Free Mac Anti-Virus: We just can't win..

Filed Under: Apple, Malware

We've been delighted by how the Mac community has responded to our release last week of a free anti-virus for Mac home users.

I'm not sure if the powers-that-be are allowing me yet to tell you precisely how many downloads it's had in the last week and a half, but let's just say "hundreds of thousands".

DownloadFree Anti-Virus for Mac
Download Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition

We've had many many users telling us about the malware they've found since installing the program - and yes, not just Windows viruses and Trojans, but malware written specifically for Mac OS X too.

Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac home edition

Not only have the download figures been astronomical, but it's also received some great reviews. Clearly there are folks out there who like the idea of running an anti-virus on their Mac! Especially if it's free!

One of the things I really like about our free Mac product is that it doesn't nag you into purchasing a "professional" version of our software like some other freebie anti-viruses for Windows do. We're just happy for home Mac users to run it and protect their gorgeous computers.

So, what's the catch? Well, there isn't one.

If you have a Mac at home, you can download Sophos Anti-Virus Home Edition for Mac without having to give us your details and without a time limit. You don't need to sign up for a password, and we won't stop your updates after a few months and ask for a fee.

Nice of us, eh?

My colleague Paul Ducklin explained it well in this interview he did with TechDay in New Zealand:

"It's free of charge. So we're not making you pay money. It's free from registration. So we're not making you pay by selling your contact details onwards. It's free from expiry. So we're not hoping to sting you for upgrades later on, once you're 'hooked'."

"Seems like we can't win this one.. If we tell home users of Macs they might consider taking cybersecurity - in particular, protection against malicious code - more seriously, people say we're ambulance chasing to FUD them into buying our software, even though we don't sell consumer versions of our software. If we give it away, we're plotting something for the future."

"Take it at face value. It's free of charge to home users. No registration and no expiry."

So, why are we giving it away for free to home users? Well, I thought that would be obvious. It makes people think we're cool and gets our name out there. That should help us sell even more software to businesses. In other words, it's all about brand awareness.

It's pretty cool that you can benefit at home from us wanting to raise our brand awareness.

Of course, we're not made of money, and so we can't give users of our free home Mac anti-virus the same high level of support that we offer our paying business customers.

However, there is a support forum where we ask users of Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition to post their questions, and hopefully help each other with solutions.

DownloadFree Anti-Virus for Mac
Download Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition

Stay safe.

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26 Responses to Free Mac Anti-Virus: We just can't win..

  1. I always figured companies gave stuff like this away to consumers in order to "increase the range of their sensor grid". With "hundreds of thousands" more Macs watching for malware, the odds of you catching a new variant of a dropper or other attack vector would be dramatically increased, allowing you to offer superior service to your (paying) business customers. That makes for a win-win-win scenario (consumers win, business customers win, Sophos wins).

    Regardless, thanks for the kit!

  2. bettiegrl · 1388 days ago

    What about Linux? My computer runs Ubuntu and was wondering about whether or not I need anti-virus software since nearly none of that software works on my system anyway.

  3. Unless your a high-traffic Server managing a network of Windows bases workstations, you probably don't need to run any kind of AV on your Ubuntu system. To quote Wikipedia, "..There has not yet been a widespread Linux malware threat of the type that Microsoft Windows software faces; this is commonly attributed to the malware's lack of root access and fast updates to most Linux vulnerabilities.[2] These are the equivalents of User Account Control and Windows Update in modern Windows operating systems..." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_malware). Yes there are known viruses and trojans for Linux, but even then they mostly refer to windows-based documents being stored on your Ubuntu/Linux machine and being spread to windows computers.

    In a nutshell, no you probably don't need to run AV on your Ubuntu Desktop.

  4. Richard · 1385 days ago

    "So, what's the catch? Well, there isn't one."

    Unless you're running Windows on your home PC, in which case you either have to pay for Sophos or use one of the less-reputable free AV solutions.

    Giving Mac users a free tool that Windows users would have to pay for seems a little unfair.

    • umhhmm · 1385 days ago

      I agree whats up with free for them and not for us ??? or is this just a marketing ploy ?

    • Peter · 1384 days ago

      I must agree. Sophos treats us Windows users as second class people. But I understand that its easier to provide free AV-software for systems without any malware :-)))

  5. Mike · 1385 days ago

    @Richard: Aw shame...buy a mac then ;)

    • Richard · 1384 days ago

      Ha ha, very funny.
      I want a computer that works, not an ornament for people to admire! :o)

  6. guest · 1385 days ago

    how does it compare to PC Tools free Mac product and AVGs LinkScanner for Mac product?

    • Paul Ducklin · 1385 days ago

      PC Tools scans for Mac malware only. We don't work that way. All our products detect all malware for all platforms. That is entirely by design. You will be surprised how often you'll spot Windows malware appearing on your Mac. Wouldn't you rather know, before you pass it on to another of your Windows friends by mistake? It also means that with Sophos, you don't need to worry what we mean by "Mac malware". Does that cover malware written in Perl, which is multiplatform? Or in Java? Do we detect malware for other Macs, but ones with a different CPU to yours (a PPC Trojan can't run on an Intel Mac, after all)?

