In short - YES.
It has been a selling point of the Macintosh for years: “Buy a Mac so you don’t have to worry about viruses and malware.” This promise is one of the reasons we all love OSX ( the Mac’s standard Operating System) And for the most part, it IS true. T here have been so few Mac specific threats that one brief article can list all the attacks on Apple users between 1982-2011. T here are still a few reasons to consider an anti-virus program for your Mac, and maybe not for the reasons you might think.
The most important thing to remember is that, while viruses and malware for the Mac are few and far between (for now,) a Mac on a network can still be a carrier for a PC virus. As long you are on a mixed OS (Windows and Mac) network, like many office environments, your Mac can still infect other PCs on the network, even if the Mac remains unaffected by the virus. This alone makes it worthwhile consider some kind of AV ( anti-virus ) software, just to ensure that you don’t accidentally pass on something to your co-workers.
One of the longest standing arguments against AV software on any platform has always been that it can sometimes feel like the AV programs interfere with your work more than the effects of the virus or malware. Things like constant pop-ups, updates, subscription fee reminders, and most importantly, taking up your precious system resources, are the reasons many cite for going completely AV free, and just taking the risk. While we don’t recommend this in any environment, it can certainly be tempting at home when you have nothing to lose but your own data, especially when you know you can always restore from a backup if something happens. AV in an office environment, however, especially when so many offices allow people to bring in their own machines from home, has become more crucial than ever.
This article will make a few recommendations for software that you can use to make sure you keep not only your system clean, but also the systems of the other people on the network. And we’ll show you how to do it for free, and without interfering with the OSX experience we all know and love. We will also address the controversial topic of MacKeeper.
The First Layer of Security (the App store and OSX)
The truth is, Apple already does a lot to keep you free from threats. Just like it does with iOS, Apple uses several layers of security and testing in the Mac App Store to prevent you from ever downloading a bad app. The OS itself protects you from risky downloads that come from outside of the app store, and most web browsers, including Safari, warn you about risky web sites. But sometimes, these things aren’t enough to protect you from every threat out there. Sometimes, you need a little more security.
Antivirus Programs (Subscription-Based)
Currently, the big name AV programs that still charge subscription fees just aren’t worthwhile, on Mac or PC. Norton, McAfee, Trend Micro and the like don’t provide any better protection for your computer than their free counterparts. Nearly any modern virus looks for and shuts down these programs. Plus, they tend to be riddled with pop-ups and hog your resources. So for the sake of this article, we will ignore them and focus on the free options out there.
AV Programs (Free)
By far, our recommendation is Sophos Anti-Virus. It scans your computer and email, and it monitors your activity to ensure that your systems stays free of viruses. The only downside is that it uses more system resources than some of the other programs out there. However, the trade is worth it to have one-stop, full protection from viruses and malware of any nature. Plus, it even has the added feature of scanning for anything that exhibits remotely suspicious behavior, even if it isn’t yet a virus in the already vast Sophos database.
This is an alternative to Sophos that uses the same open-source virus scanner that apple uses in its own Server app. While it is not as simple and straightforward as Sophos, it does carry the benefit of being less resource intensive. If you don’t mind taking the time to learn the interface and get it set up and tweaked just the way you want it, then you might find that ClamXav is better suited to your needs.
The Usual Suspects
Avast, Avira, and many other names you recognize from the PC world also offer free AV for the Mac. While you might find some of these useful for your personal needs, especially due to their ease of use, one of the major drawbacks for these programs in an office or mixed OS network is that they do not scan for Windows-based viruses. If this is not a problem on your network, feel free to give these tools a look as well, but if you have both Mac and PCs on your network, this weakness is significant enough to make you think twice.
The Ever-Controversial MacKeeper
This program is often highly rated by those who test it out but despised by Mac users across the internet for its constant banner ads and the other questionable methods used to get downloads. Many websites, and even Apple’s own knowledge base, have articles claiming it’s a scam, or that it is even a virus or malware itself. These claims are exaggerated, and while it may not use the most ethical promotional techniques, it does seem to do what it claims. If you’d like to know more about the controversy, you can find several articles like this one that go into more detail. From our experience, it isn’t worth the hassle when other programs work better and seem more trustworthy. Additionally, Mackeeper wants a subscription eventually, which isn’t ever worth the cost.
The Bottom line
Macs have always been less likely to encounter viruses and malware than your average PC. They still are safer, despite what you may read online. But as they grow in popularity, these threats will increase. Apple already does a lot to protect you from malicious software in the operating system alone. But, in a mixed OS environment, you may need a little more protection. If you don’t do it for yourself, pay it forward to the rest of the people on the network who still use PCs. (They’ve got it hard enough already, right?) To do this with maximum effectiveness, we recommend using Sophos AV.