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MacScan 2.1

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Designed for security-conscious Mac users, MacScan 2.1 does two things: It scans your hard drive for spyware and other malware that has surreptitiously slipped onto your system. It also cleans up the traces left behind by Web browsing—your browser history, caches, and cookies. But the question is: Do we really need a separate application to do either?

Scanning your Mac

The stated primary function of MacScan is to, well, scan your Mac for known spyware—a specific type of malware designed to steal your personal information. But the fact is that there aren’t many actual examples of Mac OS spyware to worry about. I’d be more impressed if MacScan were a broader purpose scanner, looking for all known Mac viruses and Trojan horses, as well as spyware.

Like many specialists, MacScan is good at what it does. But, even within its limited scope, it’s not perfect. The scanning itself takes quite a while, even on already-scanned files, and there’s no indication of how long your scan will take. (Instead of a progress bar, MacScan shows a “barber pole” that just keeps going.) I’d also love to see MacScan quickly skip files that haven’t been modified since its last scan, the way antivirus apps like Intego’s VirusBarrier (   , July 2006 ) and Sophos Antivirus do. But it doesn’t.

Erasing the trail

In addition to looking for spyware, MacScan can also clean up after you browse the Web. Many Web sites keep track of your visits by leaving cookies on your computer. Most Web browsers keep a history list showing the sites you’ve visited (to make it easier to get back to them) and a cache containing the actual content of the Web pages you visited (to speed up page-loading).

MacScan can wipe clean these trails of breadcrumbs your browsing leaves behind—all cookies, visited pages history, cache files, and the list of files you’ve downloaded for Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Netscape.

That thoroughness could come in especially handy if you share a Mac, or if you want to be able to take advantage of such browser features for a little while, and then delete the information. MacScan performs this service well, cleaning up the trail as requested, while leaving intact any info you’d like left in place.

But you can already configure most Web browsers not to preserve any of this information. And, if you don’t prevent its collection altogether, most let you clear this information yourself or to stop collecting it temporarily (Safari’s Private Browsing option, for example). For that reason, no matter how well MacScan does the job, the question remains whether that job really requires a dedicated application.

Macworld’s buying advice

While Windows users might need a dedicated spyware-catcher, I’m not convinced there’s a real need for such specific Mac software. And you can take care of much of its browser clean-up chores yourself. For those two reasons, despite the fact that it takes care of its business reasonably well, I can’t recommend MacScan.

[ Mark H. Anbinder is a senior technical consultant at Cornell University and a contributing editor of TidBits ). ]

MacScan finds the digital detritus left over from browsing the Web—but most browsers can do the same thing themselves.
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