Many people assume the Mac is safe from a virus attack. It's true that they are not common, partly because the base code of the operating system (OSX 10.n.n) is difficult to write a successful virus to attack and partly because the preponderance of Widows systems make it more profitable to attack them instead on Linux or Mac systems. Also, the well-known vulnerabilities of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express are attractive to malicious hackers.
All of that said, there is still malware in the form of worms, trojans, and actual virus attacks on Macintosh systems. To operate any system without virus protection will eventually lead to problems, even if they are not destructive.
I had been using ClamXAV as a virus protection and have been happy with it for several years. When I saw that Sophos, with their excellent reputation in the commercial area, was making a free version for the Macintosh, I decided to give it a try.
The download and installation was as fast and simple as I expect on the Mac. I was pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of the program. Preferences were easily explained and setting things like what to scan and when as well as scheduling updates were intuitive and fast. I had expected a program based on commercial protection to be a bit more work.
Sophos has a different approach to detecting malware. The first time it scans your files, it creates a check sum for each file. For this reason, the initial scan is rather lengthy. A hard drive with 202 GB of data took several hours to scan. As this is done in the background without noticeably slowing the system, I continued my web browsing, IM, and email activity without problems. On subsequent scans, everything goes much faster because it only compares check sums. An unchanged file is skipped and only new or altered files are examined for malware activity. Those scans go much faster and your other work can proceed with no problems. In fact, Sophos is conducting a scan as I write this review.
Updates can be scheduled automatically in preferences or initiated manually from the Sophos icon in the menu bar. Daily updates are sufficient and take only a minute or two, depending upon how many new things they have added to detect. Again, it's all done in the background without creating problems for other activity.
So, is Sophos better than other virus protection? That's hard to say as I keep my Mac very clean, and avoid suspicious sites. My email is filtered first by my service provider, then by my email program, and finally by the virus protection software I have loaded. My service provider does detect malware about once a month in spam email but so far, it seems to be aimed at Windows systems. That might not affect me, but I could pass something along to someone else with Windows, so the protection isn't just for my iMac or laptops. I can say that Sophos is unobtrusive, fast, and simple to use. The reputation of the company is excellent so that inspires a level of trust that I am doing all I can to protect my system and that of others that might link to me or receive my emails. In today's world of cyber-crime, that's about as good as we're going to get.
At this time, I am not certain the same protection is available as a free Home Edition for Windows systems. I think they might offer it with paid upgrades available much as AVG does with their excellent Windows protection.
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About the reviewer
James Smith (slrman)
Retired bum, technical writer and fitness fanatic in João Pessoa, Brazil.