The Night Owl Revisits Mac Malware Protection

January 20th, 2015

It all started for me back in 1989. I bought some software from a local computer shop in Edison, New Jersey known as Egghead Software. The possibility of a virus didn’t occur to me. That was a problem others confronted; it rarely happened on Macs. But things went bad real fast, and I soon realized that, yes, my brand new Mac IIcx system, which, with laser printer and display, cost me more than a fully decked out Mac Pro in 2015, had been infected so badly that I had to erase the drive and restore all my apps.

How did it happen? Well, evidently one of the apps I bought, which came from Fifth Generation Systems, a well-known publisher, had somehow been infected, perhaps during the production process. In passing, that company was sold to a well-known security software publisher, Symantec, in 1993. And you can bet that I installed anti-virus software on my Mac then and there.

Unfortunately, such apps don’t always get along with a Mac or a PC. The active scanning feature, which constantly monitors your system for possibly suspicious activities, plus any new files you download or install, usually put a severe drag on your computer’s performance. In those days, apps could take as much as twice as long to launch. Even with far more powerful processors, and loads more RAM, security software continues to consume too many resources.

Is the tradeoff worth it? On a Windows PC, yes it is. Compared to the Mac, well over a million viruses are listed on the Windows platform, though most of these are not widely circulated. Thank goodness! On a Mac, malware has been rare since OS X arrived with its secure Unix underpinnings. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems from time to time. Most these days manifest themselves as a Trojan Horse, meaning they pretend to do something good while deploying an evil payload. They don’t just show up either. You receive an email with an enticing offer, or visit a site where you are promised useful information. Either way, by clicking to launch the infected payload, you might find yourself in trouble.

How bad is it on the Mac? Well back in 2012, the Flashback virus, infecting Java, may have impacted several hundred thousand Mac users according to one estimate. But even if that estimate was overly optimistic, it was allowed to do its thing for far too long before Apple got around to overhauling the Java delivery mechanism. Meantime, security publishers quickly patched their virus definitions to handle the situation.

So does that mean you should install a security app on your Mac? I have been hit or miss about it because of the performance hit. But now one of the major security software companies, Bitdefender, promises that their latest version of Antivirus for Mac is not intrusive and that it barely slows down the system. They’ve even posted a chart showing a performance impact in the low single digits, which definitely shouldn’t be noticeable.

This is particularly important as the number of potential Mac malware outbreaks appears to be on the rise. I won’t say the sky is falling, but if you want to get the extra ounce of protection, you’ll be far more comforted knowing that the app isn’t going to have a negative impact on how your Mac operates.

The folks at Bitdefender, who recently began advertising on my radio show, tell me that they also scored 100% detection in Mac and Windows malware from AV-TEST, which evaluates the efficacy of security software. That’s good to know, since other Mac security apps didn’t score quite as well.

Now I don’t want to go out on the limb and evaluate an untested product, and I rarely observe review guides. Instead, I downloaded Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, a quick download, and a quick install. No restart required. I entered the product serial number, and promptly forgot about it until, this past weekend, I got a Bitdefender prompt about one of my emails being infected by a Trojan Horse. Bit defender was doing its thing in the background without impacting how my Mac worked in any way. My late 2009 iMac, recently outfitted with an SSD, continued to run normally.

So, yes, Bitdefender’s claim of being nonintrusive appears to be right on.

What’s particularly attractive about the app is its minimalist interface. There aren’t a whole lot of options, the most significant one being whether to turn off active scanning. You can also add web protection using browser extensions for such apps as Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. As with most antivirus apps, Bitdefender updates its definitions in the background as needed.

Bitdefender’s bill of materials includes protection from viruses, spyware, Trojan Horses, key loggers, worms and adware. That appears to cover the full range.

To get your attention, the folks at Bitfender are engaging in a new social-network-oriented ad campaign. All you have to do to enter is take a selfie of you hugging your Mac, post it on Face-book, Instagram or Twitter and give it the hashtag #hugamac.” I’m serious folks. That hashtag will get you entered in a contest where you can win a MacBook Air. You can also sign up at Bitdefender’s site to receive a free six-month license for Antivirus for Mac. If you like the app, it’s $59.99 for a one-year license that supports up to three Macx. An additional $20 adds PC coverage.

You can find out more about the “#hugamac” campaign from the company’s special promotional page. There’s nothing to lose for a few minute’s effort with your iPhone, and once you install the app using that free trial and try it for a while, you might even like it.

As you know, I’ve been skeptical of the need for security software on your Mac. While I’m in favor of an extra ounce of protection, the speed and stability hit of most of these apps has been a matter of serious concern. But the folks at Bitdefender appear to have broken through with a Mac solution that you won’t be aware of — until you need it.

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2 Responses to “The Night Owl Revisits Mac Malware Protection”

  1. Paul Robinson says:

    Nice write-up. One question. What does this mean? 🙂

    “They’ve even posted a chart showing a performance impact in the low single digits, which definitely shouldn’t be noticeable.”

    That’s pretty sweeping without more information.

    “low single digits”?? “definitely shouldn’t be noticeable”??

    It all depends on the scale, the indicator, etc.

    9% could be noticeable…

    On a scale of 1-20, single digits would matter greatly :-)… etc.

    The impact also could vary by program so, while the *average* impact could be small, the hit on certain programs could be larger and noticeable (e.g., certain mail programs vs. others).

    Still, your real world experience is important… although the counter-factual there is perhaps you have just gotten used to a somewhat, slightly slower Mac! 🙂

    • @Paul Robinson, Low single digits doesn’t mean 9, which would be the high single digits. Do I make myself clear? I think it’s in the 5% range, and, no, I am quite capable of detecting minor changes in overall performance, but that number would be low enough as to not be noticeable.


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