It's a rare event to hear about a widespread computer virus attack on Mac computers, so you might question whether Mac antivirus software is even necessary. While popular belief maintains that the Mac operating system — OS X — is less likely to be infected by a virus or malware, Macs are not infallible.

In past years, they've had their share of troubles: We've seen the Flashback virus infect over 600,000 Mac systems; the discovery of the aptly named "Pintsized" backdoor Trojan, able to defeat Gatekeeper; and the multi-platform Clapzok.A virus, described as a "proof-of-concept" virus that can infect 32-bit executable files.

Are Mac OS Targeted Attacks Likely?

Part of the long-held belief that Macs are less susceptible to viruses may spring from the simple fact that there are fewer Macs than PCs. Criminals create viruses to make money off the cyberattack — it makes sense to go after the PC first, as it's the bigger target, and therefore holds higher potential value.

But Macs numbers are growing — both in business and in the home — while PCs are falling. Gartner, Inc., a major researcher says first quarter 2013 PC sales dropped about 11 percent from first quarter 2012 numbers, while sales of Apple products grew. Mac computers are popular among consumers because of their sleek design and ease of use, and the popularity of iPhones and iPads is breeding more consumer familiarity with Apple products in general, helping spur more interest in Mac computers.

Great news for Apple, maybe, but the growing numbers also mean the OS X could start to look like a very high-value target to cybercriminals.

Likely Sources of Mac Virus Infection

Aside from the targeted cyberattack, human interaction or error is more likely to lead to a virus infection. These infections could stem from a variety of "unsafe" computer behaviours, such as:

  • Visiting unsecured websites;

  • Accidentally downloading malicious files;

  • Accidentally opening infected email;

  • Not maintaining up-to-date operating systems

Humans make mistakes, after all, and the consequences can be brutal on your computer. It just means Mac owners need to be aware that, yes, their Macs can become infected, and they should take steps to protect themselves. Not just for peace of mind, either — Mac antivirus software is a fundamental security practice, and it's something every computer owner should do.

What You Can Do

A free antivirus for Mac software trial can be a good starting point. The trial allows you to get familiar with the level of security that can be attained with the product, and it helps you get into the practice of home security. Although there are a number of free antivirus options to choose from, it is important to select a product that is well-supported and maintained, and that offers sufficient scope of protection.

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