Viruses. Worrying about them, protecting against them. They take up a large percentage of both Windows users real life and their computers clock cycles. Everybody knows that viruses and there cousins, trojans and malware are just a fact of modern life. Such a fact that there are many companies generating substantial revenue from selling software designed to make and keep you safe online. Most of these companies will sell you a Mac version of their software just as happily as a windows one. But do you, the happy Mac user, really need to spend the money?

In the windows world it is true, viruses do exist, trojans do infiltrate your PC, and any sensible user will act to guard against them. In part this is down to software, but also to sensible behaviour online. Much malware relies on users doing the hard work for them, and in this regard Mac users need to be as aware as their windows brethren. Do you really need to click on that strange link? Are you sure that that site is legit? Pretty well most of the time you know when you are straying into the murkier waters of the internet. If you do need to see much much more of those ladies, or really really don't want to pay for Quantum of Solace on DVD, then caveat emptor my friend.

But, back in the sunlight, what, as Mac users, is prudent for us to do. Well in short, little. Be strong when the salesman offers to sell you that anti virus suite, and if he's pushing Norton Utilities on you, be more than strong, bury the body deep, where no one will ever find it. But why, I here you type, should Mac users be blessed with a virus free life, are we that favoured? Well yes, oh, and no.

Mac users are still a minority in the computerverse, just under 10% of us have seen the light. This makes the Mac a far less tempting place for Johnny Virus writer than the windows world. If you are looking for notoriety in the shady virus underworld, writing a Mac virus is not the way to go about it (yet). Sadly this state of affairs may not continue indefinitely. As Mac share grows so does the platforms visibility to virus writers. But luckily a few more factors also weigh in to help keep the Mac a clean platform.

Most viruses are not hand written code designed by Russian hackers with the sole purpose of exploiting your Christmas card list for fun and profit. They are written by snotty kids in bedrooms. In order to write these viruses, these kids use kits. Basically, applications that write the actual virus for them. I mean, who wants to waste years of your young life actually learning something useful like a heavy duty objecting coding language. These kits, written by proper coders are only able to churn out windows viruses. The result is, writing a Mac virus - hard, writing a windows virus, easy. Result lots of windows viruses.

Other factors in the macs favour are the general behaviour of the users themselves. Mac users tend to buy more legitimate software, download songs from iTunes or Amazon and generally behave better online. (Yay us!) In short we don't behave in ways that are as likely to attract malware as PC users do.

A month or so back, Apple themselves caused a fuss when they added a page to their site suggesting that Mac owners should stock up on anti virus software. After a week of media interest the page was quietly removed and replaced with one saying you could if you wanted to but you didn't have to. Lawyers eh!

The original note said. "Apple encourages the widespread use of multiple anti-virus utilities so that virus programmers have more than one application to circumvent, thus making the whole virus writing process more difficult. Here are some available anti-virus utilities:"

So, where do we stand now. The long and the short of it is that as things are anti virus software on the Mac is pretty much a waste of time. Until Mac viruses do appear there is simply nothing for them to scan for. This does NOT mean that you are immune from web nastiness. macs are just as vulnerable as windows machines to malicious code exploits and other malware, however all these attacks rely on one weak link, the user, allowing access to the innards of the machines OS.

If you do find your computer popping up a warning that a certain link requires admin access to the Mac, then be suspicious. It's hard to catch a cold on your Mac but it's quite possible to come down with something else altogether.

And finally, just in case the casual bandying around of terms such as virus and malware has left you dazed and confused here are some jargon free definitions:

Virus - a computer programme that can be transferred from computer to computer via e-mail or file sharing. Viruses multiply by themselves by infecting multiple computers and contain the code to allow them to spread within themselves. The portion of the code that produces the virus effect (deleting files, crashing the computer or worse) is called the payload.

Trojan - or Trojan Horse. A programme that is actively downloaded by the user and seems to be performing one function while actually running or installing other unwanted and malicious code on the users machine without their knowledge. Trojans rely on being downloaded and installed by the user to spread.

Malware - any software that has malicious intent towards the users computer. Malware needs to be installed by the user, often mistakenly, where it can then run code or exectue programmes without the users knowledge or consent.

Worm - A programme that uses networks to transmit copies of itself from computer to computer. Unlike viruses, worms normally carry no malicious payload, they simply degrade network and computer performance by using bandwidth and computer power to spread and replicate.

Spyware - malicious programme designed to transmit information about your files or computer usage back to the writer of the application.

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