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Anti-Virus/Malware advice for Windows and Apple computer users

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Most Windows users know that anti-malware is necessary, but Apple support implies you don’t need anti-virus or anti-malware installed on your Apple. Well. Mac users do have fewer problems with malware. A typical Mac-user may go for years without a problem, but that doesn’t mean that Macs are never troubled with malware. From January 1 to January 18, 2019, less than 3 weeks, the Homeland Security central computer vulnerability database recorded 27 new Apple vulnerabilities discovered by security researchers. 7 of these were scored Critical. These are flaws that could be easily exploited to cause serious damage. Macs are not inherently safe.

Macs are less vulnerable

Macs are less vulnerable than Windows for several reasons. First, there are far fewer Apple computers in use than Windows. Hackers follow the money and the money is in hacking Windows. But this is changing. Apple has become more popular, especially among more affluent users, and hackers have noticed.

Second, Apple users tend to stick with installing software from the Apple Store, which Apple polices carefully for security issues. This is safer than the common Windows user practice of downloading software directly from vendors or other web sites.

Finally, Mac OS X, the latest Mac operating system, is based on Unix. Unix (and its most common incarnation, Linux) was designed from the beginning for a multi-user, networked environment where security has always been critical. Windows was originally designed for single user personal computers without network connections. For those early computers, security meant a lock on the front door. Folks worried that a thief would carry off a memory card or the entire machine. Remotely hacking the system was not a thing. That changed when everyone connected to the internet.

Microsoft began to design for security from the ground up about a decade ago. Since then, Microsoft security has made great strides. Windows 10 is much more secure than XP or Vista. Nevertheless, Microsoft is still overcoming years of placing ease of use and rich functionality ahead of security.

The gap is closing

Are Macs still more secure than Windows? I prefer to say that the gap is closing. Also, Mac users may unwittingly transmit email and files that contain Windows malware to Windows computers. Your Mac may be safe, but you could damage your Windows friends. And Windows can transmit Mac malware to Macs. Although Windows and Mac anti-malware products are not interchangeable, most scan for both Windows and Mac issues.

Should Mac users get anti-malware software? If you are a cautious “belt and suspenders” type, you should. If you are a happy-go-lucky risk taker, maybe you can go without and never have a problem, but make no mistake, the risk is there.

Which anti-malware to choose?

For Windows, the simplest and quite adequate solution is to use Windows Defender, which comes installed and activated with Windows 10. Some people prefer third party anti-malware. There are some excellent products. New vulnerabilities appear daily. All the anti-malware developers, including Microsoft, compete vigorously in swatting down the latest attacks. It’s a horse race in which the winner changes daily.

Some products to consider for Macs: AVG, Avast, BitDefender, Sophos, MalwareBytes. Other products are good, no products are perfect, but I know and like these. They all have both Mac and Windows versions.

Automatic updates

Be sure to enable automatic updates so your anti-malware is always prepared to thwart the latest attacks. Hacking is an evolving contest with the good guys. You have to keep up. The same applies to operating systems like Windows and Mac OS X and other applications. If you want to be safe, keep them updated.

Most anti-malware products have a free version. In most cases, the free version is as effective as the premium version you pay for, but less convenient. With the free versions, you usually have to start scans yourself instead of letting the system schedule scans for you. The most convenient anti-malware is always on and checking. You won’t even know the best of the products are there, but you pay for the convenience. If you know how, you can write a DIY script yourself to run a free version automatically.

Final caution

A caution: don’t install two anti-malware products at the same time. They can clash and cause trouble. One exception: MalwareBytes is engineered to be compatible with other products. MalwareBytes has an exceptional reputation for cleaning up infected computers after a hack. I’ve heard that the techs at Apple Stores use MalwareBytes to clean infected machines.

I run both MalwareBytes and Windows Defender, wear both a belt and suspenders, and always set my emergency brake when I park.

If you have questions about computing, post them in a comment below and I’ll try to answer them. Or come in to the Ferndale Public Library on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays each month at 3 pm and ask me face to face.

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