How to remove adware from Macs

How to remove adware from Macs

You thought if you bought a Mac, you’d be safe, right? No need to worry about malware and viruses. Let the PC folks wring their hands over that stuff. You’ll just sit here in your favorite coffee house listening to smooth jazz and sipping your latte.

Well, maybe malware isn’t as big a threat for Macs as it is for PCs…yet. But there’s something else lurking out there right now waiting to spam the heck out of you. And that something is adware.

Don’t know if you have adware? Here are a few telltale signs:

  • Advertisements are displayed in places they shouldn’t be.
  • Your web browser’s home page has been mysteriously changed without your permission.
  • Web pages that you typically visit are not displaying properly.
  • Website links redirect to different sites.
  • Your web browser has essentially slowed to a crawl.
  • New toolbars, extensions, or plugins are added to your browser.
  • Your loyal Mac starts automatically installing unwanted software applications. Traitor.
  • Your browser crashes.

If you have just one or two of these symptoms, it might not mean you have adware. But if lots of these are looking familiar, then you might want to go ahead and keep reading. In fact, yeah. Let’s do this.

  1. Back those files up. Grab an external hard drive and load it up with all your important photos, videos, music, and journal entries.
  2. Conduct a search and destroy campaign against adware. Adware hides in places where legitimate downloads and apps live, so it’s sometimes difficult to find. While a manual removal of adware is possible, it can be complicated. So we recommend that you download adware removal software. Our favorite is Malwarebytes for Mac, of course, but there are a number of adware removal tools that do a good job.
  3. Enter safe mode. If you have trouble downloading the adware removal software (because some adware catches on that you’re trying to squash it and redirects the download), restart in safe mode and disable all browser extensions. To restart in safe mode, hold down the shift key as soon as you hear that beautiful boot sound. Release it when you see that beautiful Apple logo appear on screen.
  4. OR don’t enter safe mode. If safe mode is wigging you out, you could always download the adware removal scanner on another computer and copy it to your computer via flash drive.
  5. Run a scan. You will be ours. Oh yes, adware. You will be ours. When you run a scan, your adware removal software should detect the adware skulking around on your Mac, if there’s any to be found. You can select which items you want to delete or just erase anything remotely suspicious.
  6. Restart your Mac.
  7. Change your password. You might want to go ahead and change all your passwords after you restart. Make the meticulous rounds through your email, your social media accounts, your favorite shopping sites, and your online billing centers.
  8. When in doubt, consult the Genius Bar. That’s what they’re there for, right? Persistent adware may need manual removal. Or, your problem may not be related to adware at all. You could be connected to a compromised network, which can cause similar symptoms. If you want cover all your bases, it doesn’t hurt to drop off your Precious at a computer store that serves Macs.
  9. Learn up on adware. If you’d like to know a bit more about the enemy you’re facing, check out The Safe Mac for informative articles and all the latest news about adware.


Wendy Zamora

Editor-at-Large, Malwarebytes Labs

Wordsmith. Card-carrying journalist. Lover of meatballs.