A number of news outlets reported yesterday that Apple had changed its longstanding stance that Macs don’t need anti-virus software. Given that one of Apple’s more prominent Get a Mac Ads touts the Mac’s immunity to viruses, the sudden change of heart seems newsworthy, except that Apple has been suggesting that users run anti-virus software for some time.
What’s interesting is that, after Apple pulled the technote that started the news frenzy (you can still see thanks to Google’s cached page), the company issued a statement to Macworld claiming that “the Mac is designed with built-in technologies that provide protection against malicious software and security threats right out of the box.”
Now that is a reversal, considering that the original technote with the anti-virus suggestion dates from June 2008. What appeared yesterday was verbatim the same notice that went up in June.
But now the company seems to have changed its mind.
What Apple seems to be saying is you used to need anti-virus software, but now you don’t, but wait, maybe you do, or maybe you might want to for added protection.
Here’s one thing we can tell your for certain: out of the box Mac OS X offers no anti-virus software whatsoever.
So what are these “built-in technologies” Apple is referring to? Perhaps Apple is talking about the warning dialog that makes sure you think twice before opening downloaded software, or perhaps it refers to Apple’s rather small market share which discourages most virus creators from bothering to infect Macs.
So what’s the verdict, should you bother installing anti-virus software on your Mac?
The answer depends on how smart you are. There are very few viruses out there for Macs. Those that do exist are generally proof of concept ideas or don’t do much harm. In short, your virus risks on OS X are minimal.
As long as you don’t engage in high-risk web browsing (downloading anything and everything that pops up, installing every porn video codec your can find or other stupid ideas) and have a good backup system in place, there’s no need to waste your time with anti-virus software.
[iMac virus image from Trend Micro]