Years ago when I first heard someone say their computer might have a virus, I imagined a tired, feverish machine with a hacking cough. You've got to be kidding, I thought. Computers don't get sick. Then, after hearing stories about evildoers who spread viruses among all the good machines, I was sure that viruses were just another conspiracy theory gone awry. I mean, why would anyone or any code want to hurt my computer? Well, it turns out computers do get sick, and there are people out there who get a kick out of making them ill. Computers can catch viruses that seriously cripple them, which, in turn, cripples you and your business.
Viruses infect your machine by attaching themselves to programs, files and start-up instructions.
There are two main types of computer viruses: macro and binary. Macro viruses are written to attack a specific program. The macro virus that has made its way into the most computers is probably the Word Concept virus. Relatively innocuous, though annoying, Word Concept changes the Save As function so documents can be saved only as template files (.DOT). Binary viruses are either actual programs designed to attack your data or attach themselves to program files to do similar destruction. Binary viruses are the ones to be concerned with; they can reformat your hard drive, wipe out data and stop your operating system from working.
The best way to fight these bugs is to avoid them--but in today's world of Internet downloads and e-mail file exchanges, this is an impossible task. To the rescue are anti-virus software programs, loaded on your computer and at the ready to protect it from any foreign invaders. There are dozens of these virus-fighting programs on the market. In this column, we review two top Macintosh-based anti-virus programs, Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh and Datawatch Virex 5.7. Both companies offer Windows-based anti-virus programs as well. You can also find plenty of anti-virus programs on the Internet available for downloading.
On The Attack
Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh (SAM) is easy to install and provides the option of running the program on a PowerPC. Symantec enables you to scan your drives for viruses during installation, and if there are any infected files, the program repairs them.
Internet and online users will appreciate SAM's ability to automatically check files for viruses when they are downloaded and to scan commonly compressed files (such as Stuff It, Disk Doubler and so on). SAM also checks applications for viruses every time you run them, checks floppy disks when inserted in a drive, and monitors your Macintosh for suspicious virus activity. You can even set up the program to perform scheduled virus scans.
Users designate a folder on the desktop as a "SafeZone"; all downloaded files are then directed there for assessment. If SAM detects a virus, it deletes any record of it--saving your machine from potential disaster. Of course, you can also manually check files, folders and disks for viruses using a simple point-and-click procedure.
SAM includes built-in alerts that warn you when suspicious activities are occurring in your computer, indicating that viruses may be spreading or damaging your files. Though many of these activities are normal program functions, SAM suggests they be investigated. An alert box will appear and prompt you through the investigation process. Similarly, if the program detects a change to a file since it was last scanned, it will prompt you to investigate.
Because new viruses are constantly being created and distributed, you'll want your anti-virus software to keep up with the times. SAM gives you several options to update your virus definition list, including direct downloads from the Symantec Bulletin Board Service, a file transfer protocol (FTP) site at http://www.symantec.com , and forums on CompuServe and America Online. If you don't have a modem, you can get updated virus definition files on disk.
If your machine is short on RAM (2MB or less), you can opt to install a lightweight version of SAM, called Intercept Jr. This program doesn't monitor your drives for suspicious activities and can't be customized, but it does perform all other basic virus-detection functions.
Datawatch Virex 5.7 is the other leader in Macintosh anti-virus software. Virex is also simple to install and run, and can be used on a PowerPC. During installation, Virex asks whether you'd like to scan for viruses. If any are found, it removes them.
Virex offers sophisticated functions for today's virus problems, including protection against Microsoft Office 97 macro viruses. Virex also finds and restores infected Word files that have been converted to template files.
I preferred Virex's interface over SAM because it's simpler to navigate. Not that either program requires much hands-on use: Most of what these products do is automatic. On the other hand, Virex's monitoring of suspicious activities requires more manual work by the user than SAM's. Like SAM, Virex offers virus updates via the Internet and on disk.
Virex installs a "DropScan" icon on the desktop for users to drag files, folders or volumes into for virus assessment. Beware, however: You first need to install the Virex Control Panel before DropScan will work.
Virex's biggest selling point is speed--something to consider when you're in the middle of important work and your anti-virus software stops to analyze what's going on. Virex's SpeedScan definitely does this faster than SAM.
Both SAM and Virex will protect your Macintosh from viruses. In
the end, I found that neither is clearly better than the other.
SAM's ability to easily monitor suspicious activ-
ities is a plus, while Datawatch's dedication to speed and protection against Microsoft Office 97 macro viruses plays in Virex's favor.
4 Floppies: excellent
3 Floppies: good
2 Floppies: fair
1 Floppies: poor
Symantec AntiVirus for Macintosh
List Price: $69
Pluses: Simple to use, easily accessible online updates
Minuses: None of note
List Price: $99
Pluses: Intuitive, includes detection for Microsoft Office 97 macro viruses
Minuses: Monitoring of suspicious activities not as seamless as Symantec's program
New And Notable Software.
- JFAX Personal Telecom: If your work takes you on the road, you'll want to look at JFAX Personal Telecom. The service works in tandem with virtually any e-mail program to send subscribers voice messages and faxes. Users purchase phone numbers that people can call or fax to; then, when you're on the road, voice and fax messages can be retrieved via the Internet. There is a $15 activation fee for the service, which costs $12.50 per month for 100 incoming messages or fax pages. Additional messages cost 20 cents apiece. You can also save money in long-distance costs by using JFAX to send faxes. Visit http://www.jfax.com or call (888) GET-JFAX for more information.
- QuickMail Pro Server: CE Software's QuickMail Pro Server for Mac OS will be available by the time you read this. This e-mail server delivers advanced capabilities such as mailing lists and auto responders as well as support for connections to the Internet and integration with other applications like desktop faxing and paging. Pro Server is a key component of QuickMail Office, an easy-to-set-up e-mail program that also includes the POP3 e-mail server for Windows NT, Windows 95 or Mac OS. QuickMail Pro Server costs $99.95 for five users; $149.95 for 10 users; $249.95 for 25 users, and so on. Visit http://www.cesoft.com or call (515) 221-1801 for more information.
Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for eight years.
CE Software Corp., (800) 523-7638, email@example.com
Datawatch Corp., 234 Beallardvale St., Wilmington, MA 01887, firstname.lastname@example.org
JFAX Inc., (888) GET-JFAX, sales@ JFAX.com
R.I. Software Inc., (888) 426-2978, email@example.com
Symantec Corp., 2500 Broadway, #200, Santa Monica, CA 90404-3063, firstname.lastname@example.org