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Sophos debuts freebie anti-virus scanner for Macs

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Updated Sophos released a free of charge Mac anti-virus product for consumers on Tuesday in a bid to highlight the growing security risk against the platform and to shake fanbois out of their complacency.

The business-focused internet security firm is making Sophos Anti-Virus Home Edition for Mac available for download at no charge - with no time limit, and requiring no registration. The technology is a cut-down version of Sophos's pre-existing anti-virus software for Macs and will ship with detection of thousands of malware strains including Trojans and rootkits.

Sophos has no plans to release an equivalent free of charge Windows anti-malware scanner.

Three well-established freebie security scanners (AVG, Avast, Avira) already exist even without considering Microsoft's own Security Essentials software. Although commercial anti-virus packages for Macs have been sold for some time by the likes of Intego and Symantec - and more recently by Kaspersky and Panda - Sophos's software one of very few freebie scanners for Macs available to date.

It's not the first freebie scanner for Macs currently available, contrary to claims in the first version of this article. Others including, most notable, ClamAV exist.

Past threats to Mac users have included malware disguised as pirated software and uploaded onto P2P file-sharing networks, supposed video codecs that actually contain a Mac-specific Trojan horse and strains of Windows malware capable of infecting virtual installations of Windows running on a Mac.

Apple acknowledged the malware problem by integrating rudimentary protection against a handful of Mac Trojans in Snow Leopard, Sophos notes, arguing that users running its software are provided with more comprehensive protection against potential threats.

Carole Theriault, senior security consultant at Sophos, explained that while the picture is different in enterprise environments, "home Mac users aren't protecting themselves from malware".

Theriault admitted that Windows threats counted in their millions dwarf the number of strains of Mac malware, which can be counted in their thousands, but maintained there was a need for protection, whatever sales people in Apple Stores might say to the contrary. "We want to raise awareness," she explained.

The Sophos worker and Mac user has been running beta versions of its software on her machine over the past three months without noticing a performance hit. "It's not footprint-free but the impact is minimal," she reported.

Sophos Anti-Virus Home Edition for Mac is based on the enterprise version of the internet security firm's product but with the management hooks and extra bells and whistles removed to reduce complexity.

The UK-based firm sees the freebie Mac scanner as a medium-term commitment, even though the product is not there to make money, and it will cost Sophos to run a dedicated support forum and field queries. Unlike freemium scanner outfits such as AVG there are no plans to convert users onto paid-for consumer versions of Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac.

Many Mac users remain unpersuaded that Macs need anti-malware protection, so it will be interesting to see whether Sophos's move serves to shift perceptions. Whatever happens it's likely to take plenty of flak for Mac fanbois for even suggesting there's a malware risk.

"While most businesses recognise the importance of protecting their Mac computers from malware threats, most home users do not," said Chris Kraft, product management vice president at Sophos.

Sophos Anti-Virus Home Edition includes automatic on-access detection that runs in the background, so that users do not need to schedule scans in order to be protected. The technology also bundles a disinfection utility.

More on the software, together with hardware compatibility information, can be found out from a download micro-site here. ®

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