The debate resumes over Mac security

A revised Apple support doc told users to run antivirus apps; then it was yanked

"For enterprise customers, many vendors provide integration with a central management console," Rowles said. "This allows you to manage where your users get updates... and often times what updates they receive. You also have a single place to schedule scans and control the preferences for multiple users."

While some of the antivirus software packages included real-time scanning options, the feature has drawbacks. "This feature is often called 'On Access Scanning' or 'Real-Time Scanning.' What this means is every time you read or write a file, that file is scanned for viruses. Normally, there are options for 'tuning' this process, allowing you to exclude specific folders or set it to only scan during a write operation. These options are your greatest asset at avoiding having your entire computer slow down and become sluggish."

Which antivirus app gets the nod?

When I asked which app he settled on, Rowles was quick to note that antivirus software has to be based on enterprise-specific needs. "We went with McAfee VirusScan because it offered a complete cross-platform management solution. McAfee also offers a complete suite of tools for firewall and host intrusion protection for Windows users that integrates with the same management solution. McAfee's VirusScan software for Macintosh has been a competent solution, and they have provided great support and have supplied hot fixes when needed. McAfee's 'On Access Scanning' solution isn't the best one out there, but it can be customized to not scan specific folders or to scan only on read or write instead of both. McAfee was also one of the first companies to offer an Intel Mac compatible solution and that was when we were comparing products."

For less enterprise-focused users, Rowles pointed to VirusBarrier from Intego. "The reason being is that their solution was written from the ground up for the Macintosh. They offer the same competitive features as McAfee and Norton, but in testing I found their Real-Time Scanning to be the quickest and [it] didn't cause nearly as much initial sluggishness -- if any -- compared to competitors. Enterprise customers will probably want to look elsewhere because VirusBarrier does not offer the same level of integration or cross-platform management as other competitors."

The upshot from this week's Mac security debate is simple: don't panic. It's not yet time to completely batten down the antivirus hatches on Mac OS X. Having said that, it's reasonable to assume that as OS X gains ground in the operating system wars, it will become a more attractive target for viruses. Think of it this way: Would you rather be installing antivirus software the day an unexpected virus pops up -- or the day after? For now, installing an antivirus package would certainly be the courteous thing to do for other, more susceptible colleagues. That kind of pay-it-forward approach to malware might even lead to good karma. After all, some folks have it far worse.

Michael DeAgonia is a computer consultant and technologist who has been using Apple products and working on them professionally since 1993. His tech-support background includes tenures at Computerworld, colleges, the biopharmaceutical industry, the graphics industry and Apple. Currently, he is working as a Macintosh administrator at a large media company.

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