Firm sweetens Mac virus tool, but will Apple-ites bite?

Sophos updates its antivirus program for Mac OS X. But with no major Mac attacks on the books, it may be a hard sell.

Antivirus company Sophos has released an updated version of its virus-protection software for the Mac, the company announced Wednesday.

Sophos said its Anti-Virus for Mac OS X software is easier to use, but the company is still working hard to justify the cost of the product to OS X users, who have not yet had to deal with a widespread virus.

"Despite the popular misconception that Mac users aren't affected by viruses, Apple customers need to take the virus threat seriously," Phil Wood, product manager for Sophos Anti-Virus, said in a statement.

Two of the new features in the software are designed to ease the administration of the antivirus program in business and education settings, the primary markets for Mac antivirus software, according to Sophos. The program lets users update their software even if they are not connected to the Internet. It also lets system administrators centrally manage the software's periodic updates.

Sophos rivals Symantec and Network Associates also sell antivirus programs for the latest Mac operating system, under the Norton and McAfee brand names, respectively.

Despite the lack of major security incidents involving Mac OS X, security researchers and administrators have taken Apple Computer to task for poor communication on security issues. The company has said it is working to improve how it informs the public about security problems.

For the most part, while potential security issues do exist on the Mac, they have failed to materialize as serious problems. For example, security researchers found a critical security hole in Apple's operating system in May, which the company patched this month. The hole could have been used to create a Web virus, but no such program has been detected to date.

"Even when viruses can't run specifically on the Mac platform, Macs continue to be carriers of viruses, thus increasing the overall spread," said a Sophos representative.

Regardless, until a major security event creates demand, Sophos and other antivirus software makers may find Apple's customers not very fertile ground for their products.