Sophos Offers Free Antivirus Software For Macs

Sophos on Tuesday released free anti-virus software for Macs. While it's not hard to find free antivirus software for Macs (ClamXAV has been at it for years) by all accounts this is the first commercial grade tool available for nada. That means no strings attached, no trial period that descends into perpetual requests to upgrade and no major features missing

The Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition rivals paid options in catching viruses, its makers say, and not just the ones that can harm Macs, but those that harm Windows, too, if a Mac user were to pass along an infected e-mail.

Sophos says its aim is brand awareness -- which given the fact that we're writing about it, seems to be working. But we think there's another side. Very few Mac users bother with anti-virus software. There's a widespread belief that malware for Macs doesn't exist. If the virus scanner makes users more aware of the evil bytes gunning for them, maybe more Mac users might be convinced of the need.

Truth is, statistics on the number of Mac-specific viruses is hard to find. Macintosh/Unix advocates frequently claim that  the Mac operating system, particularly OS X, is inherently more secure than options like Windows. Security malware vendors trying to sell you their products, and beleaguered Windows experts, have another viewpoint. They say the lack of Mac viruses is simply a numbers game. Most of the world's desktops run Windows. But with the growing popularity of Macs -- and the fact that the iPhone and iPad run on adapted versions of the same OS -- professional malware bad guys could grow more interested.

"I'm also aware that there are a growing number of bad guys out there who might consider Mac users a 'soft target' and deliberately set out to infect Apple Macs, in the hope of stealing login details to banks and social networks, commandeer your MacBook to send spam or install irritating pop-ups, or simply commit identity theft," says Sophos' anti-virus guru, Graham Cluley, on his blog that announced the free product.

Cluley then makes a pretty convincing argument by listing a handful of recently discovered malware geared for the Mac. He points to a Web site discovered in 2009 that had embedded Mac-specific malware behind a seemingly innocent downloadable HDTV viewer. He points to evil Mac malware in files posted to P2P sites and a recent Facebook attack that brought people to Mac PWNing site.

One of the more interesting attacks Cluley names is a sophisticated cross platform Java attack, Boonana, that made news last week. It could infect all operating systems, Windows, Macs and Linux.

Sophos anti-virus guru Graham Cluley demonstrates how Boonana can infect Macs

Sophos promises that there is no catch to users who download the software. Sophos will maintain the tool's virus signatures, updating-every hour. Suspicious files can be quarantined, and scans can be done automatically in the background or on demand. Phone support is not offered, but technical support is available, via online forums.