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Is Mac Security Software Necessary?

Verizon is offering security software to its Internet service customers who use Macs. But is that something Mac users really need?

Verizon on Monday introduced a security suite for Internet service customers who use Apple's Mac OS X. The company claims that it is the first major US ISP to offer its customers Mac security software.

It's a move that appears to recognize Apple's growing share of the PC market, but is it meaningful as more than a point of differentiation between Verizon and other Internet service providers? Is security software necessary for the Mac?

Apple has been touting the improved security features in its recent Snow Leopard operating system update, which suggests there's something to be worried about. But at the same time, the company's TV commercials suggest that Mac users have little to fear from malware.

And that view is easy to find online. As Mac user Bruce Etnyre observes in a post on Apple's discussion forum, "Most of the experienced users here do not recommend using antivirus software on Macs because there are no known viruses that affect it."

That's not quite accurate: There is malware that can affect the Mac. But it's not widely circulated.

To be clear, there are plenty of holes in both Apple's and Microsoft's software, as anyone who counts security patches will tell you.

The reason that security is more of a problem for Windows users than for Mac users is that the majority of malware authors are trying to find ways to exploit the holes in Windows, which can be found on about 90% of the computers out there.

Nonetheless, a quick scan of Apple's online forum confirms that some Mac users do encounter malware, like DNS changing Trojans. At the same time, security issues can be complicated and don't necessarily always involve operating system exploits.

For example, U.K.-based Colin McCleery posted in August on the Apple forum about being the victim of online fraud that he believed could only have been possible if someone had penetrated his router firewall, his OS X firewall, and installed keylogging software.

Reached in September via e-mail, McCleery said that his bank had reimbursed him and that his bank was of the opinion that the fraud was not conducted through a hole in Mac OS X. He declined to elaborate, citing the bank's ongoing investigation but suggested poor security at an online financial site he used could have been the source of his security problem.

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