Mac Anti-Virus: Why I’m Trying Out Sophos Home Edition

As Mac popularity grows so does the interest in developing threats for the platform, and while it is far more secure than Windows, it’s not 100% safe. Do we need to think about Mac anti-virus?

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I’ve been a Mac user for 15 years and have enjoyed using a computer without the hassle of finding an anti-virus suite, maintaining and keeping my computer clean.

Back then, owning a Mac put you in the minority of computers users, especially in the home. With the introduction of Mac OS X and the rise in popularity of Apple’s portable devices, the Mac is no longer for the nerdy; it is now perceived as ‘cool’ – and with this comes a larger user base. More users mean those intent on infecting computers of the world could now see the Mac platform as a viable place to attack.

Mac viruses and malware been around for a long time, but in the past few years there have been more reports, and thousands of Macs were infected courtesy of the Flashback Trojan back in 2012. Of course, as long as I can remember there have always been Mac anti-virus suites such as Norton, McAfee, ClamXav, and Sophos.

In this article, I take a look at Sophos Antivirus for Mac Home Edition. It is available for free to download here.

Requirements

Sophos requires an Intel processor, 450 MB RAM, and 450 MB hard drive space. It is a 90 MB download. The latest version is 9, which supports Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard up to 10.9 Mavericks. Version 8 supports 10.5 Leopard but will expire in April 2014, ending support for Leopard.

Installation

Once downloaded, unlike most Mac apps, this requires installation rather than just copying into your Applications folder – and it needs your admin password. It should only take a few seconds to install.

Running It

Sophos runs in the background, placing an icon in the menu bar. This lets you know when it is scanning or updating. That is about it. Once installed and updated, it sits quietly, updating periodically.

With some anti-virus suites for Windows you can really feel a difference in computer performance, sucking system resources and some even bring them down to a crawl.

How does Sophos compare? I have been running Sophos on my 2009 MacBook running Mavericks for just over a week, and I haven’t noticed any performance drop since it has been installed.

This is an important factor of any protection software. You want the security without noticing it is there, and one thing that annoys me about some of the Windows anti-virus and anti-malware software – it is so intrusive of your everyday use.

Sophos is configurable to your way of working. It gives you the option to have network drives and archives scanned, can check for updates every minute if you see fit – although I have mine set to every two hours – and it also gives you control over live and web protection.

How Good Is It?

An anti-virus suite is only good if it catches threats. This is a lot easier on Windows, as there are millions of threats aimed at it. However, with the current level of infections on the Mac so low, how do you know if a particular piece of software is working and effective?

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A very good question – and one I cannot answer until a real Mac threat pops up. However, it also covers web threats, blocking infections from potentially malicious websites, offering piece of mind before it gets to your Mac.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Mac users have sat smugly without protection for a long time, but if 99% of Mac users have no protection and a threat suddenly arises, how will you know if you have been infected? You won’t.

However, if you have a suite running that doesn’t impact on your daily use, it is better to be safe than sorry. If further years pass without Sophos detecting anything, have you lost anything? Or can you sit back confident in the fact the Mac platform is as safe and secure as you thought.

Protecting Windows Users

For a long time the main reason for a Mac user to install an anti-virus suite was to protect Windows users, to prevent you passing on nasty infections to Windows computers.

My initial personal opinion was that is their problem, not mine. If they don’t secure their computer and I accidentally send them something horrible, then it is their fault. On retrospect, this is a little arrogant, especially considering most Mac users are unprotected – and if a Mac nasty were released in the wild, it would catch a lot of users out.

Keeping the world’s computers as safe and clean as possible is a good thing no matter what platform you are using.

Conclusion

Whether or not you think Mac anti-virus is necessary, is there any harm to having it installed? After all it, doesn’t suck resources, require time to maintain and update it, and its free.

I intend on keeping it installed.


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5 thoughts on “Mac Anti-Virus: Why I’m Trying Out Sophos Home Edition

  1. Pingback: Review: Sophos Antivirus for Mac protects against malware, doesn’t impact performance | Sophos Blog

  2. Pingback: Sophos Beats McAfee Where it Counts » ComTech Managed IT

  3. The Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization provides a way to test antivirus programs. Well, it’s actually a check of features and settings. Go to http://www.amtso.org/feature-settings-check.html (“Feature Settings Check for Desktop Solutions”), where there are 5 features to check.

    1. Test if my protection against the manual download of malware (EICAR.COM) is enabled
    2. Test if my protection against a drive-by download (EICAR.COM) is enabled
    3. Test if my protection against the download of a Potentially Unwanted Application (PUA) is enabled
    4. Test if protection against accessing a Phishing Page is enabled
    5. Test if my cloud protection is enabled

    I use Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac and have for several years, so I tried out these 5 feature checks:

    I had to set some preferences correctly but after doing so SAV passed tests 1, 2, 4, and 5. It does not pass the anti-phishing web site test

    I’d appreciate it if other users of SAV would test their settings. I’d rather find that SAV protected against phishing web sites. (SAV is free but Sophos does not provide technical support.)