Long the debate has raged: do Macs need antivirus? The technical, politically correct answer is yes, business Mac users should load antivirus software. Apple officially began recommending Mac users to load antivirus as far back as 2002. Today Apple's website publicly encourages Mac antivirus adoption, too:
The Mac is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious software and security threats right out of the box. However, since no system can be 100 percent immune from every threat, antivirus software may offer additional protection.
That said, I've loaded antivirus on Macs exactly twice, and both times because the client specifically requested the additional security software be loaded on their Mac OS X systems. Often, Mac antivirus might simply be overkill.
A tighter architecture
Mac OS X runs on UNIX. The underlying code base is inherently more secure. It's more difficult to hack. That's not to say it can't be done; it can. But cracking UNIX security is more difficult than some other operating systems. As Apple states, "Mac OS X doesn't get PC viruses."
Sandboxing is built in
Macs also boast built-in sandboxing, a security-conscious environment in which applications and processes are separated. Mac OS X restricts the actions programs can execute. Mac OS X ‘s sandboxing technique also restricts file access and program execution. The result is a more secure system less vulnerable to malware infection and exploitation.
Apple lists numerous security recommendations on its website. Its online Mac OS 10.6 Help page states that users should "run an antivirus program if you find any suspicious files or applications, or if you notice any suspicious behavior on your computer."
To help protect systems, Apple also recommends Mac users avoid downloading or installing unlicensed or pirated software, accept applications only from known and trusted sources, disable unnecessary root accounts and remove unneeded administrative permissions from commonly used everyday user accounts. With such good security habits in place, it's unlikely a third-party antivirus application is required. But when sensitive information is in question, or when patient data is at risk, best business practices require that businesses load and maintain professional antimalware software, regardless whether the computers in use are Windows-, Linux- or UNIX-powered.
Many Mac antimalware choices
A few years ago, there weren't that many prominent software manufacturers producing antimalware software for the Mac. Now almost every antivirus provider, including Symantec/Norton, Eset, Intego, Bit Defender and Avast, produce Mac-specific antimalware platforms.
Many choices exist. Unfortunately the debate is seemingly no longer whether Macs require antivirus, but which platform to load. That is, if Mac enthusiasts are subscribing to the technical, politically correct answer. Which, knowing Mac personalities, most are likely not buying.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.