Is anti-virus software necessary on a Mac?
July 17, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Is anti-virus software necessary on a Mac?

This is basically a request for an update on earlier questions by others.

Does a Mac need anti-virus software? The answer used to be no, but there seem to be some live threats now. I am running VirusBarrier X6 (which I got as part of a bundle and thought I would try out). I think it is slowing my system down.

In my particular case, I do sometimes use USB drives in public machines in a university and they end up infected with Windows viruses.
posted by Grinder to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, it would be a good idea to have antivirus protection on your Mac. If you're looking for another AV package, I think Sophos has a Mac version that is free for home/personal use.
posted by AMSBoethius at 9:49 AM on July 17, 2012

No, the threats have been overstated and good computing practices are still enough for the time being.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:56 AM on July 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

Depends what you have on your Mac. If you have stuff that you literally can't afford to lose with no backups, you might worry about the rare virus. Otherwise no, just chug along and if you get incredibly unlucky just wipe the machine and start over.
posted by Patbon at 10:02 AM on July 17, 2012

It can also be useful to have antivirus software to protect against windows viruses - sure they may not affect YOU, but you could end up infecting other people.
posted by curious_yellow at 10:09 AM on July 17, 2012

It depends. (I hate that answer, but really, it depends.)

If you force me into a yes or no answer I'll say yes.

If you're already admitting to using infected USBs, then yes.
If you're someone who surfs the internet widely, then yes.
If you have Java turned on and Acrobat Reader, then yes.
If you're not the kind of person who keeps EVERYTHING updated all the time, then yes.
If you're not running something that controls javascript on your browser, then yes (see something like noscript and scriptno).
If you're someone who isn't really careful and aware of what websites are doing while you're viewing them, then yes.

OSX isn't a big target right now, but it may be some day soon.
posted by Blake at 10:10 AM on July 17, 2012

I've had malware that led to my xBox live account being hacked and some credit card hassle. I use Avast with no noticeable system drag and it's free, so I see no reason not to.
posted by cmoj at 10:12 AM on July 17, 2012

As you can see from the above depends.
However, it can't hurt to run something, as long as it stays out of the way. I have ClamXav on all the family Macs. It's free, regularly updated, and unobtrusive.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:25 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

No. Anti-virus software on Mac is more trouble that it is worth.

Just turn off Java in all your browsers (it's useless anyway), uncheck "Open safe files after downloading" on the General tab of Safari prefs, and run Software Update regularly.
posted by w0mbat at 10:32 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use Sophos because a couple of my gigs take me to shadier corners of the internet.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:33 AM on July 17, 2012

I had a feeling that I would get a diversity of replies. One other thing to note is that I need Java for online banking, so I can't turn that off.
posted by Grinder at 10:34 AM on July 17, 2012

N'thing that the threats are overstated, usually by AV companies and PC partisans. Trojans are the primary threat: only run reputable software downloaded from a reputable source - always use google rather than typing in the domain directly if you want to download an application.

On the other hand, it's impolite to spread infected files, even if your own system is largely immune, which can happen if you download and then share files or forward email with infected attachments. For that reason alone, AV is worth it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:35 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

One day, OS X might be a vulnerable target, but that day is not yesterday or today. Antivirus software publishers would love to sell you a license of their stuff based on manipulating your fears, but the malware out there is minimal and gets spread because people who traffic in illegally-copied software make excellent vectors/carriers of disease.

If you like downloading torrents of commercial apps, then get AV software. Otherwise, if you can, restrict usage of third-party platforms like Flash and Java as much as you can, which Adobe/Sun/Oracle only update and fix infrequently for OS X, and you'll be fine.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:38 AM on July 17, 2012

Turn Java off in whichever of Safari and Firefox is your default browser, and use the other only for online banking.

Create an "admin" account and de-Admin your normal login account.

If you're paranoid, create another non-admin account for trying out downloaded software, that has no access to your documents or settings. That account should run Little Snitch on login.
posted by nicwolff at 10:53 AM on July 17, 2012

There is currently no need for AV if you use good computing practices. There are many suggestions as to what that is above. The infected USB drives would bother me.

More importantly, make sure you have a good password policy, like having strong passwords and not reusing passwords anywhere. 1Password (no affiliation, just a very happy user) was a great investment. I know that wasn't your question, directly, but I think it is something people often overlook.
posted by Silvertree at 11:07 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

99% of my family and friends use Macs, I have since ’97, and out of dozens or hundreds of computers I don’t know anyone who uses any kind of anti virus or has ever had a problem. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible though. The only people I ever hear recommending anti-virus for Macs are people selling it, people who want to cover their asses, and Windows users who are switching or also use Macs.
posted by bongo_x at 7:09 PM on July 17, 2012

One other thing to note is that I need Java for online banking, so I can't turn that off.

Are you sure you need *Java* for your online banking? Java and Javascript are different languages and javascript is much more common these days.
posted by wayland at 12:11 AM on July 18, 2012

wayland: Yes, the bank website says Java 1.6 or later, but I can keep that to a specific browser if necessary.
posted by Grinder at 1:21 AM on July 18, 2012

What is worth using is a firewall program, like Little Snitch, that lets you know every time a program on your Mac is trying to connect to your network. But you have to be willing to put up with approval pop-ups all the time, at least for a while after you first install it. Personally, I'd rather click approval pop-ups than worry about what might be silently trying to connect to the Internet without my knowledge.
posted by limeonaire at 5:44 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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