Do I Need Antivirus on My Mac? Here’s the Answer

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Can Macs get viruses? Do you need antivirus software on your Mac? These questions have plagued Mac users for years. Unfortunately, the answer isn't as simple as you think it is. But we've broken it all down for you below.

Do Macs Get Viruses?

Macs have been historically considered very safe and secure systems, and the general belief is that Macs are invulnerable to viruses and malware. Unfortunately, this is quite untrue. Viruses and other malware can infect Macs as much as they do other systems. Security firms have actually uncovered several threats and malware specifically targeted at Macs.

Macs have a lot of built-in features and protections that can prevent malware from infecting them. These include Gatekeeper and XProtect (more on them below). But they are not foolproof protections, and you may need additional protection on your Mac.

What Are the Built-In Mac Security Features?

Your Mac has many built-in security features to keep it safe. It may surprise you to know that your Mac already runs an anti-malware scanner in the background called XProtect.

Whenever you open a file, XProtect scans and checks it against known macOS malware. Thus, if any file is suspicious, you'll see a warning that the file may damage your computer.

Another technology incorporated into macOS is Gatekeeper. This prevents unknown applications from causing harm. Gatekeeper blocks all software that isn't signed with an Apple-issued developer certificate from opening on your Mac, unless you specifically authorize it.

Unsigned software isn't always harmful—lots of free software developers can't justify the $ 99 required to enter Apple's Developer Program and issue certificates. It's just more common to see malware from unsigned applications than apps downloaded from the Mac App Store or signed with an Apple-issued developer certificate.

macOS also uses sandboxing. As the name suggests, sandboxing refers to providing the app with all the bare essentials it needs to perform its purpose, and nothing else. When you run an app in a sandbox, you limit what it can do and provide additional permissions based on input.

Related: Downloaded a Suspicious File? Here's How to Check if It Contains Malware

Can Viruses Bypass My Mac's Security Features?

Viruses and other malware are often stopped in their tracks by macOS. However, if the malware has been recently developed or hasn't been seen before, Apple has no way of knowing it could be harmful to your system—hence it could circumvent the security features. These are referred to as zero-day threats and won't be identified by your Mac until Apple updates its databases.

Malware has also been found in software with Apple developer certificates. For example, in June 2019, OSX/CrescentCore was discovered posing as an Adobe Flash Player Installer disk image. The malware installed an app on your system, either Advanced Mac Cleaner, Launch Agent, or a Safari extension. It then checked your Mac for antivirus software. If the system was unprotected, it would exploit the machine. OSX/CrescentCore was signed with a developer certificate, so it infected machines for days before Apple caught it.

Whenever a security threat is identified, Apple normally reacts quickly and issues a security update to the latest version of macOS and the two previous versions. This keeps your Mac safe from known vulnerabilities and flaws in macOS that could be used by hackers.

Do I Need Antivirus Software for My Mac?

Although Apple's security system is fairly good, it's not foolproof. As discussed above, Apple's security mechanisms rely heavily on Apple identifying and tagging malware and viruses so that it can update its databases against them. This, in turn, keeps macOS systems safe from vulnerabilities. Since Apple isn't a dedicated security company, it doesn't keep track of nearly as many threats as third-party products.

Antivirus software steps in here. Having antivirus software installed on your Mac provides an additional layer of security on your Mac, which isn't a bad thing. Antivirus software isn't essential, but having it can be an additional benefit, even if it's not "essential" for a Mac.

It is important to note that antivirus software is not foolproof either. Even with antivirus software, your Mac could fall victim to a new, undocumented infection. If you follow some basic practices (covered at the end of this article), the chances of infection remain low.

Related: How Does Antivirus Software Work?

Which Antivirus Should I Install on My Mac?

There are many paid and free antivirus apps available for macOS. You must take care that you only use antivirus software from trusted companies and beware the software doesn't slow your system down. For this reason, we recommend choosing from our list of the top antivirus software for macOS.

How Can I Keep My Mac Safe From Malware?

Apple offers built-in security features to keep your Mac safe, but there are some general tips for you to help avoid malware on your system.

Keep macOS Up to Date

Keeping macOS up to date with the latest version can keep your computer safe. Apple addresses flaws and vulnerabilities with the Mac by issuing regular updates to the Mac operating system, so it is important to make sure your system is up to date.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks can be handy for getting online on the go, but other people spying on the network could gain access to your passwords or your private information. Try to use a virtual private network (VPN) or a personal Wi-Fi hotspot instead of a public Wi-Fi network. If you need to use one, avoid transmitting any secure or sensitive data (such as credit card data) over the public network.

Watch Out for Phishing or Spam Emails

Malware is commonly found in phishing or spam emails. These usually contain a seemingly authentic link that many users fall for. The link installs malware on your system that can damage it and hijack your data. It's important to note that most antivirus programs don't protect against phishing emails or scams, so it's vital that you avoid them yourself if you want to keep your Mac protected.

Related: What Happened When We Responded to a Phishing Email?

Don't Install Adobe Flash Player

Adobe discontinued Flash Player on December 31, 2020, and for good reason. Many security firms have recommended not to install Flash Player, as a lot of malware is introduced in the form of fake Flash Player updates.

For example, people who want to download or watch a video or movie online (for free) find that they need to update the Flash player from the host's website in order to view the content. This fake "update" contains malware, which then infects your system.

Flash has now been replaced by HTML5, so there is no need to install or use Adobe Flash anymore.

Keep Your Mac Protected!

According to Malwarebytes, the number of identified serious malware attacks on Mac computers increased by 61 percent from 2019 to 2020. Thus, it's important that you take extra care of your system. We also recommend you make a backup of your data, in case things ever do go south!

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