Mac computers have long enjoyed a well-earned reputation for having robust security. Apple’s closed ecosystem, coupled with the built-in security features found on Macs and iPhones, has led many users to believe that Apple products are immune to viruses. And while MacBooks are arguably more secure than Microsoft Windows PCs, they aren’t without vulnerabilities.
This article goes over some of the known malware threats that can affect Macs and explores some security measures you can take to help safeguard your Apple devices.
6 types of malware that can affect Macs
There are a lot of benefits to being a Mac user, including built-in security features that allow you to enjoy the Apple ecosystem without too much worry. However, if your Mac has a security flaw or you’ve experienced a social engineering attack, like phishing, it could put the device at risk.
It’s a good idea to be aware of the different types of malware that can affect Mac security and functionality.
Adware is software that displays several types of online advertising, with pop-up ads being the most common. Adware infects computer systems when users download programs that are loaded with it or when hackers take advantage of a security vulnerability to insert it.
Potentially unwanted programs
Potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) are software applications that most users would deem unnecessary. These programs are often bundled with wanted programs installed by the user. The unwanted program might be malicious software that displays intrusive advertising, tracks the user’s activity, or compromises personal data.
Ransomware is any malware that threatens to leak the user’s data if a ransom isn’t paid. To achieve this, ransomware renders files unusable by encrypting them. The user is then pressured into paying the ransom in exchange for decryption.
Spyware is any program that collects a user’s data and forwards it to a third party without authorization. Keep in mind that any software — including legitimate ones — can be classified as spyware if it’s downloaded to the user’s device without permission.
Phishing is an umbrella term for various scams involving sending a fraudulent message designed to mislead a user into exposing personal data or to embed a malicious program into their system. As of 2021, phishing was the most common form of cyberattack.
Trojans refer to a type of malware that tricks users into downloading it by masquerading as a legitimate program. These malicious programs spread by misleading users into doing simple tasks, such as completing a fill-in form or clicking on fake ads.
How do viruses affect Macs?
Viruses can affect Macs in a variety of ways. Depending on the type of malware that infects the Mac, symptoms might range from mild ones that could go undetected for weeks to ones that are instantly noticeable.
Here are some signs that you might see if your Mac is infected with a virus:
- The operating system is running slower than usual.
- Pop-up ads are frequently appearing.
- Website pages aren’t displaying properly.
- New extensions are added to your browser without your permission.
- You can’t access personal files.
A Mac that’s been infected with a virus puts your personal data at risk. Among these risks is the possibility of passwords being compromised and personal files being deleted from the hard drive.
How to check your Mac for viruses
Apple’s built-in security system makes checking for viruses a relatively simple process. Follow these steps to make sure all bases are covered:
Checking for Mac malware
To check if your Mac is infected with a virus, start by monitoring your system’s memory usage. To access the Activity Monitor, go to Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor > CPU.
Sort the CPU percentage from high to low and look for unusually high CPU use. If a particular process stands out, do a quick search to determine whether it’s malicious.
Checking for suspicious applications
While viruses are rarely found in the Applications folder, it’s still a good idea to check since Trojans can be embedded in a wide range of apps. Go to your Applications folder and look for any you don’t remember installing.
If a search reveals illegitimate apps, delete them from the folder and empty your trash.
Checking your login items
Since malware tends to load automatically when you start your Mac, there’s a good chance it will show up in your macOS login items list. To check the list, go to Users & Groups in System Preferences and go through the list after clicking on the Login Items tab.
Select any item that stands out as suspicious and remove it by clicking the minus (-) button.
Do Macs have built-in antivirus protection?
While Macs don’t come with conventional antivirus protection, they do boast several internet security features. Here are the main ones:
XProtect is an anti-malware system built into Mac OS X. XProtect stores all known malware definitions in a file and prevents any application with these definitions from being installed on the system. If you try to open an infected file, XProtect will display a warning message and tell you what type of malware it is.
