Why on earth would a dyed-in-the-wool Mac user want to spend cold hard cash on virus protection? After all, Mac viruses are as rare as gold dust. Well, while that is broadly correct, there are Mac viruses out there and fewer than ever ways to combat them. Intego has just released Virus Barrier X4, the latest anti-virus application in their security armoury.
It’s easy to be cynical about companies that sell products that protect against the remotest possibilities. But viruses are far from unheard of on the Mac. I’m often surprised by the gung-ho attitude of Mac users who are blissfully unaware that there are in fact Mac viruses. Granted they mostly appear in the form of Word Macro viruses, and there are no confirmed sightings of any OS X native viruses, but those macro viruses are more common and more destructive than you might think. Even if a macro virus doesn’t cause mysterious crashes or random misbehaviour in Microsoft Office, it is simply rude to pass a virus on to somebody else. If you are passing files to people in a professional arena, then nothing will look less professional.
Word or Excel Macro viruses are not typically destructive on the Mac, but they have the virtue, if that’s the right word, of being cross-platform. That means when you send an infected Word document to a friend with a PC, it will either set off virus alarm bells, or worse, infect their PC. There is another less likely scenario, where you receive a virus via email from a PC-using friend, and inadvertently send it on to somebody else. This would take some foolish intervention, or deliberate mischief to have this happen. Either way, Virus Barrier X4 will take care of you.
Putting aside the debate of whether you need virus protection or not for a moment, it’s worth noting that VirusBarrier is a well-thought-out piece of software. The interface is clean, divided into seven buttons. These buttons allow you to access all the features of the application. First, the selection button lets you decide which drives or folders you would like to examine. Initially users need to look at the whole drive, to make sure that you are starting with a clean computer. My initial clean up took just under an hour, which might sound like a long time but it really isn’t. That was churning through half a million files, and 100GB of data – some other anti-virus packages I’ve tried have taken more than 24 hours to manage that. And once you have completed the initial purge you only need to look at new files on your Mac.
To make sure the application doesn’t use up valuable processing time checking the whole disk each time, users can specify secure zones and unsecured zones. If you nominate the desktop as a secure zone any downloads will be scanned as soon as they appear. You could also protect your public folder, but beware if you have any folders in your public folder; VirusBarrier will only look at the contents of a folder, not the contents of folders nested inside. You can still protect the nested folders, but it is another step. If somebody is intent on infecting your computer, it would be possible to circumvent this if they have access to your machine. The likelihood of this is very remote, though. If you work in an environment where this is likely there are other ways to lock down your computer, such as only giving access to a drop box.
In Turbo mode files that have been checked don’t get checked again unless something has changed, providing some speed improvement. This makes VirusBarrier fast enough to be used regularly, and combined with the secure zones it should keep computers very safe.
The current lack of viruses may or may not last, and any new virus threats will not be defensible until updated virus descriptions are available. Updates are available from Intego’s NetUpdate X4, which is included, and will check daily for new information. When you install the application, it starts counting down from 365 days. That’s because the licence for the software only included a year’s subscription to updates. Further updates will cost £17 for a year, or £26 for two years. This may not be a popular additional cost, but the research and development to find and cure new viruses must be paid for. It is better to have a committed company making sure you are safe, than one that will let you fend for yourself once you have bought the software. However if after a couple of years there has been no virus attack on OS X, it might become more difficult to justify. After all, if there are no viruses to eradicate, it does cut the cost of development.
Many people think they can go without virus protection using OS X. For now, and for the most part, they will be safe from all but a few minor viruses. However, as people that use PCs know, viruses can be terribly destructive. It’s only a matter of time before somebody takes up the challenge of writing a Mac virus. It might be in ten years time, or it might be tomorrow. It’s impossible to predict what might happen, but for my money, I’ll rely on VirusBarrier X4. There is some competition, but no other virus protection is as Mac friendly. Intego can be relied on to update VirusBarrier for every system upgrade immediately, which is more than can be said for Virex or Norton Antivirus.