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First Look: VirusBarrier, Mac anti-virus software

updated 11:15 am EST, Mon December 8, 2008

First Look: VirusBarrier

The majority of worms, viruses and Trojan horses attack and infect Windows systems. While the Mac is theoretically more secure due to its Unix underpinnings, the growing popularity of Macs may only make them more enticing as a target. There are already a handful of Trojan horses for the Mac, and the threat will likely continue to grow. Anti-virus software may remain optional for Mac users, but if you want to play it safe, you can protect your Mac with something like Intego's VirusBarrier.

Don't let the name fool you; the program is, of course, able to detect and destroy worms and Trojan horses as well. The difference between these three categories of malware is subtle. A virus can only spread by attaching itself to another file, such as a Word document. The moment you share an infected file with someone and the person opens the file, the second computer becomes infected.

Viruses are seen as a dying technology however, given that few people share individual program files anymore, and viruses that infect document files must rely on macro programming language, such as VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).

Many Windows users use Microsoft Office, which includes VBA support. However, not as many Mac users rely on Microsoft Office, and if they use the latest Office 2008, it doesn't include VBA support at all. As a result, the threat of virus infection on a Mac is minimal at best.

The real danger comes from Trojan horses and worms. A Trojan horse is simply a program disguised as something else, such as a game. The moment you run a Trojan it may do something unexpected, such as wipe out your hard disk, or simply poke a hole in your firewall to allow later access.

Fortunately, VirusBarrier can detect and destroy common Mac Trojans, such as a new series dubbed RSPlug. Since Trojans can often circumvent firewalls due to users' choice, expect more to appear.

The other type of malware is worms, which are like self-contained viruses that spread themselves throughout the Internet. A firewall alone can often block a worm from getting into your computer, but an app like VirusBarrier may act as a second line of defense.

A problem with many anti-virus programs is that they gobble up resources and slow your computer down, and so VirusBarrier is claimed to use a minimal amount of memory, as well as stay out of your way when scanning files. To speed up scanning, the software gives you the option of turning off its ability to scan for Windows viruses. One problem with all Mac anti-virus programs is that the number of real threats is fairly low, so they tend to pad their database with Windows virus signatures.

This allows the program to scan and kill any Windows viruses infecting your computer, but the larger question you have to ask is: do you really care? Even if your Mac is infested with a thousand different Windows viruses, they can't hurt your Mac one bit. If you regularly share files with Windows users, or copy files between your Mac and a copy of Windows running in a virtual machine, then stripping away Windows viruses might be important. For the large majority of Mac users, protecting yourself against Windows viruses is pointless.

One feature that separates VirusBarrier from its rivals is that it can also scan an iPhone or iPod touch for viruses. The feature is more of a preventative measure at this point, as there are no malicious iPhone or Touch viruses in distribution. Especially given Apple's vetting process before posting anything at the App Store, the chances are slim that a major virus outbreak will occur through one of its players.

For $69.95, VirusBarrier is a small, fast virus scanner that will keep a Mac free from software infestations. As the Mac's growing popularity will inevitably attract more malware creators, it's a nice program to keep your Mac secure, though it may not be a necessary one at the moment.

by MacNN Staff



  1. infowarrior

    Joined: Dec 1969


    i'll say it

    ok i'll be the first to say it --- this sounds like a press release, or at the very least, a marketing white paper?

    if i needed AV software for the Mac I'd use Sophos until F-secure decides to release a version for OSX.

  1. loudpedal

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Any comment about how often updated definitions are available and how they are paid for (annual subscription rates, etc.)?

  1. dliup

    Joined: Dec 1969



    There are NO, as in zero, viruses for OSX.

    Trojans are different. You can't protect a user from their stupidity. Trojans works on any system, no matter how secure it is, since the user is tricked into actually installing the trojan.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Dang, that's ugly!

    If nothing else, the UI is seriously ugly.

  1. TheSnarkmeister

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Lazy, lazy, lazy

    As a former newspaper editor, I can vouch from experience that most small publications are desperate for content and will reprint almost anything sent to them verbatim. They simply don't have the time or resources to research or verify everything they receive. If you read an article that sounds like a press release -- that's probably because it was. An honest policy would be to label such articles as such.

  1. macs4all

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Hideous and Unnecessary

    The UI was designed by an 8 year-old, AND it's a useless bit of tripe for all of us OS X users.

    Other than that, it looks like a great product, LOL!

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    If anyone is interested..

    VirusBarrier is actually included in the current MacUpdate winter promo that's going on right now. $49 gets you VirusBarrier and a bunch of other really useful apps. The site seems to be loading slowly right now for some reason. Just wait for it.

  1. bjojade

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It IS important

    Yes, there are zero viruses out there, but the trojans are starting to crop up. Of course, to get them you need to be doing things that put you at risk, but if you're one to do those sort of things, it's a good idea to have some protection.

    As a tech, we HAVE seen machines come in with some of the Trojans out there. They really do exist. Do I sell AV with every machine? No. However, it certainly doesn't hurt to have it.

    Now, this particular software we've sold in the past. I'd say it was no better or worse than the others out there.

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    It certainly can hurt...

    A while back I did an integration project for work and researched all available AV programs for mac. We decided that Sophos was hands down the best, with Symantec as the second choice. Symantec however did eat up system resources more than Sophos. In the end we decided to hold out. 3 years later, still no viruses lot$ saved on licensing and users running CS3 and FinalCut without interruptions.

  1. panjandrum

    Joined: Dec 1969


    If you do use this

    I ran across a small business recently which was infected with hundreds and hundreds of Word macro viruses send from Windows users. Obviously they were using Office 2004 for Mac and had a virus infect their default document. From then on they spread it to everyone they send documents to.

    But we found that Virus Barrier in real-time scanning mode really slowed things down. We set it to scan every night at a specific time and eventually we managed to eliminate all the viruses. We had only one major problem with the product: It would often fail actually clean a virus from a file, forcing us to quarantine all infected files and then attempt to clean each of them individually. Many of these were important files which could not just be thrown away. It also took forever to scan email messages with attachments. In the end it did what it was supposed to do, but it was not a nice smooth "mac-like" experience. Oh, and the UI is godawful!

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