As the name implies, Gatekeeper is a macOS built-in security feature that verifies all downloaded apps before allowing them to be installed. In essence, Gatekeeper prevents unrecognized third-party applications from running on the system, reducing the possibility of malware infiltration.
Sandboxing is a mechanism that restricts third-party apps from making changes to the system or accessing files stored by other apps. This helps limit damage to the device and protects the user’s data in case an app is compromised.
Malware Removal Tool
Apple’s Malware Removal Tool (MRT) is a built-in malware removal software that removes any malicious software that manages to infiltrate your system. This process occurs automatically whenever XProtect detects malware on a file or app.
6 tips to keep your Mac safe from viruses
Now that you’re familiar with the security threats that Macs can experience, the next step is prevention. Here are some best practices to keep your Mac safe from viruses.
Keep your operating system updated
Using an outdated version of the operating system (OS) can pose a risk to your Mac, as hackers may exploit a known vulnerability in the system. Getting a software update allows you to benefit from the latest security updates that help mitigate these vulnerabilities.
The good news is that Apple makes it easy to keep your OS in working order with automatic updates. Simply open System Preferences > Software Update. Then, check the Automatically keep my Mac up to date box.
You can also do manual updates by clicking Advanced in the Software Update section and choosing:
- Check for updates
- Download new updates when available
- Install macOS updates
- Install app updates from the Mac App Store
Double-check your privacy and security settings
Staying on top of your privacy and security settings can go a long way in protecting your Mac from viruses. To make sure that no suspicious apps can be installed on your system, head over to the preference pane in the Security & Privacy section in System Preferences and select App Store and App Store and Identified Developers as the only sources from which software can be installed.
Consider using a VPN on public Wi-Fi networks
Many Wi-Fi hot spots don’t require authentication to establish a network connection. This can make them vulnerable to hackers looking to infiltrate unsecured devices.
To secure your connection when using public Wi-Fi, be sure to use a virtual private network (VPN) like McAfee’s Secure VPN. Our VPN technology allows you to connect safely to public Wi-Fi by encrypting (in other words, scrambling) your data. You’ll stay anonymous and secure from advertisers and prying eyes, and the VPN will turn on automatically when you connect to an unsecured network.
Install antivirus software
As effective as some of Apple’s built-in security features are, the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity threats may require the use of an antivirus program like the award-winning antivirus software included in McAfee Total Protection.
This program was designed with Mac-specific vulnerabilities in mind and offers three different ways to scan your system:
- Real-time scanning
- On-demand scanning
- Scheduled scanning
It also comes with customizable firewall protection and a wide range of privacy and identity tools and features. While the antivirus software protects your Mac from online threats, you can enjoy enhanced peace of mind.
Ensure your firewall is turned on
A firewall is a built-in security system that protects your Mac by blocking suspicious internet traffic. Keep your firewall enabled at all times to benefit from this protection.
McAfee’s robust firewall protection that comes with our antivirus software puts you in control of the data that comes in and goes out through your network.
Back up your Mac regularly
Backing up files is a simple yet effective way to protect you from data loss in case your system is compromised. You can use the Time Machine feature to back up your Mac to an external hard drive and restore it when the need arises.
To back up your Mac, follow these steps:
- Plug an external hard drive into your Mac.
- Click the Apple icon in the upper-left menu.
- Select System Preferences.
- Click Time Machine.
- Click Select Backup Disk.
- Pick the drive and select Use Disk.
- Check the Back Up Automatically box.
Add additional protection to your Mac with McAfee
As cybersecurity threats continue to grow in scale and complexity, Apple’s built-in security features are a good place to start. For comprehensive protection against these threats, though, consider adding another layer of defense with McAfee Total Protection.
Our all-in-one protection suite helps keep your personal information and privacy safe with a secure VPN, premium antivirus software, identity monitoring, and other top-of-the-line features. Malware doesn’t have to be a concern when you’ve got McAfee in your corner.
See the difference McAfee Total Protection can make when it comes to living your best life online.