The conventional wisdom is that Macs are protected from most viral computer attacks, while PCs exist in a fearsome wilderness full of dangers. But if you use Apple’s Boot Camp public beta software to install and run Windows on your Intel-based Mac, you leave safe territory.
In the past, if you needed to run some Windows programs, your only choice was Microsoft’s $249 Virtual PC ( ). This emulator offers you some protection from network-borne dangers by effectively running Windows in a box within your Mac. If you use Boot Camp, you’re more exposed, and you must follow a strict security regimen.
Follow the Windows Way To protect a Windows computer, you need to keep the operating system up-to-date and patched, use a firewall, and make sure you have current antivirus software. You can use Microsoft’s convenient Windows Update feature (similar to Software Update on your Mac) to stay current on patches and bug fixes.
Windows XP SP2’s built-in firewall feature addresses only incoming connection attempts (as does Mac OS X’s built-in firewall). Heavy Windows users can protect themselves from malware such as keyloggers by using software that monitors outgoing connections as well, such as the free ZoneAlarm, from Zone Labs, or a more full-featured firewall such as Zone Labs’ $50 ZoneAlarm Pro 6.0 or Symantec’s $67 Symantec Client Firewall.
Constant vigilance is essential in the Windows world. AV-Test, a German security and testing firm, says that 70 to 100 new threats are discovered every day. Our sister publication PC World recommends BitDefender’s $30 BitDefender 9 Standard for protection against Windows viruses. You’ll need to pay a $15 renewal fee each year to keep your virus definitions up-to-date. ( Click here for more information on PC antivirus software.)
Putting Mac OS at Risk? Will using Boot Camp put the Mac OS part of your machine at risk? That’s a tricky question. When you’re running OS X, even on an Intel-based Mac, you’re not susceptible to Windows-based viruses. Also, by default, Windows XP can’t see Mac hard-drive volumes, so a rampaging Windows virus that deletes files on your Windows partition won’t be able to see your Mac files. However, if you install a program such as Mediafour’s $50 MacDrive so you can exchange files between your Mac and Windows partitions, your files may become vulnerable to a virus that deletes files.