Anyone who moved over to the Mac OS after years spent fighting off virus after virus on a Windows PC knows how lucky they are.

Every time we turn on our Macs we can be sure of having a painless day's computing with folders and files exactly as we left them. No random warning sirens, no flashing alert panels, no blue screen of death.

The closest things can get to chaos is when the hard drive has no space left and the OS starts to judder. Thankfully, nothing else seems to spoil the ride.

Knowing that the Mac OS is virus-free, though, can lead to a kind of complacency about other computing threats generally. This is actually misplaced confidence, because a Mac operator can be just as easily tricked into giving up sensitive data, or phished, as anyone else.

Just by visiting some fraudulent websites you can be unwittingly sending out private stuff without knowing it. Norton Confidential for Macintosh tries to protect you from yourself, and from unsolicited data requests.

Four-part protection

The software has four parts: Phishing Protection, Information Guard, File Guard, and Vulnerability Protection. Phishing Protection monitors for unsolicited data traffic and checks the visited website against a list of known sites; this list is updated periodically by Symantec.

It works with either Firefox or Safari by loading a threat bar into the browsers. The bar glows green when you visit a verified site, and red if it's a bad apple. It was green for us all week.

Information Guard and File Guard may sound like they do the same thing, but they work on slightly different levels. For both you must first tell the software what is confidential and what is not. By ring-fencing files and information in this way, no one (not even yourself), can access it without first entering an administrative password.

Information Guard focuses on bits of data, like phone numbers and credit card details. This information could be buried - a telephone number hidden in an old CV, a password kept in your browser's cache - or even be part of your email signature. Every time a combination of letters or numbers that has been labelled 'private' attempts to leave your Mac over a network connection, a password has to be given.

On the other hand, File Guard lets you know if files have been accessed at all, irrespective of whether information has left your Mac.

During our week running Norton Confidential, it told us that Microsoft Word, Entourage and Excel had all tried to access a confidential file, which produced a pop-up panel telling us what was going on and prompting us for a specific password to proceed. This spooked us, because the particular file had not been accessed in over a year. Well, not that we knew about.

Vulnerability Protection scans for remote attempts to tunnel into your Mac, like remote port scanning, for instance. This happened three times in a week according to Norton Confidential.

Tightened security

Finding out that your Mac has been scanned for vulnerabilities and that legitimate software has tried to access sensitive files without you knowing does tend to snap you out of complacency - it's scary stuff. However, knowing this activity is going on behind your back can only be a good thing.

Our response to the information was to tighten up our security preferences throughout the system. For example, Firefox now doesn't keep any passwords or user ID in its cache. Data entered online in forms, websites visited and downloads in the download managers are only kept for a day before they are automatically removed from the system.

Norton Confidential is cheap, and does flag up security issues that we were unprepared for. Whether or not these issues are a real threat, only time will tell, but for £16 it's not a tough decision to get some peace of mind.

Apple provides its own security updates regularly, Firefox has its own anti-phishing and security preferences, and email from extended family in Nigeria can remain unopened. Still, online attacks are only going to get more sophisticated, and for the cost of a few beers, why not stay safe?