How to Check for Malware on Mac

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 that you can protect your Mac from malware.  


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


Before we start


If you suspect your Mac has a malware infection, every second counts. For that reason, we recommend running MacKeeper’s Antivirus tool.


Here’s how to run an on-demand scan.

  1. Open MacKeeper, and select Antivirus from the sidebar
  2. Click Start Scan to run a full scan
  3. When the scan finishes, review the results
  4. Highlight what you want to remove, and click Move to Quarantine.

Using MacKeeper’s malware detector and remover is really that simple—plus it’s packed with other tools to keep your machine in top condition. Try MacKeeper today, and discover a safer, cleaner Mac.

How to know if your Mac has a virus

Can Macs get viruses? Yes, and it doesn’t matter if you have a MacBook Air, Mac mini, or an iMac. It’s also vital to detect malware as soon as possible. The sooner you realize you have an infection, the sooner you can remove it, protecting your computer and data.


Check a few ways to detect viruses on Mac:

  • Look out for warning signs of attack
  • Check system folders for suspicious files
  • Locate apps that you didn’t install
  • Run an antivirus scanner app.

Signs of malware on Mac

Now, learn the most common symptoms of a Mac malware infection:

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.  

List of Mac viruses

Hackers are constantly making new malware, but here are the most common Mac viruses to look out for:


Key characteristics

Infection method


  • Legitimate cryptocurrency miner, abused by criminals
  • Can cause slowdown
  • Puts strain on your Mac
  • Increases energy use
  • Fake Adobe Flash Player updates

Silver Sparrow

  • Evolves, making removal difficult
  • Displays unwanted ads
  • Redirects your browser
  • Collects sensitive information
  • Slows down your Mac
  • Infected downloads
  • Malicious websites


  • Steals information, including files, passwords and card details
  • Built specially to target Mac users
  • Fake software update


  • Displays unwanted ads
  • Redirects your web browser to unsafe sites
  • Spyware, which tracks your online activity
  • Collects sensitive information
  • Fake Adobe Flash Player updates
  • Malicious websites


  • Steals personal information
  • Modifies system settings
  • Installs other malware
  • Can bypass Mac security measures
  • Can be used to remotely control your Mac
  • Malicious downloads


  • Can modify system files
  • Bypasses your Mac’s security
  • Gives hackers access to your Mac
  • Effects your Mac’s stability
  • Can steal personal data
  • Malicious downloads
  • Infected email attachments


  • Ransomware
  • Encrypts your files and demands payment
  • Can spread across your network
  • Malicious websites
  • Infected downloads


  • Redirects your browser
  • Displays annoying ads
  • Steals personal information
  • Can install more malware
  • Malicious downloads

How to scan for viruses on Mac

There are a few different ways to find viruses on Mac, some of which are built right into macOS:

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 viruses, adware, and other nasties.  


How to check Activity Monitor for Mac viruses:

  1. Open Activity Monitor from Applications > Utilities. Go to the CPU tab if you’re not already in it
  2. Click the % CPU column to sort high to low, and look for high CPU use
  3. If you see a suspicious process, do a Google search on it. You should find information that confirms whether it’s malware or not.
Open the macOS Activity Monitor app, and click the CPU tab. Often malware will work in the background, using up system resources, which you can spot here.
Step 1. Go to the CPU tab in Activity Monitor
Click on the %CPU tab to sort processes by how much processing power they're using. This makes it easier to find anything out of place.
Step 2. Click on %CPU to sort processes
If you do see anything suspicious, then take note of its name and search for it in Google. Often, this will confirm whether it's malware or not.
Step 3. Search for suspicious processes

Run a Mac virus scan using built-in tools

Every Mac comes with antivirus detection 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.


Here’s how to check XProtect is getting updates:

  1. In System Settings, select General > Software Update
  2. Click the i icon next to Automatic Updates
  3. Make sure Install Security Responses and system files are activated.
Open your Mac's System Settings, click 'General', followed by 'Software Update'. Here you'll be able to check security updates are on.
Step 1. Go to General > Software Update in System Settings
At the top of the window, you should see 'Automatic updates'. Click the 'i' icon to see more information about updates.
Step 2. Click the i button next to Automatic updates
Now, check that your Mac is set to automatically download and install updates. This will make sure that XProtect is working properly and protecting your Mac
Step 3. Make sure security updates are on

Note from our experts: XProtect, although better than nothing, is limited in a few key ways. Apple isn’t a security company, for a start, so XProtect doesn’t detect as many viruses as a dedicated security app, and you don’t get full control over the cleanup. XProtect is a passive solution–you can’t run a scan to check your Mac for malware, so it’s not the best way to clean viruses from Mac.  

