Column: Mac attacks — Is it time for antivirus software?

Q: With all the recent news about Apple security holes and issues, is it
time for me to install antivirus software on my Mac laptop?

Taken at face value, all the recent reports of new OS X and iOS malware and
vulnerabilities would likely cause many Apple users to ask the same question.

Apple has long positioned itself as a safer alternative to Windows and
Android, and despite the news of several newly discovered exploits recently,
it’s a claim they can well defend.

Apple operating systems have always had vulnerabilities and could be attacked
with malicious exploits, but they pale in comparison to the others.

Having said that, as Apple extends the capabilities of their systems, so too
will the potential for exploitation be extended. For instance, the recent
Wirelurker and Masque Attack malware exploited new tools that Apple designed
to make its products more useful to large companies.

While the average user probably won’t be putting himself in a position to be
exploited by these new threats, we are seeing a new focus on Apple products by
the hacking community.

Many have speculated that the attack on Apple products would increase as the
market share increased, and the recent news seems to support that.

The Wirelurker and Masque Attack exploits were capable of compromising Mac
computers as well as any iOS devices that were connected, creating a
two-for-one opportunity for attackers. This should signal to all Apple users
that ignoring security updates and being careless on the Internet is a pretty
bad idea these days.

The all-too-common notion “I use a Mac, so I don’t have to worry” concerns me
the most. This plays right into the hands of the hackers. You may have noticed
that it’s been a long time since you’ve seen an Apple television commercial
proclaiming that Apple computers don’t get viruses.

Apple added a form of antivirus protection called XProtect to the Mac
operating system back in 2009 to help identify malicious programs and files,
but it’s not the same as the full-fledged antivirus programs that are common
with Windows computers.

I’m not ready to make a blanket statement that all Apple computer users should
install third-party antivirus software, but it can certainly provide
additional layers of security.

The behavior of users would be the biggest variable in this decision, as
that’s always the largest exposure factor with any computer system.

If you’re the only one who uses the computer, you only get your Mac apps from
Apple and you use browsers that have lots of security extensions, such as
Google Chrome or Firefox, I wouldn’t put a high priority on installing
antivirus software. If, however, you have kids who aren’t afraid to try
anything on the Internet or who like to explore every new thing that pops up
online, having the extra layer of protection may make sense.

Getting tricked into installing something malicious is the biggest concern
when it comes to voracious young Internet users.

By and large, the use of Apple products is still significantly safer than the
alternatives, but taking security lightly isn’t an option anymore.

Ken Colburn is one of the Data Doctors who provides WTOP will help to the
growing number of technology devices that you use every day. Listen to the
Data Doctors at 1:41 p.m. weekdays on WTOP Radio.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPtech on Twitter.

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