TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Real World Review: Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac, Home Edition

Volume Number: 27
Issue Number: 01
Column Tag: Real World Review

Real World Review: Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac, Home Edition

Enterprise-grade antivirus software, now free for home Macs

by Joshua Long

Introduction

Businesses are often required by laws and company policies to run antivirus software on all their computers, Macs included. In the home environment, however, there are no such requirements, and Mac users have debated for years about whether they should go to the trouble of running antivirus software. Is it really worthwhile to spend $40 every year to protect a Mac with commercial-grade antivirus software, or to endure the agonizing speed degradation commonly associated with AV? Thanks to Sophos, home users can now have quality protection without these frustrations.

Why Mac antivirus software?

Enterprise antivirus maker Sophos announced in November that they would begin offering a free Home Edition of Sophos Anti-Virus to all Mac users. The announcement came just one week after SecureMac and Intego had independently published information about new Java-based Mac malware spreading through Facebook and other sites, dubbed Boonana by SecureMac and identified as a variant of the Koobface malware by Intego.

Two weeks after the release of Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition, Sophos released a report showing that a significant number of Macs running their software had been infected with malware. This malware included both Mac-native threats as well as plenty of Java-based malware, which Sophos pointed out "could easily be adapted to download Mac-based threats," as was the case with Boonana. Two Mac-specific threats, OSX/Jahlav-C and OSX/DNSCha-E, were each found on about 1 in every 100 Macs scanned. (For the full Sophos report, see http://macte.ch/sophos_stats).

Sophos vs the competition

Sophos' antivirus engine is one of the best on the market. In AV-Comparatives' (av-comparatives.org) November 2010 tests of proactive detection of new malware, Sophos Anti-Virus ranked in the top three PC antivirus products, earning the highest certification level (Advanced+). The tests also took into consideration the number of false positives, of which the Sophos engine had "few."

Let's take a look at how Sophos Anti-Virus Home Edition compares to other free alternatives for the Mac. The two most prominent freeware antivirus solutions are ClamXav (clamxav.com) and PC Tools iAntiVirus (iantivirus.com), and each is very different from Sophos.

ClamXav is free for anyone to use in any environment, from home computers to enterprise workstations. Although ClamXav does not provide on-access scanning of the whole computer, it can be manually configured to scan files that are downloaded or copied to specific folders, for example ~/Downloads and ~/Desktop. Like Sophos, ClamXav detects malware designed for any platform, as opposed to Mac-only malware.

PC Tools iAntiVirus is only free for home use, and although it does offer on-access scanning, it only detects Mac-specific malware. Neither ClamXav nor iAntiVirus is a comprehensive solution compared to Sophos. Of the three, only Sophos will detect infected Web pages and e-mail attachments as soon as they are downloaded, regardless of the threat's target platform.

I tested Sophos and ClamXav with several hundred samples that I've collected from infected computers, Web sites, and e-mails over the past couple years. ClamXav only detected about 75% as many files as Sophos, although ClamXav detected some files (particularly Windows adware) that Sophos did not detect. Neither one detected all the samples, which was expected; no antivirus solution detects 100% of infected or potentially dangerous files.


Figure 1 - Threat detected by Sophos Anti-Virus

Effectiveness

Unlike most full-featured antivirus solutions, the default settings of Sophos Anti-Virus do not automatically delete infected files or prompt users to do so. Instead, Sophos displays an alert informing the user that a threat has been detected, with options to open the Quarantine Manager or close the dialog box, and the latter is the default selection. Regardless of which option the user chooses, as long as Sophos' on-access scanner is enabled, the file is inaccessible and cannot be opened or even duplicated in the Finder or the Terminal (even using sudo).


Figure 2 - When a threat is found, Sophos denies access by default

If a malicious Mac application is detected by Sophos, attempting to open the application will result in two Mac OS X dialog boxes informing the user that they can't open the application because it is "not supported on this type of Mac." Thus, Sophos effectively quarantines the files in place.


Figure 3 - Malware is not supported on this type of Mac

Even trying to access quarantined files from another computer via a network share proves fruitless. I had Sophos running on an iMac and no antivirus software on a MacBook Pro. From the MacBook Pro I connected to an AFP share on the iMac and tried to copy a file from the iMac to the local hard drive. This resulted in a Mac OS X dialog box explaining that I did not have permission to access the file. I also tried to duplicate an infected file in-place on the network share, which caused the MacBook Pro's Finder to crash and relaunch (note to self: file a bug report). In any case, Sophos quarantines files on the local system in such a way that they cannot be accessed by remote systems.

