Mac security guide: Do I need Mac antivirus?
As a Mac user concerned about increasing cybersecurity attacks, you’re not alone in asking, “Do I need Mac antivirus software?” For years, Mac users have had little clarity on the matter. Some of this has to do with Apple’s marketing team reassuring users that viruses exist for “PCs but not Macs.”
The Mac’s reputation for security and stability due to Apple’s tight quality control has only added to the myth that “Macs don’t get viruses.” The lower market share of Macs compared to Widows-powered computers also historically made them less of a target for bad actors.
While Macs were never immune to malware like computer viruses, they started to attract negative attention with growing market share. In fact, according to Malwarebytes Labs 2020 State of Malware Report — malware threats against Macs began outpacing Windows per endpoint in 2019.
So, the short answer to the “Can Macs get viruses?” question is that yes, they can get viruses and other types of malware and benefit from the best virus protection for Mac systems.
As threats escalate, Macs need cybersecurity software tailor-made for the macOS. Now, you’re probably asking, “What kind of antivirus software do I need for Mac computers, then?” Well, the most effective Mac antivirus software has the following traits:
- Fast: Can quickly scan for viruses on Mac machines
- User-friendly: Offers expert guidance so users can easily learn how to check for viruses on Mac systems.
- Light: Uses fewer computer resources so Macs can maintain performance.
- Comprehensive: The best virus protection for Mac computers hunts viruses, worms, spyware, adware, ransomware, and Trojans, while also blocking scams and phishing attacks.
- Control: Modern users of Macs need antivirus software that’s customizable and puts them in the driver’s seat of their security.
A computer virus is a type of malware that infects and corrupts files. Macs can certainly get those. But computer viruses are more of a legacy threat nowadays. In addition to viruses, Macs can get adware, PUPs, spyware, Trojans, ransomware, and other malware infections. Read more in our recent article "Can Macs get viruses."
Apple laptops and desktops have similar software and hardware with some design differences. Such components are vulnerable to both viruses and emerging threats. So, yes, MacBooks can also get malware infections, just like their desktop cousins.
Do Macs have built-in antivirus software? Yes, Macs have a baked-in cybersecurity system called XProtect. This software uses a signature-based detection system to find Mac virus threats and other malware. XProtect blocks any malware, such as a virus, that matches a known signature. Moreover, Apple regularly updates the signature database.
However, some malware is smarter and more dangerous than a virus. For example, polymorphic and metamorphic viruses can vary their DNA to evade detection. Additionally, emerging threats with unknown signatures can get past signature-based detection systems.
We recommend you give your Mac’s built-in antivirus technology a helping hand with antivirus software that uses modern technology to detect threatening patterns and stop known and unknown threats.
Adware is an annoying type of malware that generates revenue by throwing up ads on your Mac’s screen, usually within your web browser. It usually tricks users by disguising itself as a legitimate program or piggybacking on other software. Adware attacking Macs first began to emerge in 2012, and variants have mushroomed since.
PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs) is an umbrella term for unwanted extensions, toolbars, pop-ups, and other programs that come bundled with other software. They use deception to make their way onto Macs, can be aggressive, and slow down systems.
Spyware is a sneaky and potentially dangerous type of malware that hides in a system and snoops on user activity. Pegasus spyware is a recent example of spyware targeting Apple products such as Macs, Apple Watches, iPhones, and iPads. The malicious software can spy on text messages, images, videos, emails, and contact lists. It can also use a device’s microphone and camera to record targets.
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that tricks Mac users into sharing confidential data or opening an unsafe link or malicious website. Proactive cybersecurity tools can shield Mac users by blocking known scams and phishing websites.
A hacker can steal data from a Mac through the Thunderbolt vulnerability. However, Mac users can protect themselves by updating their operating system to the latest version and not sharing their Thunderbolt peripherals.
As you probably know, extortionists use ransomware to hijack computers. So, can Macs get ransomware? While there are fewer strains of ransomware specifically targeting Macs, yes, some ransomware strains can attack Macs. KeRanger, Findzip, and MacRansom are some examples of Mac ransomware.