      AVG LinkScanner is, ah, just a link scanner (though you don't only acquire files directly via links). Good luck detecting a threat which enters by any other means. Good luck finding malware inside an archive which you only open up later.

      Anyway, they're all free. I work for Sophos. Why listen to me? Why not try them all and see :-)

  7. umhhmm · 1385 days ago

    So when does the free sophos av for windows come out ? and how is it that sophos would cater to mac users in such a way when it has been every one but mac users that helped sophos become what it is ! And i agree with you Richard it does seem just a little unfair to any and all loyal sophos custumers to have had to pay or just advise and support without expecting anything for help .What has mac users done for them ? and on the other hand most of the mac users i know dont beleive that they need any av anyway . Some times you just have to say go figure.

    • "it has been every one but mac users that helped sophos become what it is! "

      Sorry you feel like that.

      I should point out that we've had numerous University and school customers around the world who have bothered with our Mac anti-virus protection, and have paid for it at normal prices for many years.

      We haven't made any announcements regarding a free anti-virus for Windows home users. If we do, you'll be sure to hear about it!

  8. Desmond Crowe · 1384 days ago

    How do I uninstall Sophos Anti-Virus 7.0.5 (7th September 2009)? This doesn't allow me to install the new free Mac version.

    • If you're running the business version of Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac and have a support question, please contact our support team via the usual channels. You can phone them up, email them, search the knowledgebase etc. Their contact details can be found at http://www.sophos.com/support

      Remember, the free Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition is *only* for home users. Not for business use.

      Thanks!

  9. paul · 1384 days ago

    Mac users typically have a strong brand loyalty. If Sophos can tap into that, then it really is a win-WIN-win situation. I'm very surprised (but even more pleased) that they got this past the Sophos bean-counters though. Well done, somebody! Have a raise :-)

  10. we want WINDOWS · 1384 days ago

    Its not really free. LOL

    Your trying to make it the dominant AV for MAC ( easy target and not as many sales as for Windows as umhhmm pointed out ) This way when business come to upgrade AV they are going to be more likely to look into Sophos and your increasing brand awareness.

  11. Phil · 1381 days ago

    I agree that it's a great idea for Sophos to offer this product free for Mac home users. Our company has used Sophos for several years on Mac and Windows systems. I like being able to tell our users that they can have all their Macs protected with a free version.

    However, as the admin who receives automated alerts about everything Sophos finds on our Macs, I can tell you that it is very, very rare to see any threat with OSX in the name. I have never had any Mac threat on any of the Macs I use at home, and that is even with teen-agers using them. This is not my head in the sand, this is still the reality that Mac threats are exceedingly rare, and virtually every one of them requires users to do something stupid to become affected or infected. I await Mr. Cluley's response! ;-)

    I save every Sophos alert generated from one of the several hundred Macs in our business. Right now, I have 1,068 of them going back to 2005 -- so that in itself is not a huge number. Out of those 1,068 alerts, only four of them contain the letters OSX in the threat description. Now I suppose some of the others could be cross-platform?

  12. KinetiK · 1223 days ago

    How many times do we have to ask why Users of windows at home have to fork out £90 your a years antivirus when the Macintosh club gets the benefits for free? Why the hell should Windows users subsidise your mac distribution? This is not the first time this question has been posed, yet still we have no answer. Either make a home version free for all platforms or charge the Mac owners the same. After all they paid 3x market value for their pc with a badge, so why not charge them for the software they want also. Your whole ethic on this matter stinks.

    • We've made no announcement regarding a free Windows version of our software for home users. If we ever have something to say about that, we'll be sure to let you know. :)

      BTW, there are lots of free anti-virus products out there for Windows if you want one - just not one from us.

  13. Samantha · 1201 days ago

    I wanted to say thank you for giving free AV for mac users at home even though I was explained that you needed to teach an Apple to understand some application, etc. hence why there is no threat or virus on mac... I have an OX S mac and I love it...though I have microsoft office 2011 here on my apple...are they related to windows and would that be any differences?

    I have installed your free AV onto my mac and scanned through it... No threats nor virus... where as on my Windows PC laptop...there is 22 threats with few trojan in it...

    So I like to show my appreciation of you giving us free AV as I was constantly sick of updating new version of AV and limited to trial when I merely cant afford to buy an update newer version...It is really annoying to have to buy new version year after year...

    Im Deaf and wont be able to access to make such phone call to sort with someone regarding any support questions I may have in future... is there a text sms mobile contact instead of phoning? I live alone and do not want to have to rely on hearing person to make the phone calls for me. (imagine late night or after midnight when I need to?!)...is there any other way I can get in touch to ask support questions or anything I needed to know or understand more about Apple and Sophos security...

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.