You’ve heard a version of this story before. My neighbor bought a new iMac and asked me what kind of virus protection a Mac needs.
I explained that there are no viruses for Macs. They don’t need virus protection. She insisted that all computers have viruses so they need to be protected. Even Macs. I repeated myself. There are no Mac viruses. She asked, “How do you know?” Uh oh.
Where’s The Mac Virus Live?
Without any in the wild viruses to infect your Mac, does your Mac need virus protection? My neighbor thinks so. I don’t think so. But I don’t have an answer for, “How do you know?”
That got me to thinking. How do I know my Mac doesn’t already have a virus?
First, I reasoned, if there was a real, live, in-the-wild and propagating Mac virus, we’d probably hear about it.
I haven’t heard anything. How about you? Besides, if there haven’t been any Mac viruses for many years, how can a virus protection app protect your Mac if it doesn’t know what to look for to protect you from (I know; my grammar checker is off)?
Sometimes my logic and reasoning power surprises even me. Then I realize I’m married, have three kids, and my daily highlight is a new photo on Facebook, so obviously I’m a late bloomer in the logic and reasoning department.
Still, how do I know there’s not a virus of some kind lurking on my Mac? How do you know?
Free Virus Protection For Macs
The short answer is, well, I don’t really know know. I’m reasonably confident that my Mac is a real pristine and clean digital computing machine. Maybe. Just to be sure, I decided to check around.
Nope. Nobody is complaining of Mac viruses. Still, I downloaded ClamXav just to ease my worried soul. Better safe than sorry, right? ClamXav is a free virus checker for Mac OS X. Here’s what they say about their own product:
Back in the days before OS X, the number of viruses which attacked Macintosh users totalled somewhere between about 60 and 80. Today, the number of viruses actively attacking OS X users is…NONE!
That’s very reassuring, right? So, why bother to worry about protecting a Mac from that which does not threaten the very Mac that does not seem to require protection?
Firstly, there’s no guarantee that we Mac users will continue to enjoy the status quo, but more importantly, the majority of the computing world use machines running MS Windows, for which an enormous quantity of viruses exist, so we must be vigilant in checking the files we pass on to our friends and colleagues.
So, am I my brother’s keeper? Or, in this case, my neighbor’s watchdog (and unofficial Mac system administrator)? Great. It doesn’t pay well. And the benefits amount to an occasional babysitting stint to relieve the pain of still being able to remember what it’s like to be young while chasing two curtain climbers, one carpet crawler, and fights between dogs and lone cat.
Back to my neighbor’s concern. It’s time to score some Brownie points.
I installed ClamXav on her Mac and let it run to do its thing; which, for all I know, was nothing more than stirring up digital dust on her hard disk drive. In the end, as expected, ClamXav couldn’t find even one of those non-existent Mac viruses.
I told my neighbor I’d come over every couple of weeks to run the anti-virus app on her Mac—just to make sure her Mac hadn’t been infected by a virus lurking in an email attachment or embedded in the photo sent by a friend (I made that up—good, huh?).
In exchange for my services, she agreed to watch my girls every week until the San Diego Chargers make the playoffs again (I neglected to tell her about this season).
Be Very Afraid! Or, Not
If you’re really worried about getting a virus on your Mac, ClamXav is a good start because it’s free and based on the open source ClamAV project. It scans your Mac for known virus definitions, gives you a list of what it finds, and can quarantine specific, possibly life-threatening files.
Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition is also free (it just seems wrong to charge for something that doesn’t really do anything except look inside your Mac for something that everyone knows doesn’t exist).
A little caution is recommended. Remember, a virus is merely one part of what is known as malware—malicious software, Mac or Windows. That could be viruses, trojan horses, scareware, crimeware, adware, spyware, worms, rootkits and other nasty pieces of software—prominent in the Windows world; for Mac users, not so much.