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First Look: Norton AntiVirus for Mac

updated 04:30 pm EDT, Tue March 25, 2008

First Look: AntiVirus

If you use any version of Windows, an antivirus program is an absolute necessity to protect your computer. If you use a Macintosh, an antivirus program is an option. Although a handful of Macintosh viruses exist, the main purpose of any Macintosh antivirus program is to screen out Windows-specific viruses that you may accidentally pass on to Windows users. If you never share files with Windows users, you probably don't need an antivirus program. If you regularly share files with Windows users, you may need an antivirus program like Norton AntiVirus for Mac.

Like most antivirus software, Norton AntiVirus offers two forms of protection: scanning and monitoring. You can run the scanner manually or set it according to a schedule to search your hard disk for infections. Scanning simply examines every file and searches for signs, called "signatures," of known viruses, worms, and Trojan horses.

AntiVirus for Mac scans your whole computer

Scanning an entire hard disk can take several hours since the program exhaustively examines every file including GIFs and plain text files, which are the least likely to contain a virus. To save time, you can selectively choose which files to scan or schedule a particular time to scan your computer, such as late at night.

For additional configuration, the program lets you modify its automatic protection features, which can be handy if you want to disable certain features. In case your Macintosh has a limited amount of RAM, you may wish to disable auto-protection, which loads a scanner program into memory to constantly watch and protect your computer.

Since most people have no idea how an antivirus program works or whether it's doing anything at all, Norton AntiVirus provides a Dashboard widget to alert you about the latest threats and your current auto-protection status.

To help you understand the specific types of threats the program can detect and remove, Norton AntiVirus displays a list of viruses and other Internet threats that it can defend against, such as Trojans, worms and macro viruses.

While the threat of Mac malware is growing as more people use the platform, the big question every Mac user needs to ask is whether they need an antivirus program at all. Browsing through the program's list of viruses and Internet threats reveals that the vast majority of threats are, in fact, Windows-specific problems. The handful of Macintosh threats are limited to ancient HyperCard viruses or Mac file infectors, both of which are such low threats that the danger of infection, let alone losing any data from these threats, is close to zero.

For $49.95, Norton AntiVirus works as advertised. The only trouble is justifying its cost to protect you against nearly non-existent threats. If you share files with Windows users, or regularly run Windows inside a virtual machine using Parallels or VMWare Fusion, the program can keep you from spreading malicious programs through any files you spread to others.

If you're strictly a Mac user who never shares files with Windows users, any antivirus program is basically unnecessary (for now). No matter how well-designed any Mac antivirus program may be, ultimately it's more about guarding against Windows threats than anything specific. Norton AntiVirus for Mac may be good insurance, but for most people, it's the type of insurance they won't really need.

by MacNN Staff



  1. rytc

    Joined: Dec 1969



    SO what are the handful of Mac viruses? As far as I am aware non exist for OS X, the only ones in existance were for OS 9...

  1. njfuzzy

    Joined: Dec 1969



    It is an interesting take, that the reason for Mac users to have Anti-Virus software is to help screen out viruses, so we don't pass them from one Windows user to another.

    If that is the case, then I'd say that for now, Anti-Virus software for the Mac should be free. If it doesn't really help me, it just makes the Internet a safer place, then why should I pay for it? (Plus, if they give it to me for free now, I might be likely to pay for something if there was ever a virus that actually did affect me.)

  1. sUNtiGEn

    Joined: Dec 1969


    waste of money

    Don't spend a nickel on the abomination known as NAV for Macintosh.

    I was very excited when it shipped and I bought a copy for all of my Mac's (all 5 of them). Installed the application and watched my system performance degrade to UNUSABLE.

    I know it's tempting... I know we all want to be good netizens and scour the world for malicious software, but don't kill box to do.

    Stay away! Stay far away!

    - matthewk

  1. 64stang06

    Joined: Dec 1969


    re: interesting

    There is a free AV out there, The Clam™. (

  1. darksol360

    Joined: Dec 1969


    ClamAV FTW!

    Hmmm, a useless app that will rape my cpu resources and cycles... no thanks. Any Mac owner who is in the know has ClamAV installed and are already being proactive about a future virus threat.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Tested tomorrow:

    The Magnum 12 gauge fly swatter.

  1. lamewing

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It is a necessity???

    Hmmmm. I find the comment about the necessity of using an anti-virus for Windows users overblown.

    I have used DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, 98 and XP and I only once got a virus...and that virus came from a Earthlink floppy disc.

    If you are a competent (not a programmer mind you) computer user a virus isn't really an issue.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Secunia PSI

    I prefer the approach that Secunia is doing with their free PSI product (for Windows). It scans your applications and other executables and reports any versions with known vulnerabilities. It then gives you a handy link you can use to patch the ones it finds. To me, it seems more productive to patch known holes than to continuously scan every file against a database of every known attack.

  1. ADeweyan

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Real danger!

    I had an awful infection on my Mac once. I didn't lose any data, but I did spend quite some time removing it from the machine. You see, whenever I put a floppy in the second floppy drive, the virus would copy itself over. I had to do a lot of floppy switching to sort that one out, I can tell you.

    Of course, that was 1989, and a Mac 512Ke. I haven't had a virus on any of my Macs since then.

  1. MiMiC

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I've heard of some scams

    but this takes the cake.

    They want me to pay to protect me from something that does not exist.

    Does a guy named Vinnie visit me if i don't pay up? LOLLOLO

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