published Friday, November 5th, 2010

Tech Talk: Macs need virus protection as platform gains popularity


by Donnie Jenkins

Today I'll answer a few more e-mail questions:

Q: I'm completely confused. My understanding for years has been that the Apple Mac computers don't have the issues with viruses and other malware that PC computers have always suffered from. Lately I read online that there is indeed a threat to Macs and that we need to run some sort of protection to stay safe. True or false?

A: Unfortunately, this is probably true. Mac diehards insist that the design of the operating system makes it nearly impossible for a hacker to do it harm. However as the Mac platform becomes more popular, it is also becoming a target for hackers.

A Mac-specific version of the so-called Koobface malware recently appeared on social networks including Facebook, and more are bound to show up based on the rising popularity of the Mac platform.

Mac users might do well to run security software, such as the currently free Sophos antivirus program or similar efforts. For extra protection, be sure your built-in firewall is always enabled in System Preferences, and use a router with a firewall.

Q: I read in your column and elsewhere that Apple has abandoned support for Adobe Flash completely. Why is that such a big deal?

A: The simplest answer is that probably 90 percent or more of the Web's video content has used Flash in its production and presentation process. Apple insists that the new HTML 5 Web programming spec will take care of all that. This not completely true since Flash also provides interactive capabilities. Critics would remind us though that those interactive features also can be insecure. Very true.

Interestingly, there is a new app just approved by Apple that will allow Flash movies to be seen on its devices. Skyfire will change HTML 5 video to Flash on the fly, so to speak, making it compatible with all Web video if it works well. Zdnet.com reports that the app also includes several other features that make it very attractive, especially its excellent $2.99 price.

Q: Can you recommend a site or sites to use for online purchases?

A: There are several excellent choices. I use Amazon whenever possible simply because it is so customer focused. For example, I once ordered a lens attachment for a Canon S3 camera and got the wrong item twice. After I returned it the second time, they contacted me and immediately issued a refund, saying there was obviously some problem with the item. This is the way it should work everywhere all the time, the vendor paying attention. In fact, the only area of difficulty I've ever seen with them is in buying downloads, but even then they will make it right.

Two other excellent sites are deal-a-day Woot.com and Geeks.com. One warning: Geeks.com sells a lot of refurbished items, merchandise that has been returned and repaired. This is usually not a problem, but I recently had to return two Sony DVD recorders, as each one had the same problem. Fortunately, I had no trouble getting a refund, although it does take a while. Great site.

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