Do Macs Really Need Antivirus? Kaspersky And Avast Think So

The case for installing an antivirus program on Macs is growing. Kaspersky’s CTO claimed recently that “Apple is turning a blind eye to the security of its operating system” after it delayed patching a Java vulnerability for several months.

This is not the first time Apple have come under fire for lax security practices. As I reported last year, Apple delayed blocking pirated security certificates in Mac’s Safari for several weeks after the risk had been closed in all other major web browsers.

Mac Malware Woes – Apple’s delay in updating Java enabled the recent Flashback Trojan to spread on Macs – at its peak it infected about 600,000 Macs worldwide. This may seem a small number compared to the number of infected Windows PCs but only because Macs have less than 10% share of the desktop market as I reported earlier.

Last month I reviewed a Sophos report that found 2.7% of Macs were infected by Mac OS X malware – many times higher than the infection rates of Windows computers (0.86% for XP SP3 and less than 0.5% for Windows 7).

Although this may have been a temporary blip due to a particular threat, one thing is very clear – as Mac OS becomes more popular and Windows antivirus solutions become more effective (with increasing security in W7/W8), so more malware creators have begun to focus on attacking Mac OS.

Whether the increased risk is enough to persuade the majority of Mac users to install antivirus software is uncertain.

However, if Macs and Windows computers are on the same network then Mac antivirus software should be a no brainer – the same Sophos report found that 20% of Macs were carrying one or more instances of Windows malware which could therefore spread to Windows computers via emails, shared files or backup drives.

Avast and Sophos both produce free antivirus programs for Macs so cost is not an issue.

Avast Free Antivirus for Mac

This contains the same light antivirus and anti-spyware engine as its Windows counterpart and features:

  • Web Shield – scans visited web pages, downloaded files and java scripts, supports IPv6 connections
  • Mail Shield – scans for malware in all emails sent and received
  • File System Shield – real time scanning of opened/executed files, to stop infection before it spreads.
  • Browser Plugin – cloud based WebRep technology provides website reliability and reputation ratings according to community-provided feedback. Supports Safari as well as Chrome and Firefox.
  • On Demand Scanner – perform Mac virus scans when you like, with the ability to select either full file system, particular folders, or removable devices.

Download and more info here.

Sophos Antivirus For Mac Home Edition

Download and more info here.

It is difficult to rate Mac antivirus products as most independent labs have not tested them yet. However, just as we are now seeing lab test results for Android, so I would expect Mac AV to feature in future tests as both risks and popularity increase.


Sophos has been working in the Mac AV field for some time whereas Avast is a new entrant.

However, Avast 7 is my current pick of free AV programs for Windows with a deserved reputation for features and light impact on resources. Avast’s free Android AV also has a very good reputation amongst the top 10 performers on Android.

I haven’t been able to test it yet but it would seem reasonable to assume that Avast’s free AV product for Macs is just as good.