Reader Question: AntiVirus Software for Mac OS X

Today's post is in response to a reader question:  "Do you advocate installing virus protection on a new MacBook Pro Retina? I am new to Mac & am getting confusing feedback from other Mac users. Some say yes & others say it is unnecessary. What is your advice?"

This is a very good question, indeed. The answer will vary from person to person, depending on their preference. My answer is based on personal preference and 12+ years experience working with Mac OS X on a technical level.

In a Windows world, I wouldn't think twice about using a computer without AntiVirus protection. In fact, the very first thing I do after installing Windows is to install such protection. Waiting to install it later (or not at all) is just asking for serious trouble. Mac OS X, however, is a different beast. 

My first Mac was a PowerBook (I'm aging myself, I realize). Coming from a Windows-dominated world, I felt the need to install good AntiVirus software as quickly as possible. I decided to use Symantec's AntiVirus offering. It's what I used on Windows, and I knew their products well. At least, I thought I did. As it turned out, the Mac version of their AntiVirus software was different than the Windows version. More than just the user experience... it was buggy and slowed down my system (noticeably). A few days in, I decided to remove the software and give another product a try. This time, it was AntiVirus software from Intego. A few days later, I removed it and tried McAfee. Several days later, I removed it. All three resulted in sluggishness on my system.

Curiosity got the better of me so I took an afternoon to figure out what was going on. Because of my business relationship with Symantec at the time, I decided to give them a call to see what was going on. The answer I was received was shocking. I was told that their Mac version was weak compared to the Windows version because their Mac engineering team was very small compared to the Windows team. This was not the result of Mac vs. PC market share, but it was because they had difficulty selling the product. This heightened my curiosity even more. After digging deeper, I eventually found myself at the core of the issue at hand. Because Mac OS X is built on top of BSD UNIX, it's much less susceptible to viruses when compared to Windows.

As of this posting, there are 51 known viruses designed to attack Mac OS X, with the most recent being "WireLurker", discovered in November 2014. By comparison, it's difficult to know how many virus variants are in the wild targeting Windows. Several online resources claim that it was in the neighborhood of 20 million variants in 2013. I can't (and don't want to) confirm or deny this. It is what it is, and every tech expert in the industry can agree that Mac OS X is more secure than Windows when it comes to viruses.

Having said that, Macs aren't completely immune! The most common type of attack on a personal computer is phishing. Phishing is email that imitates legitimate email, prompting you to click on a link for more information, verify a new account or claim a large cash prize.

I have not run AntiVirus software on my Mac for about 12 years. Rather, I employ another method of malware avoidance... common sense. If I'm not going to sites that I shouldn't be going to and using good judgement when phishing emails arrive, I feel completely safe. In my opinion, it comes down to social engineering.

If you're Mac is used by the younger generation, you may want to (strongly) consider using Parental Controls to add a protective layer to their computing experience.

Posted on May 12, 2015 and filed under Opinion.