Keeping Your Computer Secure: Can You Get a Virus on a Mac?

Apple computers are the first choice among many users mostly due to their security features, but are they really immune to viruses?

Nikolina Cveticanin Image
Updated:

June 27,2022

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Viruses and other threats are constantly spreading, so it’s important to stay updated on the latest news from the cybersecurity world if you want to keep your information safe. We’re dealing with millions of threats that can compromise even government and military computer systems with top-notch security, and there have also been major breaches of high-profile companies. 

So, in case you found yourself googling “Can you get a virus on a Mac?” you’re in the right place: We’ll guide you through everything you need to know about this topic. 

Is Mac Safe From Viruses?

While some people believe that Macs are immune to threats such as malware, this is a myth. All Apple products can be infected with viruses and other threats if they’re not adequately protected.

It is true, however, that Macs have better built-in security and that the attacks are less common compared to Windows devices. There’s also another reason: In the past, hackers developed more viruses aimed at Windows-operated devices, and that is mainly why more Windows devices were affected. Once the device is infected, a virus on a Mac is as difficult to remove as any other virus out there. 

Despite the protection Macs offer, sometimes they are compromised due to user carelessness. Social engineering methods such as phishing trick users into giving out their sensitive information to hackers, so regardless of the level of protection, data can be jeopardized if users share it with a malicious actor. 

How To Tell if Your Mac Is Infected

Some threats can stay on your computer and work silently for months or years before you realize your device has been hacked. Other viruses on a Mac are not so subtle, so there are signs to look out for if you suspect that someone hacked your device.

  • Ads keep popping up. If you’re seeing pop-ups on your screen, this is usually a sign your Mac is infected by adware. You might have caught it by clicking on a malicious ad, or someone might have installed it on your device. Adware itself is not that dangerous, but it can be pretty annoying, and you might need more time for completing tasks, as you have to keep closing these ads. 
  • You’re prompted to install anti-malware software. A type of malware known as scareware usually tricks users into believing that their computers need additional protection and offers them “anti-malware programs,” which are in fact malicious. If installed, it can infect the user’s computer. Macs infected with malware, or its subtypes such as adware or scareware, will require immediate assistance because the damage can be enormous. 
  • Your computer is suddenly much slower. If your computer gets infected, various types of malware could run 24/7 on your computer, making it slower than usual. If you notice this, it’s advisable not to ignore it. Run a scan and secure your device as soon as possible. 
  • There are toolbars and a new homepage you didn’t install. Adware might be a culprit, but this can also happen after becoming infected with other malware. If you notice this, it’s necessary to check the Mac for viruses.
  • People are getting spam emails and messages from you. Your device can be infected with threats like this one after you click on email attachments or links on social media. As a result, people might be getting malicious links from you without you even realizing it. 

Do Macs Come With Built-In Antivirus?

Mac computers have been equipped with anti-malware solutions since 2009. Therefore, some attacks are prevented, contributing to the overall better security of Macs than Windows devices. A set of systems is in place that keeps Apple computers secured, and that’s why viruses on a Mac can be avoided in a lot of cases. 

  • Apple’s Security & Privacy. This feature ensures that users never install anything from unverified sources and warns them whenever they want to download something that’s not from the App Store. 

  • Gatekeeper. With this software, apps created by malware developers are blocked, and only legitimate apps can be downloaded. 

  • XProtect filters apps by comparing them to the list of malware in the XProtect file. So, whenever a user downloads something, it’s compared to the threats on the list. If there’s a match, the malicious app cannot be downloaded. 

  • Malware Removal Tool works together with XProtect. When malware is detected by XProtect, the Malware Removal Tool will automatically remove a Mac virus from the device. 

Types of Threats

Since we’ve already established that Mac computers are not immune to malware, the following is a list of the most common threats. Some of them were designed to target macOS devices, while others have just recently started attacking Macs. 

