of iWork when you downloaded it from a site that was obviously distributing pirated software. So, you had to go through different warnings saying "Do you know you're installing this software?", and you did it anyway. Anti-viruses are not going to protect you against that, because if you went through those default OS 10 warnings, you're gonna go through the warnings in the anti-virus software as well. Oh, and by the way, that trojan was very heavily reported in the Apple media, so if you kept up to date with the news, you knew about it.
Now, gonna get a lot of comments, I know, especially from Windows users, let me just be very clear about some things: there are no active viruses for the Mac, none for Mac OS 10 right now. There are some old ones for Mac OS 9, and I'm not saying there's not going to be any in the future, but right now these anti-virus programs are not protecting you again anything, some of the website even admit it. So, if you disagree with me, do your research. Number two, I'm not telling you to ignore the problem, I'm telling you to keep up to date with the news, and keep your Mac up to date with the latest version of OS 10. Number three, I'm just telling it to you straight, this is what I would tell a friend if they needed anti-virus software, I'd say "No. At the current time you don't need it, it's a waste of money and it could potentially cause problems"
If you disagree, then I look forward to reading your well reasoned-out thoughts as a comment to this post at MacMost.com
I hope you found this video informative. Until next time, this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.
Also see the MacMost Mac Virus and Malware Information Center.