Annoyances

One strange and annoying issue I've encountered is that Sophos Anti-Virus frequently grays out the Clean Up Threat button for items that should be easy for Sophos to delete on its own. For example, the action available for dealing with .zip files downloaded from parcel scam e-mails is Clean up manually, meaning that users must try to locate the infected files on their computer. This may or may not be easy, depending on whether the full path is shown in the Quarantine Manager; if the path or file name is too long, the path will be truncated, so you may have to use Spotlight or a third-party search utility to locate the file (refer to the screenshot of the Quarantine Manager). You cannot resize the window so there is no way to see the full path, and there is no Show in Finder option either.


Figure 4 - "Clean up manually"... okay, so what's the full path?

In other cases, instead of Clean up manually the available action will be Restart Mac instead, even when there's absolutely no reason why that should be necessary. I came across this after downloading fake ActiveX video codec malware, which consisted of nothing more than Windows .exe files. Why on earth would Sophos need to restart the computer to clean Windows executables that aren't in use? Worse still, restarting your Mac won't even clean up the threat; it will still be there in the Quarantine Manager after restarting.

Fortunately, Sophos did not gray out the Clean Up Threat button for the Mac OS X-specific threat I had it scan (a dangerous Space Invaders-style game called lose/lose which deletes files in the user's home directory when you destroy enemy spaceships); no manual deletion or restarting is required to clean that Mac-native threat.

Speed

Antivirus suites have a reputation of slowing down computers. In my testing, there was no noticeable decrease in system speed or usability after installing the Sophos software. I even tested it on a low-end Hackintosh netbook (a Dell Mini 10v with a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor and 1 GB RAM) and the system was still quite usable after installing Sophos.

Conclusion

For those who support Macs in a home environment, I recommend trying Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition. Although there's currently only a small amount of Mac-specific malware in the wild, Sophos can protect Macs from other threats such as malicious JavaScript redirectors, Adobe Flash files that exploit known vulnerabilities (see Mike Hjörleifsson's CoreSec column in the MacTech November 2010 issue), multiplatform Java-based attacks like Boonana, and Windows-based malware that could accidentally be opened in a virtual environment like Parallels or VMware, and it can also discover infections on USB flash drives that you might have picked up from an infected PC unbeknownst to you.

It's time for us to put away our Smug Virus-Free Mac User shirts of yore and become more proactive at defending Macs from security threats. Three cheers to Sophos for lighting the way into battle.


Joshua Long has a master’s degree in IT concentrating in Internet Security, is a Security+ certified professional, and is currently earning a Ph.D. in Business Administration specializing in Computer and Information Security. Josh writes about malware and other information security topics at security.thejoshmeister.com. He is also the producer and host of MacTech Magazine’s official podcast, MacTech Live (www.mactech.com/live). You can follow him on Twitter @theJoshMeister or contact him via e-mail at jlong@mactech.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

