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Can Macs Get Viruses? Yes, They Can.

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28 / 12 / 2018

Can Macs Get Viruses? Yes, They Can.

As a Mac user, you probably hear mixed information about whether Macs get viruses or not.

Some "experts" say Macs are immune to viruses and malware, while others claim that Macs are just as vulnerable as Windows PCs, and you absolutely need an antivirus for Mac.

So, who's in the right? Do you need virus protection on Mac? The truth lies somewhere in between.

Long story short, Mac computers can get viruses and malware. Compared to Windows PCs, Macs are a little less susceptible to viruses. However, the number of cases of Macs being infected is growing steadily, which gives us grounds to assume that at some point in the future, Macs and Windows PCs will be considered equally vulnerable to viruses and malware.

Why Mac Computers Are Used to Be Less Prone to Viruses

If you wonder what makes Mac computers more resistant to malware and viruses, here's the list of reasons:

  • When writing viruses or malware, hackers rely on scripts, tools, and code that have been written before. Historically, Macs were not so popular, so most of the scripts hackers can find and use are written for Windows.

  • Businesses and governments have always been the most lucrative target for hackers. Given that most government agencies and corporations use Windows, it's no wonder why virus attacks on Windows PCs are more frequent and significant.

  • While Windows is a proprietary operating system designed within Microsoft, macOS is built on top of UNIX—an operating system that was originally designed as an academic effort but eventually grew into the workhorse that laid the foundation for numerous mainframes and workstations. This operating system has evolved into a solid one that is difficult to compromise.

Why Macs Are No Longer Virus-Proof

Gone are the days when Windows PCs were considered a more lucrative target for viruses and malware. Slowly but surely, macOS is becoming a popular target for malware and viruses too, and there are reasons for that:

1. The number of macOS users is growing

Historically, hackers were focused on writing viruses for Windows because attacking its user base was 10X larger than any other. What kind of hacker would want to write a virus that can reach only 10 computers if there's a chance to reach 100?

However, in the last 5 years, the global market share of Mac computers has grown from 7.95% to 12.52%. The market share of Windows PCs, in their turn, has dropped from 90.96% to 82.88%. While Windows is still a leader, the number of macOS users is growing steadily, which is why hackers have started paying "attention" to Mac users, too.

2. Mac users are said to earn more than Windows users

If you read articles about the Windows vs. Mac competition, you've likely come across headlines like "Mac users earn more than Windows users" or  "Hotels show higher prices for users of macOS."

If you’re wondering what it has to do with hackers and viruses and malware, it all comes back to profit. The financial health of macOS users makes them a particularly attractive target.

3. From a technical standpoint, attacking Macs is more challenging (read: interesting)  

There is something most authors of viruses and malware have in common: their self-esteem depends on how successful—global and damaging—their attacks are. Because of a common misconception that Macs are immune to viruses, some hackers take it as a challenge and write malicious code for macOS to prove the world (or themselves?) how cool they are.

4. Unlike Apple, Microsoft has been dealing with malware threats for years.

Since malware problems on Windows PCs have been there for years already, Microsoft has had more time to develop strong anti-malware protection for their users. Windows 10 + Windows Defender Antivirus make it significantly harder for malware authors to succeed in their malevolent business.

Can You Get a Virus on Mac?

As you might have guessed from the title, the answer is "Yes, you can." Today, Macs are more of a target for viruses and malware than ever before.

In recent years, the state of macOS malware and viruses has evolved. Dramatically.

According to Malwarebytes, during 2017 alone, macOS malware and virus threats increased by 270%. It's worth mentioning that not even a month passes by without some new types of macOS threat emerging.

If you need visual proof of how the macOS security problem is growing over years, take a look at this diagram prepared by The Independent IT-Security Institute. 

macOS malware trends graphic

As you can see, the marketing legend about Macs being resistant to viruses would have been partially true 10 years ago, but in recent years the situation has changed considerably.

The Biggest MacOS Malware and Virus Trends of 2018

During 2018, experts from the MacKeeper Anti-Malware Lab have been collecting and analyzing samples of macOS malware. After looking through all the collected cases, they noticed some trends that together defined the current state of macOS (in)security.

  1. The most popular aim of malicious actors is to get your private data

Interestingly, some types of personal data are more popular among thieves  than others. According to our research, the following 3 types appeared to be the main target among malicious actors:

  • Browser history

  • Contacts

  • Email addresses

     2. Malware masks under legitimate software to trick you into downloading and installing it

If you think that you'd never download anything suspicious, take a look at the 5 most common disguises for macOS malware:

  • Flash player

  • Video players

  • Archive managers

  • Torrent software

  • Browser plugins

    3. Scareware still remains one of the most common (and effective) tactics

Have you ever seen scary pop-ups saying that your Mac is dangerously infected and you can download some antivirus immediately to keep your personal data safe?

Here's a good example of what a typical scareware looks like:

scareware example

The idea behind scareware is to make you so worried about safety of your Mac and data that you fail to think critically and consequently download a suspicious software without giving it a second thought. Needless to say, the moment you click Download a fake threat turns into a very real one.

According to Vadim from Kromtech Anti-Malware Lab, Apple is getting increasingly serious about security of its operating system: "With release of MacOS 10.14, a number of new security mechanisms have been added. And although most of them can be easily bypassed, it is still a good start."

Here's what new security mechanism are now available in macOS:

  1. When app tries to access any sensitive partitions of your hard drive, you see an alert.

  2. You can only install extensions for Safari from App Store.

  3. When a new app is trying to access your microphone or webcam, you see an alert.

  4. You cannot download Kernel extensions without a valid certification.

Do You Need Antivirus for Mac?

The answer is "Yes, absolutely."

Although Apple is trying to put more security protection in place, for now it is not enough to ensure your privacy and security online.

Since Macs are becoming more susceptible to malware and viruses over years, it is time for Mac users to protect their devices with high-quality security software. By installing a powerful anti-malware and anti-virus software, you will significantly minimize the risks and will make unauthorized invasions into your personal online space particularly challenging for internet criminals.

Be a smart user, keep your Mac and private data safe!