'Do I need to run antivirus on my Mac?'

If you want a different answer, ask me a different question.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

This question keeps dropping into the Hardware 2.0 mailbox in one form or another:

"Do I need to run antivirus on my Mac?"

Yes. Yes you do. Next question.

Oh, you want a more in-depth answer? OK then, here goes.

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I consider security to be an important part of computer ownership. Security for me means keeping my hardware safe, keeping my data secure, keeping my network safe, and keeping the people around me safe. I'm a big believer that vigilance is a vital tool in the fight against malware, and that applying security patches in a timely fashion goes a long way toward keeping a platform safe.

But I'm also fully aware of the fact that there is no such thing as secure code. Operating systems are huge, and it doesn't matter whether that code is written in Redmond or Cupertino or somewhere else, it will be riddled with bugs. Patched bugs represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual vulnerabilities present in the code we are exposed to and use on a daily basis.

Then there's all the code you run on top of your operating system. Here's an example of a serious vulnerability that affects OS X that was discovered the other day.

If you believe that your operating system is secure, you're deluding yourself. And if you try to tell others that your operating system of choice is better than someone else's, you're trying to delude others and don't be surprised if people think you're foolish.

When it comes to malware, I don't want it entering my systems, I don't want it inhabiting my systems, and I don't want to pass malware on to others. I achieve this by taking a three-pronged approach:

  • Vigilance and care in what I download and install, where I visit on the web, and who I allow to access my system.
  • Apply patches in a timely manner. Not installing a patch - unless you have a very good reason - is just idiotic.
  • Having an antivirus running to scan files that live on or pass through my system.

The final stage is important not only because it protects my system from malware - and believe me when I say that Mac malware does exist, just not in the same numbers as malware for Windows - but it also scans for Windows malware, which prevents me from passing on nasties to other people. A little RAM and some CPU cycles is a small price to pay to get an independent eye cast over the bits that flow into my Macs. OK, I only seem to catch Windows malware, but even quarantining that helps to keep my network safe, and prevents me inadvertently sending bad code to others.

And remember, while malware that targets OS X is still pretty rare, it does exist. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending that it doesn't exist is just plain foolhardy.

Oh, and the tale about antivirus slowing down Macs? It's nonsense. I've run dozens of different antivirus programs on my Macs over the years and not had any performance issues whatsoever.

I understand that by buying a Mac you've spent hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars on hardware, but that's still no excuse to not protect your investment. And if your purchase has left you strapped for cash, there are many free products available to choose from.

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