Like its namesake, a Trojan horse uses trickery to infect Mac computers. In other words, it may appear to be one thing but do another. Trojan horse attacks against Macs rose in the 2000s as the products became more popular.
You should scan for viruses on Mac desktops and laptops if you notice any of the following symptoms:
1. Increased or decreased speeds
Computers slow down with age as hardware strives to keep up with new software. But inexplicable slowdowns can be a sign of a Mac malware infection. Some malware hogs up computer resources, reducing operating speed.
2. Text redirecting as hyperlinks
Some types of Mac phishing attacks use text redirecting as hyperlinks. Scan your Mac for malware if you’ve clicked on a phishing link, even if you didn’t download any files. Some drive-by downloads can infect your system without your knowledge.
3. Frequent banners and ads
If you’re noticing frequent banners and ads on your browser, you may have a malware infection. Keep an eye out for pop-up ads that result from adware. Such unwanted programs can depreciate your browsing experience.
4. Frequent crashing
Macs are certainly known for their stability, so take frequent crashes as a red flag. Crashes can be due to hardware failure, hardware or software incompatibility, or a malware infection. Use Mac security tools to scan for viruses and other malware immediately if your operating system is malfunctioning.
5. Excessive heating
Computers can overheat due to excessive dust, faulty system fans, or function overload. Malware can also force MacBooks to run hotter than usual. It’s best to remedy this problem quickly as it can decrease the lifespan of your MacBook.
6. Suspicious or new programs
It’s not surprising to hear a Mac user with an infected computer say, “My MacBook has a virus and it’s added apps without my permission.” Unfortunately, some types of unwanted Mac software can indeed install suspicious new programs through trickery or without user consent.
7. Inaccessible encrypted files
Ransomware and some Trojans will encrypt your Mac’s files, leaving them accessible. You’ll probably also see a message on your screen demanding money through a cryptocurrency deposit in exchange for a decryption key. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee of file restoration even after paying the fee.
8. New browser home page
PUPs, adware, toolbars, malicious extensions, and some malware can hijack your browser in various ways. A browser with a new home page or a browser that regularly redirects you to another website may be compromised, for example.
- Watch out for common signs of a malware infection.
- Launch the Activity Monitor and search for applications with unusually high CPU usage.
- Scan your list of applications for suspicious or unwanted programs. Remove unwanted apps immediately.
- Use XProtect to scan your Mac for known malware signatures.
- Run an intelligent anti-malware tool like Malwarebytes to search for known and unknown viruses and malware.
- Learn the indications of a Mac malware infection and how to run antivirus on Mac machines.
- Download third-party Mac antivirus protection that safeguards your system against different threats for an extra layer of security.
- Apple is buffing Mac security — so take advantage of security updates to finetune your Mac’s defenses.
- Avoid phishing emails and other social engineering attacks that may be Mac malware infection vectors.
- Steer clear of unsecured public WiFi. Always use a reliable VPN for Mac to encrypt and secure your network.
- Use strong passwords to secure your Mac, accounts, and network, and avoid nasty incidents like the School app Seesaw hack. Defaulting to the highest possible privacy settings may also help websites, and online services satisfy the controversial “Kids’ Code” from California.
There was a time when third-party antivirus software may have slowed Macs down. But modern Macs are fast with powerful processors. Additionally, good Mac antivirus software is nimble. For example, Malwarebytes Mac scans use 50% fewer CPU resources than before to optimize system performance.
Anyone familiar with Apple’s official stance on the state of Mac malware knows that the company directly or indirectly claims that Macs don’t get malware. This posture changed during the infamous Apple vs Epic trial. Here, Apple confirmed Macs can get malware to the collective gasp of anyone following Mac’s marketing strategies.
Apple’s Craig Federighi went on to say in his testimony, “We have a level of malware on the Mac that we don’t find acceptable.”
With Apple finally admitting on record that Macs are facing an unacceptable level of malware, Mac users must take cybersecurity seriously. While a low-level Mac threat can be a nuisance, degrading the performance of a Mac computer, a more serious infection can invade a Mac user’s privacy and security.