Silver Sparrow focuses on Macs with M1 processors and uses Installer JavaScript API. It is estimated that more than 29,000 macOS devices globally have been affected by this malware, most of them being in the US, Germany, UK, Canada, and France. 

XLoader is one of those threats that has affected chiefly Windows devices but has lately been attacking macOS systems as well. There has been a rise in Mac viruses, and XLoader is one of the culprits. XLoader is a rebrand of the Formbook, mainly used as a keylogger and for stealing login credentials. This malware is popular among cybercriminals and is rented as a botnet loader. 

FakeFileOpener is another name for Potentially Unwanted Programs. They get into users’ systems by prompting them to install an app via which they are able to open a file or an app. Similarly, they might warn users that their system is compromised, so they should download an antivirus. However, these apps are malware; once you download them, you’ll get a virus on your Mac, or in some cases will be facing a more serious problem. 

Pirri/GoSearch22 is an adware that has been specifically made for targeting M1 Macs. Like every other malware, it infects the computer and creates multiple pop-up ads that show up on the user’s screen. 

The Latest Mac Threats

New threats are emerging daily, and many of them affect macOS devices. Some of the latest ones that have appeared are listed below. 

  • XCSSET is mainly used for compromising users’ financial information and browser. Although it targets developers, anyone can fall victim to this computer malware. 
  • ThiefQuest is a type of ransomware that takes hold of your passwords, personal information, financial data, and computer files. While some viruses and malware typically show signs in the early stages of infection, ThiefQuest is extremely hard to spot, making it even more dangerous. 
  • GravityRAT is one of those threats that broadened its scope of attack from PCs to Macs. It works by stealing developer signatures and is able to record audio and take screenshots. 

How To Secure Your Mac

Even though Mac computers have built-in security measures, you should not rely solely on them. Apart from installing robust anti-malware software, there are things you can do so your data and devices remain secure. 

1. Keep your Mac backed up 

Mac computers are equipped with a tool called Time Machine, which automatically runs in the background and saves copies of all of your applications and files. When you’re left with no disk space, it will erase the oldest version and make room for new files and programs. 

2. Turn on the Firewall

The Firewall will guard you against threats that you might bump into while using the internet, and it is vital to always have it turned on. In any case, it’s better to prevent infections in the first place than to have to remove a virus. 

3. Encrypt your hard drive

If you’re using a Mac, there are tools for hard drive encryption. These tools are handy because they offer another layer of protection.

4. Enable antivirus protection tools 

Built-in anti-malware solutions should always be enabled because they can guard you against various threats. They are able to detect and quarantine malicious files, so you’re less likely to be infected with malware if you use antivirus protection. 

5. Just in case, use a separate antivirus

For your peace of mind, you should have an antivirus solution that will work in unison with the built-in anti-malware system your Mac provides. Your computer is highly unlikely to be infected if you use antivirus software and scan your Mac for viruses frequently.

Bottom Line 

Since virtually no internet-connected devices are immune to online threats, it’s key to always stay vigilant. MacOS devices are no exception, and we must do everything we can to secure our devices and the data they store. 

On a final note, even though Mac computers can offer relatively good protection against viruses, we should strive to protect them from falling prey to an ever-increasing number of threats that lurk from every corner of the internet.

FAQ
How do you know if your Mac is infected with a virus?

Many signs can indicate your Mac is infected with malware. First and foremost, suspicious activity will be observable, such as your computer slowing down considerably. Moreover, pop-ups or toolbars might appear that you don’t remember having installed. Additionally, your contacts might report getting emails or links from you that you did not send yourself.

Can you get a virus on a Mac from visiting a website?

Yes, you can. Although some believe that Macs cannot be infected with viruses, this is not true - your Mac can be infected the same way a PC can. 

Does Apple need antivirus?

While PCs are statistically more targeted by malware and viruses than Macs, your Apple products, including Macbooks, are not immune to threats. For this reason, you should have an antivirus installed.

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