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Antivirus protection for Mac computers

The question for many Mac users is: Do I even need antivirus software given that most viruses target PCs? The answer, according to experts, is a resounding yes.

Antivirus software programs for Macs are much less sexy than similar products for PCs, which may come as a surprise to Apple's users. The lack of bells and whistles seems to be standard for most Mac antivirus software. Apple after all has a limited market share, and viruses are usually designed to compromise PCs -- but Mac experts warn it's becoming increasingly important for Apple users to protect their devices as well.

The Mac Flashback Trojan hit more than 600,000 Mac OS X computers in 2012, providing a wake-up call to Apple users that they too were vulnerable to attack and boosting sales for Mac security products. In February 2013, hackers infected some of Apple's own staff computers with malware via the Java browser plug-in, and in August 2013, Georgia Tech researchers reported that they were able to slip malware into apps on the Apple App Store (Apple fixed both vulnerabilities).

As Apple computers (not to mention smartphones and tablets) grow in popularity, they're attracting more attention from increasingly sophisticated troublemakers -- but unfortunately, reviews for Mac antivirus programs remain few and far between.

You could pay for Mac antivirus software -- but experts say you don't need to. Free programs do a fine job in tests, led by Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac. Launched in 2010, this software quickly soared to the top of the Mac antivirus class. It briefly lost its perch in 2012 when vulnerabilities were discovered in that year's version, but the current version is once again experts' favorite.

Sophos does two things most Mac antivirus programs can't. First, it blocks both Windows and Mac malware (so you won't spread viruses to your Windows friends). Second, it can scan silently, in the background. You choose: You can set Sophos to scan on a regular schedule, scan everything you try to open, or just scan on-demand.

Protection is impeccable. When AV-Comparatives.org throws an arsenal at it (20 recent malicious Mac apps and 500 "very prevalent" Windows malware samples), Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac blocks it all flawlessly. The app stays up-to-the-moment thanks to real-time updates. And when your app encounters a suspicious file (or installer, or other package), it automatically checks the SophosLabs database -- and quarantines the file even if it's not a known threat.

Best of all, it's free, experts say -- so there's no excuse for leaving your Mac unprotected. Some users do complain that Sophos slows down their Macs (it doesn't do that in expert tests), but user reviews are too scarce to draw any firm conclusions.

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