updated 04:40 pm EST, Wed December 10, 2008
First Look: iAntiVirus
Many Mac anti-virus programs waste their time scanning for Windows contaminants. While this may be fine if you need to share files with Windows users, you may not want a program that gobbles up excess memory and processing time just to protect against malware that can never even hurt your own hardware. If you'd rather have an anti-virus app that focuses solely on keeping Macs virus-free, one option is PC Tool's iAntiVirus.
Besides guarding solely against Mac malware, the program also offers free and commercial versions, unlike a number of rivals. The free version is meant for individuals, while the commercial version ($29.95) is meant for businesses and includes 24/7 support.
Since detecting and removing malware isn't something that most people understand, the program offers a simple user interface with two main buttons. One lets you scan for viruses, and the second lets you turn real-time protection on or off.
Scanning for viruses can take time, especially with a large hard disk, and so iAntiVirus gives you three sub-options. A Quick Scan scans recent files, while the Normal Scan checks everything. To address only a particular concern, you can limit the program to certain files or folders through a Custom Scan.
Customizing the program is simple, done through a dialog that lets you define scanning mode (Fast or Normal) and whether to turn heuristics on or off -- the latter simply means that the program tries to identify virus-like behavior. This can make the software run slower, but it may also help catch new and unknown viruses. Without heuristics, the program can only identify viruses stored in its database of known signatures.
Rather than run each scan manually, you can define a schedule for scanning automatically. That way you can scan for viruses in the middle of the night, avoiding interruptions during the workday.
iAntiVirus is generally fast, small and easy to use. There remains an important question, however: do you really need it? Since the app only scans and protects against malware specifically targeting Macs, you can view a list of the threats the program guards against by visiting the iAntiVirus threats page.
Viewing the list reveals that the biggest threats don't come from viruses, but from programs with possible malicious purposes such as keystroke loggers. Loggers are commonly used to steal passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information. They can be quite dangerous, even if the likelihood of someone sneaking a logger onto your Mac is small.
A second category of detected threats is Trojan horses, which can sneak into a computer and allow a remote hacker control of your Mac, for purposes such as sending spam or attacking other machines.
Beyond loggers and Trojans, iAntiVirus can also detect worms, which are mostly proof-of-concept programs designed to infect a Mac. Finally, the few genuine viruses that the program detects tend to be older Mac OS Classic viruses, which seems fairly odd -- if you're running that OS, you can't run iAntiVirus in the first place, and if you're running Mac OS X, a Classic virus can't hurt you.
If you're worried about malware creeping into your Mac, a program like iAntiVirus can ease your concerns. If you think you have a virus or some other form of malware infecting your Mac, grab the free version and run a scan. If you want 24/7 support, then go ahead and pay for the commercial version. Although not absolutely necessary, you have nothing to lose by trying the free version of iAntiVirus if you think it will give you peace of mind.