Protect your Mac from viruses, phishing and other nastiness

Being a Mac user has its privileges: Macs have dramatically less problems than Windows-based PCs. And that's not my opinion, it's a fact. After 25+ years in the business of solving tech problems, and with over 100,000 tech problems, you start to see some patterns, like Macs crashing less and requiring less operating system reinstalls.

But Mac users tend to have bigger problems with other things, like viruses. Which is ironic, because the number of viruses and similar threats to a Mac are in the double-digits, just a handful. Compare that to over 17 million separate identifiable virus signatures in Symantec's recent virus software.

Last year I worked with a record number of Mac users with viruses and malware. Most of the cases were just minor nuisances, but in some situations the Mac because almost unusable until we removed the threats. But cleaning up known viruses is only half the problem.

The other problem - the much bigger problem - is what we don't know about yet. New threats yet to come. And this is where Mac users are at a pretty serious disadvantage. Most Mac users still believe viruses only affect Windows-based PCs, and that they're not in danger. Apple even marketed Macs in the past as being virus-free.  So now you've got misinformation, to which you add a strange human trait that affects everyone: Optimism bias

Do you think you're a better driver than most people? About 90% of all drivers think they're better than most other drivers.  That's optimism bias, a weird function of our brains that make us believe that because a risk is rare, it can't happen to us.

The best way to fight optimism bias is to be realistic. If you're reading this right now, and you don't have antivirus, then just plan on losing all your data. Don't convince yourself that the changes are low. Instead, pretend that it's going to happen tomorrow at 6:00AM, before you get out of bed.

What should you do right now to prepare?

First, get excellent antivirus and antithreat software.  You can use anything you want, but I use Sophos products. I use Sophos to protect every device in my family as well as the systems I use at TechRoom - both Mac and PC.  In fact, I'm so confident in Sophos' products that I use them on my data transfer and data recovery systems so that customers' virus-infected machines don't affect me or any other customer's computer on our network when it's in for service.

Sophos has several antivirus products on the market, most of which have been engineered for massively large organizations. What I like about Sophos is that they're an incredible think tank that does nothing but security, their cloud-based antivirus products are more innovative than most of the other competitors, and after several hundred installations I have never experienced a noticeably significant performance hit on a Mac.

I use a premium product called Sophos Endpoint (disclosure: I'm certified on Sophos technology and recommend their product because I use it, and I also happen to sell it as a key service I offer). This isn't just your normal install-and-go software.  It also has web browsing protections that can be configured as part of what's called a software policy.  For example, adult websites can be blocked, and even blocked on specific devices, like your kids iPhone or Mac.  Same for gambling, alcohol and tobacco, etc.  Endpoint also has protections against most phishing scams that are designed to trick you into giving the bad guys your credit card, bank account info, Amazon password, etc.  If you want to understand phishing better, I created a little video and blog post about it here.

Sophos also has a free product, which provides some basic protections.  You can find the free Sophos Home product here.