If you ever sit next to an Apple aficionado at a dinner party, they’ll probably describe with enthusiasm how Apple devices don’t need security protection.
“Viruses only target Windows”, they’ll say pointedly, while you clench and unclench your fists below the table.
It’s certainly true that viruses and malware historically targeted Microsoft devices, which were the dominant force in domestic and commercial computing for decades.
Yet the continuing popularity of Macs has seen them being besieged by the criminal fraternity, who are always hunting for new targets.
And while the Unix-based operating system in a typical Mac computer provides greater threat protection than either Windows or Linux, it’s not entirely secure.
Facing up to the threat
Malware specifically designed to target Macs is increasing rapidly.
It surged by over 250 per cent in 2017 alone, admittedly from a relatively low base.
Threats discovered in the early months of this year suggest criminals have really got their heads around the challenges posed by Unix.
PC and Mac users alike are now likely to encounter phishing scams or ransomware.
It’s easy to mistype a website address and end up on a spoof site, or send an email across an insecure domestic WiFi network that gets intercepted mid-journey.
Adware is a frustrating and unwelcome addition to many Mac hard drives, since compromised computers may be harnessed into botnets that redirect system resources for malicious purposes.
Clearly, leaving a Mac plugged into a broadband router without any form of firewall or protection is risky. But how do you choose suitable Mac antivirus software?
Below, we consider the key elements to look for.
Things to look for in Mac antivirus software
Some people have a preferred antivirus software provider, and loyally stick with their products.
Others are more open-minded, and prefer to evaluate the market before choosing a package.
To keep a Mac, Macbook or iMac safe from the widest array of online threats, these are the key components and characteristics to look for:
- A smooth installation procedure. Many Mac security programs require the installation of a kernel module within the system, enabling the computer to scan for viruses all the time. Users need to be guided through this unintuitive procedure. Otherwise, installation should be quick, simple and coherent enough even for a technophobe to feel confident.
- Real-time protection. Imagine you visit a compromised website, but your antivirus package is turned off. The best it’ll be able to do once a threat has burrowed into the system is potentially remove this malware. While it should be possible to deactivate real-time scanning, it should always be turned on by default to neutralise threats at source.
- Instructions on virus deletion. Some Mac antivirus programs will automatically clean up any problems, whereas others quarantine malware files and invite users to remove them. This process needs to be explained in plain English, since many people won’t understand the technical jargon used to identify or delete compromised files and malware.
- A minimalist user interface. The best packages have a crisp and self-explanatory UI, while some eschew windows entirely in favour of menu bar notifications. Other than setting scan schedules, viewing quarantined files or adjusting basic settings, there’s no reason for CPU resources to be taxed – or for interfaces to become any more complicated.
Is it necessary to pay for Mac antivirus software?
This is a tricky question to answer, since it depends on the level of security you want.
Even free packages like Avira Antivirus will be able to perform a full system scan and identify infections or viruses.
However, the free version of Avira can’t scan USB devices, or more than one computer.
Similarly, Sophos Antivirus is available in free or paid versions, with the former offering real-time scanning and remote management.
Less essential functions like ransomware shields and multiple device support are unlocked with a subscription to the Premium version, which admittedly is only £40 a year.
You shouldn’t pay more than £50 for any annual subscription, even for premium tools like Trend Micro Antivirus or Norton Security for Mac – and there are often deals to be had.
For people on a budget, Antivirus Zap only costs a tenner from the App Store, with a simple installation process and a refreshingly short scan time.
Even a cheap or free Mac antivirus package is better than nothing – especially in an age when online threats against Mac computers are on the increase…