UPDATED: Another major security vendor released a Mac anti-virus application just as we published this story. We've added it at the end of the list.
The end of the world didn't come this month for Harold Camping and his Family Radio followers, but another day of judgment did arrive.
Decades of complacent bliss for the world's Apple users ended abruptly as malware for the Mac went mainstream, thanks to the ubiquity of the MacDefender scareware Trojan.
In this harsh new world, Mac users can no longer feign ignorance about the constant threats that force PC owners to shell out for yearly anti-malware subscriptions. No more can Apple customers surf the Web carefree, merrily clicking on poisoned links that can't infect Mac OS X.
From now on, Apple users are going to have think differently, to watch what they download and where they point their browsers. And, as Apple itself now recommends to customers who call for tech support, they're going to have to install anti-virus software.
Fortunately, the anti-virus software makers of the world have been waiting for this day to come. There are nearly a dozen good anti-virus options ready for Mac users to install right now. Some of them are even free.
Without further ado, here they are, ranked in order of increasing price:
ClamXav (http://www.clamxav.com/), free: This OS X version of a long-standing Unix application was until recently the only fully free Mac anti-malware application. It was once tedious to use – you had to update virus definitions and scan your files manually – but the new ClamXav 2 allows both processes to be scheduled and run automatically. For both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs running OS X 10.4 and up.
Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition (http://www.sophos.com/products/free-tools/free-mac-anti-virus/), free: This is a somewhat downgraded, but fully supported, port of British firm Sophos' business-oriented Mac anti-virus product. It constantly runs in the background, downloading definition updates and scanning every new file that enters the system. Full system scans must be run manually. For OS X 10.4 and up, both PowerPC and Intel chipsets.
PC Tools iAntiVirus (http://www.iantivirus.com/), free for basic version: Many PC anti-virus software vendors offer limited free editions of their paid products, then keep bothering you to upgrade and pay for the full version. This company, based in Ireland, also does so for the Mac. But the free version isn't bad, permitting you to schedule definition updates and scans, as well as customize scans. If you want to pay $29.95 for a year's subscription, you'll get free 24/7 support (and turn off the constant nags to upgrade). For Intel-based Macs only.
Avast! Mac Edition (http://www.avast.com/mac-edition), $39.95/year: This Czech vendor's Mac tool features the usual customizable scans and downloads, plus "integrated email protection." It runs on both chipsets, OS X 10.4 and up. For an extra $10 per year, you can get the Mac + PC edition, which protects the Windows installation on your Intel-based Mac as well.
BitDefender Antivirus 2011 for Mac (http://www.bitdefender.com/solutions/antivirus-for-mac.html), $39.95/year: Romania's BitDefender adds antiphishing protection to the usual features, and like Avast! has a "Mac and PC" combo option that costs $10 more. Both versions are Intel only, however.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus for Mac (http://usa.kaspersky.com/products-services/home-computer-security/anti-virus-for-mac), $39.95/year: This well-known Russian company's Mac product offers "cloud-based monitoring of websites and applications," which should offer increased protection against suspicious sites and apps. (It doesn't seem to offer cloud-based malware-definition updates, which would be even better.) There's no "Mac plus PC" option, and it's for Intel-based Macs only.
Panda Antivirus for Mac (http://www.pandasecurity.com/usa/homeusers/solutions/mac-antivirus.htm), $49.95/year: The Spanish company's Mac offering promises perhaps more than is necessary, or even possible. It claims to guard "against viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, keyloggers, bots, and other malware attempting to access your Mac." It also "detects banking Trojans" and protects your "iPhone/iPod/iPad." That's great, because there's never been a true Mac OS X virus or worm yet, nor a banking Trojan. Nor is there any anti-virus software for the iPad or iPhone. But it's always good to be well-prepared. (Chipset support not specified.)
Intego VirusBarrier (http://www.intego.com/virusbarrier/), $49.95/year: This Mac-centric company wins lots of "best of" accolades for its Apple-only security products. The latest version of VirusBarrier offers a two-way firewall which scans outgoing as well as incoming traffic, and also monitors running applications for suspicious activity. For an extra $30 per year, Intego Internet Security Barrier adds parental control and backup features, and $10 on top of either package brings along Windows protection. The latest versions require at least Mac OS X 10.5, but appear to be chipset agnostic. Support for earlier versions of VirusBarrier is available all the way back to Mac OS 9.
McAfee Internet Security for Mac (http://home.mcafee.com/store/mac-internet-security), $79.99/year: One of the big boys of consumer anti-virus software, McAfee was recently bought by Intel and as such their latest Mac product runs only on Intel chips. It's all-encompassing, rating websites for safety as your surf the Web (Firefox only) and running its own firewall. Yet the Web page is short on specifics, and it's not clear whether the extra bells and whistles are worth twice what you'd pay for one of the Eastern European vendors' products.
Norton AntiVirus Version 11 for Mac (http://us.norton.com/macintosh/antivirus/ ), $49.99/year: The General Motors of anti-virus software takes Macs seriously. Its AntiVirus Version 11 for Mac automatically updates definitions, runs scans and screens new files and attachments. (Then again, so does the free Sophos app.) A better value is the $79.99 Norton Internet Security for Mac, which adds a two-way firewall, file encryption and network and browser monitoring. "Dual protection" options for Macs running both OS X and Windows are available for both AntiVirus ($69.99) and Internet Security ($89.99). For both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs.
UPDATED: Finnish security company F-Secure released its F-Secure Anti-Virus for Mac (http://www.f-secure.com/en/web/home_global/protection/anti-virus-for-mac/overview) on Thursday just as we were publishing this story. The application features a "panic button" that immediately blocks all network traffic and uses a cloud-based malware-definitions library. It costs about $45 for a year's subscription and runs on Intel-based Macs only.
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