If you have a Mac, you probably have a lot of questions about protecting it from viruses and malware. Does a Mac even need antivirus software? How can you tell if it has a virus? What can you do to protect it?
Viruses are rarer on the MacOS, but they’re still out there, and Macs do need a comprehensive security solution. Macs are getting more popular, and that means they’re a more tempting target for hackers, who are increasingly developing malware, ransomware, and viruses that target the MacOS and that are sophisticated enough to sneak past the built-in permissions protections.
Mac Malware Is Getting More Common — And Apple’s Built-In Security Isn’t Enough
The MacOS is a Unix-based OS, and it draws on that platform’s substantial permissions system architecture to protect against viruses and malware. Apple Gatekeeper blocks any app that doesn’t have a developer certificate approved by Apple, and Xprotect scans for and removes malware with each system update. Apple systems also use sandboxing to make sure that apps get only the permissions they need to function, while system integrity protection (SIP) seeks to protect critical system files by refusing all apps permission to access them.
While these features can do a lot to protect Mac machines, they’re no longer enough, because Mac malware and viruses are getting more common. From 2018 to 2019, there was a 400 percent increase in the number of malware threats to Macs, for an average of about 11 such threats per Mac device. Windows machines faced an average of 5.8 threats per machine during the same period.
It’s also become obvious that the threats facing Macs have become sophisticated enough to bypass the built-in security programs’ antivirus features. The OSX/CrescentCore Trojan, discovered in July 2019, mimicks an Adobe Flash Player installer and is able to get around Gatekeeper’s developer certificate requirement, because it has one. And, while apps in Apple’s App Store are supposed to be verified safe, the company removed more than a dozen malicious apps from its App Store last year.
These days, it’s obvious to every Mac user who’s been paying attention that “Macs don’t get viruses” is a myth. The days when hackers didn’t bother writing malicious code for the less popular MacOS are gone — perhaps because Macs have claimed a much larger portion of the market share, or because Windows machines have grown so much more secure, or both. The prospect of stealing data from millions of unsuspecting users’ vulnerable machines has become too enticing to ignore for many cyber criminals, so you definitely need a third-party antivirus solution for your Mac.
Could Your Mac Already Have a Virus?
Is it possible that your Mac already has a virus? Yes, it is. Zero-day vulnerabilities, or those that manufacturers don’t know about yet, affect both Mac and Windows PCs. Apple recently released patches for Meltdown and Spectre, two huge zero-day flaws that affected nearly every CPU it’s built in the past 20 years. If you bought your Mac before 2018, it was probably compromised. Just last summer, the OSX/Linker malware exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Gatekeeper, allowing malicious code to bypass Gatekeeper’s permissions scanning.
Signs that your Mac has already been infected with a virus or other malware include:
- Random ad pop-ups
- A sudden slow-down in operating speed
- Apps are suddenly lagging much more than usual
- Websites the don’t usually have ads now have banners
- Web ads that aren’t connected to previous searches or purchases
- Mysterious software that you didn’t install
If one or more of these things is going on with your Mac, it’s time to install a third-party antivirus software from a trusted source and run a scan to find and remove the malicious software.
Other Ways to Keep Your Mac Safe
Using a third-party antivirus software to beef up your Mac’s built-in security features can keep it safe, but human error is still the most common means of infection for most machines. Don’t avoid MacOS updates; install them regularly so you’re getting the latest patches for zero-day flaws Apple has discovered in the OS. Your antivirus program should have a good spam filter, but you should also learn to identify social engineering attacks and phishing emails, so you can avoid them. Cybersecurity starts with knowing what to watch out for, and how to conduct yourself, online.
If you don’t have any antivirus software on your Mac, it’s high time you got some. Macs are more vulnerable than ever to malware, and the threat is growing daily. Protect your Mac with antivirus software, and keep the hackers at bay.