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What's in a name?

So, "Norton AntiVirus for Mac" has been around for a long time. Everyone seems to know it (alongside Norton Utilities for Mac, another topic for another time), but I gotta tell you, sometimes I think the name does the software a disservice. I mean, literally, as soon as I even say the name of the product, I inevitably hear, “But I thought Macs don’t get viruses!” Everywhere I get this. I was, no joke, getting a physical with my doctor, and when he was done he asked, “You know, I don’t mean to, well, whatever, but I thought that Macs didn’t get viruses.”

Can I at least get my pants on before I have to start talking about work, doc?

As I have said publically many, many times, I get it: there have been basically no viruses that the normal Mac user needs to worry about on Mac OS X. I have been using a Mac since 1985—I read the comments on the Mac sites when they flame our products and I just wanna say, Dude, I get it. But it's our job to protect Mac users from the ones that are out there, we protect against Windows viruses (which is helpful for people running Windows on their Mac), we protect against MS Office macro viruses (more on this later), and yes, the moment that we find some spyware/malware, we’ll rock that, too. No, that feature is not on the box. I’m not going to advertise that we protect against stuff that doesn’t exist. Norton AntiVirus—no works against unicorns! No, not gonna happen. Unless you get some problems with malicious unicorns, then email me, or, preferably, take a deep breath and get more sleep.

We do protect against vulnerabilities now, though. We started doing this with Norton Confidential (which is the only antiphishing product for Safari, but I’ll write about all that later). Macs do have vulnerabilities. This article from CNET is a good overview (yes, I am in it, but despite that, the article is really solid), and check out this announcement from Adobe. And that's just today. We've seen a bunch of vulnerabilties in Firefox, Safari, Quicktime and others. What does that mean? Well, it means that if a website tries to exploit a browser vulnerability to gain access to your system, we block that from happening. And yes, it can happen. You can bust through a vulnerability and then get root access to your system. Through your firewall. All up in your zone.

But I can’t really call the product “Norton AntiVirus and Vulnerability Protection and AntiSpyware If There Was Actually Spyware for Mac”—I checked with marketing and they told me to leave the naming to them. I have accepted this and was kinda resigned to at least a few more years of “Yes, I know there are no viruses, but let me tell you about…” but then yesterday I got an email from my friend Kelly, who was having problems sending Word documents to clients. While he could send old versions of a document, every time he made changes, the email with the attachment was getting bounced back with a message saying that the document had, you guessed it, a virus. He was freaked (“But I thought Macs…”)—he went and got Norton AntiVirus, did a scan, and he found 333 files that had been infected. He can now send documents. He is a happy customer and can get on with his life.

Hmm. Suddenly, “Norton AntiVirus 11 for Mac” doesn’t sound so bad.

Message Edited by jgonzales on 04-24-2008 11:24 AM


Hi Paul!

Thanks for reading the blog entry and taking the time to comment on it.

I just talked to another friend who was having Macro virus problems---must be the Spring air? It's interesting that so many Mac users swear by the "no viruses" on the Mac creed--it's just not true. And you know what? THAT'S TOTALLY OKAY. It's like, us Mac users can still rest assured that:

1 - not all that many viruses in the first place
2 - ClamAV or Norton or Intego will most likely be able to scrub your files
3 - having a few viruses on the platform does not mean that Macs are like Windows machines.

Using a computer is oftentimes a risky proposition! I mean, I keep everything I own on this MacBook, and though I have backups, still: if someone steals it, I am in for a whole world of hurt. Whenever I shop online, I risk the store's databases getting hacked and my credit card information stolen. It's like driving a car: yes, I am wearing a seat belt and I have airbags a plenty, but still: if I get hit by a semi, I've still got a few problems to contend with.

So, while I truly believe that viruses will never be a big deal on the Mac (should I admit that?), I do think the die-hard Mac folks just need to enjoy their Macs and not get so riled up. Let's all educate ourselves on the threats that are out there, treat them as they deserve, and live our lives. And good for those customers who are asking about AV for Mac! It's nice to know that there is an opportunity to educate people about what kinds of threats do and do not exist.

thanks for posting!

take care,
Hey Mike,
I beta test Norton AV for Mac and I also do tech support for Apple.
I'm seeing more and more Mac customers with MS Office macro viruses. I guess it's not the best idea to blindly migrate you data over to your new Mac from your old machine. I'm also getting the odd customer asking about AV software for their Mac. I do think that the " it can't happen to me " fantasy will come back to haunt the Mac in the not too distant future.