How to Check Your Mac for Viruses and Malware

Malware is a growing problem for Mac users. As more people buy Macs, cybercriminals take an increased interest in targeting them with malicious software. Being careful and using antivirus software can help you avoid malware infections most of the time. But viruses, worms, ransomware and other digital threats can sometimes get through anyway. If that happens, you need to know it’s there, so you can work on removing it.  


As it's important to check your Mac for malware regularly, we'll explain to you how to do it effectively.

Before we start

Poor Mac performance usually isn’t the result of malware. Most of the time, it’s caused by mundane problems, like out-of-date software. To help you keep on top of that, you can run MacKeeper’s Update Tracker.  

  1. In MacKeeper, select Update Tracker from the menu
  2. Click Scan for updates
  3. Select anything that needs updating
  4. Click Update.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to MacKeeper’s features. Download it today, and you can try each of them out for free.  

How to spot signs of malware

In many cases, malware makes itself known by affecting the performance of your Mac. Sometimes, this is a deliberate feature of the malware; other times, it’s a side effect. Either way, there are certain symptoms we strongly recommend you look out for.


Common signs of Mac malware include:

And if your Mac gets infected with ransomware, it’ll be pretty obvious. You’ll get a demand to pay a ransom, and you’ll find your files or drives have been encrypted and can’t be opened.  

How to check for viruses on Mac using built-in tools

Every Mac comes with antivirus software built in. macOS includes a technology called XProtect, which scans your Mac for malware using a database of virus signatures maintained by Apple. This is enabled by default, so you don’t need to do anything to use it. If you download malware and try to run it, XProtect can detect it and stop it from running.  


But XProtect, although better than nothing, is limited in a few key ways. Apple isn’t a dedicated security company, for start, so XProtect doesn’t detect as many viruses as dedicated security. And XProtect is a passive solution — you can’t run a scan to check your Mac for malware.  

Check Mac for malware with Activity Monitor

If you suspect your Mac has been infected with a virus, one of the best places to look is Activity Monitor. Here, you’ll be able to see background processes and apps that are running – including malware.  


How to check Activity Monitor for Mac viruses:

  1. Open Activity Monitor from Applications > Utilities
  2. Go to the CPU tab, if you’re not already in it
  3. Click the % CPU column to sort high to low, and look for high CPU use
  4. If you see a process that looks suspicious, do a Google search on it. You should find information that confirms whether or not it’s malware.
Activity monitor CPU tab opened, highlighted with the red box, and showing the first step a user should take to check for viruses on Mac
Step 1. Go to CPU tab in Activity Monitor
Activity monitor $CPU tab opened to sort processes to see which of them take the most recourses.
Step 2. Click on %CPU to sort processes
Do a Google search to see the information about unknown process.
Step 3. Search for suspicious processes

Check for unwanted applications

The Applications folder might not seem like the best place to check for Mac viruses. After all, most malware wants to remain hidden and difficult to access. But it’s still worth checking anyway, one big reason being trojans. These are seemingly legitimate apps, which are actually loaded with viruses.  


How to check for suspicious apps:

  1. Go to the Applications folder
  2. Look for any apps you don’t recognize or don’t remember installing
  3. Check Google to see if they’re legitimate or not
  4. If they’re not, or if you’re suspicious, delete them and empty your Trash.
Open the Applications folder to check if there are any suspicious apps on your Mac.
Step 1. Open the Applications folder 
In Application folder right-click the app you want to uninstall and select Move to Bin
Step 2. Move suspicious applications to Trash

Look at your login items

Malware will often load automatically when you start your Mac, so you might find it in your macOS login items list. Bear in mind, though, many login items like LaunchDaemons and LaunchAgents won’t actually appear in this list, so you may need to go further to find them.


Here’s how to check your login items list:

  1. In System Preferences, select Users & Groups
  2. Enter the Login Items tab
  3. Look through the list, and select anything you think is suspicious
  4. Click the minus button to remove the login item.
Highlighted Users & Groups settings in System Preferences to search for apps that are launching with Mac strartup
Step 1. Open User&Groups from System Preferences
Highlighted Login Items tab in User & Groups, where you will see the list of all apps and processes running with Mac startup
Step 2. Open Login Items tab
Highlighted apps in Login Items tab that are set up to launch when you turn on your computer.
Step 3. Select apps you think are suspicious
Remove unneeded or suspicious Login Items that are launching when Mac is starting up by selecting the app and clicking minus button.
Step 4. Remove the login item

How to scan Mac for virus with MacKeeper

Ultimately, trying to manually find malware on your Mac is a losing game. Well-designed viruses don’t make themselves easy to find or remove. Built-in features like XProtect do help, but they don’t match up to dedicated antivirus software. When it comes right down to it, the best way to detect malware on your Mac is to use a security app like MacKeeper.  


There are two main types of protection you need to use. Antivirus scans and real-time protection. Scans can be carried out manually, searching your entire Mac or chosen folders for malware. Real-time protection is always on, and if you download or try to run a virus, it kicks in and lets you know.  


Here’s how to run a virus scan in MacKeeper:

  1. Open MacKeeper, and select Antivirus from the sidebar
  2. If you want to scan certain folders only, click Custom Scan
  3. Otherwise, click Start scan
  4. When the scan is finished, select any detected malware, and you can either delete it from your Mac or move it to Quarantine.
Highlighted Antivirus feature in MacKeeper, showing how to start searching for malware and viruses on Mac
Step 1. Go to Antivirus tab in MacKeeper
Custom Scan in MacKeeper antivirus allows user to scan external drives or certain folder on mac
Step 2. Click on Custom Scan
Screenshot of MacKeeper showing that Real-time protection is enabled to allow user to keep Mac safe.
Step 3. Click Start Scan
Screenshot showing the MacKeeper Antivirus scan results and options to manage the detected items.
Step 4. Manage detected malware (delete or move to quarantine)

What to do if you find malware on your Mac

If you do ever pick up an infection, then you need to know how to remove malware from your Mac. This could involve manually removing apps or extensions. It could even involve resetting your Mac or restoring from a backup.  


But usually, the best way to remove viruses and other malware is to use an antivirus tool like MacKeeper. As well as helping to detect malware on Macs, its real-time protection will also work to prevent it ever getting on there in the first place.


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