iFFmpeg 6.4.2 - Convert multimedia files...
iFFmpeg is a comprehensive media tool to convert movie, audio and media files between formats. The FFmpeg command line instructions can be very hard to master/understand, so iFFmpeg does all the hard... Read more
EtreCheck 3.4.2 - For troubleshooting yo...
EtreCheck is an app that displays the important details of your system configuration and allow you to copy that information to the Clipboard. It is meant to be used with Apple Support Communities to... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.1.17 - Easy-to-use...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more
VueScan 9.5.81 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Hopper Disassembler 4.2.10- - Binary dis...
Hopper Disassembler is a binary disassembler, decompiler, and debugger for 32- and 64-bit executables. It will let you disassemble any binary you want, and provide you all the information about its... Read more
Viber 6.8.6 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device, so... Read more
Viber 6.8.6 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device, so... Read more
Carbon Copy Cloner 4.1.17 - Easy-to-use...
Carbon Copy Cloner backups are better than ordinary backups. Suppose the unthinkable happens while you're under deadline to finish a project: your Mac is unresponsive and all you hear is an ominous,... Read more
EtreCheck 3.4.2 - For troubleshooting yo...
EtreCheck is an app that displays the important details of your system configuration and allow you to copy that information to the Clipboard. It is meant to be used with Apple Support Communities to... Read more
Hopper Disassembler 4.2.10- - Binary dis...
Hopper Disassembler is a binary disassembler, decompiler, and debugger for 32- and 64-bit executables. It will let you disassemble any binary you want, and provide you all the information about its... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Eden: Renaissance (Games)
Eden: Renaissance 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Eden: Renaissance is a thrilling turn-based puzzle adventure set in a luxurious world, offering a deep and moving... | Read more »
Glyph Quest Chronicles guide - how to ma...
Glyph Quest returns with a new free-to-play game, Glyph Quest Chronicles. Chronicles offers up more of the light-hearted, good humored fantasy fun that previous games featured, but with a few more refined tricks up its sleeve. It's a clever mix of... | Read more »
Catch yourself a Lugia and Articuno in P...
Pokémon Go Fest may have been a bit of a disaster, with Niantic offering fans full refunds and $100 worth of in-game curency to apologize for the failed event, but that hasn't ruined trainers' chances of catching new legendary Pokémon. Lugia nad... | Read more »
The best deals on the App Store this wee...
There are quite a few truly superb games on sale on the App Store this week. If you haven't played some of these, many of which are true classics, now's the time to jump on the bandwagon. Here are the deals you need to know about. [Read more] | Read more »
Realpolitiks Mobile (Games)
Realpolitiks Mobile 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $5.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: PLEASE NOTE: The game might not work properly on discontinued 1GB of RAM devices (iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad... | Read more »
Layton’s Mystery Journey (Games)
Layton’s Mystery Journey 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $15.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: THE MUCH-LOVED LAYTON SERIES IS BACK WITH A 10TH ANNIVERSARY INSTALLMENT! Developed by LEVEL-5, LAYTON’S... | Read more »
Full Throttle Remastered (Games)
Full Throttle Remastered 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Originally released by LucasArts in 1995, Full Throttle is a classic graphic adventure game from industry legend Tim... | Read more »
Stunning shooter Morphite gets a new tra...
Morphite is officially landing on iOS in September. The game looks like the space shooter we've been needing on mobile, and we're going to see if it fits the bill quite shortly. The game's a collaborative effort between Blowfish Studios, We're Five... | Read more »
Layton's Mystery Journey arrives to...
As you might recall, Layton's Mystery Journey is headed to iOS and Android -- tomorrow! To celebrate the impending launch, Level-5's released a new trailer, complete with an adorable hamster. [Read more] | Read more »
Sidewords (Games)
Sidewords 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Grab a cup of coffee and relax with Sidewords. Sidewords is part logic puzzle, part word game, all original. No timers. No... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple Move Away from White Label Event Apps C...
DoubleDutch, Inc., a global provider of Live Engagement Marketing (LEM) solutions, has made a statement in the light of a game-changing announcement from Apple at this year’s WWDC conference.... Read more
70 Year Old Artist Creates Art Tools for the...
New Hampshire-based developer Pirate’s Moon has announced MyArtTools 1.1.3, the update to their precision drawing app, designed by artist Richard Hoeper exclusively for use with the 12.9-inch iPad... Read more
Sale! New 2017 13-inch 2.3GHz MacBook Pros fo...
Amazon has new 2017 13″ 2.3GHz/128GB MacBook Pros on sale today for $150 off MSRP including free shipping. Their prices are the lowest available for these models from any reseller: – 13″ 2.3GHz/128GB... Read more
13″ 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook Pro on sa...
MacMall has the 13″ 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXQ2LL/A) on sale for $1219 including free shipping. Their price is $80 off MSRP. Read more
Clearance 2016 12-inch Retina MacBooks, Apple...
Apple recently dropped prices on Certified Refurbished 2016 12″ Retina MacBooks, with models now available starting at $1019. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and... Read more
Save or Share
FotoJet Designer, is a simple but powerful new graphic design apps available on both Mac and Windows. With FotoJet Designer’s 900+ templates, thousands of resources, and powerful editing tools you... Read more
Logo Maker Shop iOS App Lets Businesses Get C...
A newly released app is designed to help business owners to get creative with their branding by designing their own logos. With more than 1,000 editable templates, Logo Maker Shop 1.0 provides the... Read more
Sale! New 15-inch MacBook Pros for up to $150...
Amazon has the new 2017 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $150 off MSRP including free shipping: – 15″ 2.8GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray: $2249 $150 off MSRP – 15″ 2.89Hz MacBook Pro Space Gray: $2779 $... Read more
DEVONthink To Go 2.1.7 For iOS Brings Usabili...
DEVONtechnologies has updated DEVONthink To Go, the iOS companion to DEVONthink for Mac, with enhancements and bug fixes. Version 2.1.7 adds an option to clear the Global Inbox and makes the grid... Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro, Apple refu...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1699. That’s $300 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for a 15″ MacBook Pro. An Apple one-year warranty is... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Poole -...
Job Summary The people here at Apple don't just create products - they create the kind of wonder that's revolutionised entire industries. It's the diversity of those Read more
SW Engineer *Apple* TV - Apple Inc. (United...
Changing the world is all in a day's work at Apple . If you love innovation, here's your chance to make a career of it. You'll work hard. But the job comes with more Read more
Frameworks Engineering Manager, *Apple* Wat...
Frameworks Engineering Manager, Apple Watch Job Number: 41632321 Santa Clara Valley, California, United States Posted: Jun. 15, 2017 Weekly Hours: 40.00 Job Summary Read more
Product Manager - *Apple* Pay on the *Appl...
Job Summary Apple is looking for a talented product manager to drive the expansion of Apple Pay on the Apple Online Store. This position includes a unique Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple...
SalesSpecialist - Retail Customer Service and SalesTransform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.