About a month ago, the world learned of one of the first malware threats to do real damage to a large swath of Mac users. Known as “Flashback” because it masked itself as an update to Adobe Flash, the trojan reportedly infected over half a million Mac users. Once the trojan successfully installed itself in a user’s system, it harvested user names and passwords from the web browser and sent them back to who knows where. It took Apple about a week to respond to threat, issuing a software update that removed “the most common variants” of the trojan, but that’s still a lot of user names and passwords that got compromised.
Prior to Flashback, Macs had been largely regarded as virtually free from malware. After Flashback, many Mac users might want to start thinking about getting themselves some security protection. With that being said, Mac-directed malware is still a bit of a rarity. Which is why, if you’re going to add third-party protections to your Mac, you might want to start your shopping with a price comparison. That’s where BitDefender Virus Scanner comes in. It’s a virus scanner at the perfect price: free. The question is, will you get what you pay for?
After downloading the latest definitions from the Bitdefender servers, Bitdefender Virus Scanner can scan your Mac for all known malware, including malware for PCs (to help prevent you from inadvertently spreading them to your PC-using friends). It can find all sorts of malware, including:
If it finds any malware, Bitdefender Virus Scanner can send the offending file into Quarantine, which prevents it from be executed or read. Once in Quarantine, the file can either be restored or deleted from the system.
The program is as easy to use as can be. The window gives you four buttons to choose from. You can scan “critical locations” (which means all the Home folders of the various users of your Mac), your entire system (including any connected disks), just your running applications (including the files they access), or a specific item (such as a file, folder, or volume).
Once you click the button you want, you’re basically done. The software starts doing its thing and you can go do something else. The first time I ran the program, it took about 10 minutes for the software to download the latest malware definitions from the Internet over my DSL connection. The second time I ran it, it took about a minute to check back for new definitions. Once it had the latest info on all the stuff the bad guys want to do to my Mac, it set about scouting all of my files for traces of their mal-intentions.
With two user accounts on my Mac, it took Bitdefender about 25 minutes to scan my “critical locations” and come back with a clean bill of health (which was a good thing, since my Mac had been one of the 550,000 computers infected with Flashback).
Once that was done, I set it to work on my whole system (which includes two external hard drives to go with my internal drive), and this time, I wasn’t so lucky. While scanning my Mail library, it found a four different trojans in my gmail account. Sure, the trojans were directed at PCs rather than Macs, and yes, they were actually in my SPAM folder, so there was zero chance of me sending them to anybody, but still, they were there and Bitdefender found them and quarantined them. It also, to my delight, straight-up deleted one of them. Take that, bad guy!
But here’s the semi-downside. It took Bitdefender hours and hours and hours to scan my whole system. So if you’re gonna scan your whole system, do it before you go to bed. If you’re lucky, it’ll be done when you wake up.
Oh, and on a semi-picky note, once the elapsed time went over an hour, it became virtually impossible for me to figure out how much time had elapsed. If you look at the screenshot above, you’ll see that 00 hours, 04 minutes, and 42 seconds had elapsed between the time I clicked scan and the time I took the screenshot. Easy enough, right?
Well, check this out. During my whole-system scan, the elapsed time displayed the following: 02:147:-7063, with the the next second being 02:147:-7062. Now, I might not be the sharpest tool in the woodshed, but I’m not exactly the dullest either, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what those numbers refer to or understand why they’re using negative numbers counting towards zero.
While this is just a user-interface bug rather than an issue with the core purpose of the app, it still makes you wonder. If they got this part wrong, what else might be going wrong that I can’t see? Of course, this is a free app, so maybe they put their focus on the important stuff and left these little UI details to sort out later. At least, that’s what we can hope is happening.
Some Added Bonuses
One of the neat things about Bitdefender is that it uses drag and drop, so if you download something questionable from the Internet, all you need to do to scan it for malware is drag the file out of your Downloads folder and drop it on the Bitdefender icon. A few seconds later, voila!, you’ll know if it’s virus free.
Bitdefender also comes with an online account called “My Bitdefender,” where you can get free access to all kinds of services, including protection of your Facebook and Twitter accounts, scans for possible identity theft, parental controls and more. They’ll try to upsell you to some premium services as well, but you can ignore those pretty easily and just get the free stuff. With the Facebook and Twitter protections, you’ll be able to stop worrying about what stupid apps are trying to take over your status updates.
With Flashback confirming the reality of the malware threat to Mac users and the growing user base enticing more malware programmers to attack our beloved platform, it’s starting to make sense, for the first time since the arrival of Mac OS X, for Mac users to protect themselves above and beyond Apple’s pre-installed security measures. Unless you’re super paranoid, however, I don’t see why you’d shell out any real money for the protection, especially when Bitdefender Virus Scanner seems to do such a capable job for free (even if it doesn’t know how to count time).
In short, it seems to me that downloading this free software from the Mac App Store is a no-brainer for any Mac users who care half a whiff about defending their systems.