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. Still, it’s worth starting to detect a trojan virus on Mac from this folder as it can contain 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. Check Google to see if they’re legitimate or not. If they’re not, or if you’re suspicious, delete them and empty your trash.
Check your Applications folder for apps that seem suspicious or that you don't remember installing. They could harbour viruses.
Step 1. Open the Applications folder
If you spot anything that shouldn't be in your Applications folder, Google it, then send to your trash and empty your trash to delete permanently.
Step 2. Move suspicious applications to Trash

Check the download folder

Whenever you search for malware on Mac, you should check your downloads folder. If you’ve been tricked into downloading something malicious, there’s a good chance you’ll see it there.


Simply follow these steps to check your Mac’s downloads for malware:

  1. Open a new Finder window, and select Downloads from the sidebar
  2. Look through your downloads for anything that you don’t recognize or don’t recall downloading. Right-click it, and select Move to Trash / Move to Bin
  3. Right-click your trash/bin, and select Empty Trash / Empty Bin.
You may find suspicious files in your Downloads folder. Deleting them could be just what you need to protect your Mac from potential infections.
Step 1. Open your Download folder
Look through your Mac's Downloads folder for anything that seems suspicious, including files and installers that you don't remember downloading.
Step 2. Send anything suspicious to your trash

Check suspicious 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 Launch Daemons, and Launch Agents won’t actually appear in this list, so you may need to go further to find them and protect your Mac from malware.


Here’s how to check your login items list:

  1. In System Preferences, select General > Login Items
  2. Look through the list and select anything you think is suspicious
  3. Click the minus button to remove the login item.
In System Settings, click 'General', then click 'Items'. From there, you'll be able to see what's running on your Mac automatically at boot time.
Step 1. Open General > Login Items from System Preferences
Look through the list of login items. if there's anything that you don't recognize in the list, it could be some kind of Mac malware.
Step 2. Select apps you think are suspicious
To remove a login item, simply click on it to select it, then click the 'minus' button to delete it from the list. It will no longer start at boot-up.
Step 3. Remove the login item

How to scan a Mac for viruses 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 do Macs need antivirus too? Without a doubt. When it comes right down to it, the best way to detect malware on your Mac is to use a security checker like MacKeeper, which is capable of protecting and cleaning your device.


There are two main types of protection you need to use—antivirus scans and real-time protection. Scans can be carried out on demand, searching your entire system or chosen folders for malware, so you can clear a virus from your Mac when you need to. 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.
If you suspect you have malware on your Mac, open MacKeeper, then select the Antivirus tool from its side menu.
Step 1. Go to Antivirus tab in MacKeeper
To scan a particular file or folder on your Mac, click the Custom Scan option in MacKeeper, in the bottom right.
Step 2. Click on Custom Scan
If you don't want a custom scan, just click Start Scan. This will scan your entire Mac, looking for malware infections.
Step 3. Click Start Scan
If MacKeeper finds anything suspicious on your Mac, it will come up in the scan results. Just click 'Move to quarantine' to remove it.
Step 4. Manage detected malware (delete or move to quarantine)

How to remove malware from Mac

If you do ever pick up an infection, then you need to know how to remove malware from your Mac. In extreme cases, that may involve resetting your Mac or restoring from a backup, but often you can get rid of viruses on Mac by following our pieces of advice:

  • Check for suspicious background processes with Activity Monitor
  • Make sure XProtect is enabled
  • Check for unwanted applications
  • Look in your Downloads folder for suspicious files
  • See if you’re running any suspicious login items
  • Run a virus scan with MacKeeper.

Doing so, you’ll keep your Mac clear of malware and protect your data. Using MacKeeper’s Antivirus is particularly important because it includes real-time protection. This way, you can stop viruses from ever taking hold rather than acting only when the horse has already bolted. For more information on keeping your Mac safe, check out our Mac security guide.


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