The Myth: You Don’t Need Antivirus for Macs

antivirus for mac

Written by Cailey Gibson

January 28, 2020

Do Macs get viruses?

It’s a common question, “Do Macs get viruses?”. The general myth is that you don’t need antivirus for Macs. That is not true. Macs can get infected.

11% of computer owners use a Mac, which makes it less enticing for hackers to attempt to crack through the macOS security barriers. However, with more businesses offering Macs as a choice, it will only be a matter of time before Macs become a consistent target for malware.

Remember the Mac versus PC commercials from 2007?  These commercials made claims of Macs not getting viruses. Although they don’t get many malware attacks, they are still vulnerable. Attacks on Mac computers started to increase substantially back in 2012, but Apple continues to add additional security measures to prevent antivirus infection and keep up with malware. 

Built-in Antivirus for Macs

Apple has done a decent job of keeping up with the spikes in malware attacks. When viruses start to become more prevalent, Apple is quick to update the macOS software to plug any security holes. 

For instance, there was a virus made for Macs that was called nVir released back in 1987 that caused computer system errors like printing failures, slowed the system down, and crashed applications. It grew to a head, and in 2001 Apple released a new software architecture, which is the foundational structure of their operating systems today, called macOS (previously Mac OS X). This change prevented nVir from embedding itself and tampering with the computer system. 

In later years as Apple has adapted to the threat landscape, so too has the malware created for macOS. Apple continues to be diligent in creating new solutions to the malware identified, such as:

  • Gatekeeper, added in 2012, allows you to install applications from the Mac App Store or trusted sources by developer’s signatures. Now in macOS Catalina, these apps also need to be notarized with Apple. Gatekeeper protects you from malicious code that could be found in downloaded apps.
  • T2 Chip is Apple’s new coprocessor that makes secure features such as Touch ID, secure boot, and FileVault 2 possible. The secure boot ensures you are running a trusted operating system from Apple, while FileVault 2 encrypts the data on your Mac.
  • Xprotect, added in 2009, is a file-quarantine system that compares downloaded files against known malware based on the signature it carries. When macOS identifies malware, it will warn you before opening a suspicious file.
  • Application firewall helps prevent unwanted apps from taking control of network ports open for legitimate apps. With network ports open, it is creating a vulnerability not only to your system but to other systems on the network.
  • Malware Removal Tool (MRT), which removes known malware.

Gaps in Antivirus for Mac 

Although Apple has managed the bug problem well, built-in antivirus for Macs still has its holes. For starters, the built-in systems are only able to detect known malware. Yet, as we mentioned in the article, 3 Benefits of a Certified Apple Consultant, there are over 350,000 new forms of malware created every day. That’s a lot of malware that can potentially get missed by Macs built-in antivirus protection. 

As another gap, Gatekeeper is not foolproof because the only barrier is a nominal fee for the developer to fool Apple about whether they’re a hacker or not. Not to mention, anyone with some decent coding skills can bypass the feature altogether.

Lastly, after the computer has been infected will the Malware Removal Tool (MRT) work. In the event of ransomware infection, the MRT will likely not help and the damage is done. Luckily, there are additional tools to help prevent attacks. 

Antivirus for Mac Protection Tools

Although there are fewer viruses and malware targeting Macs, they are still out there. Malware can do irreparable damage to both small businesses and their customers. Yes, you are safer by having a Mac, but unless you have a high level of risk tolerance, it is best to add a layer of malware protection to your Mac.

To help you keep your information safe, we use Sophos Endpoint to supplement the built-in antivirus for Macs. Sophos Endpoint is a phenomenal tool we use that tracks not just known viruses but unknown viruses. Sophos Endpoint has the ability to protect all your devices, whether it’s your cellphone, your computer, a tablet, etc. 

The other way to help prevent attacks is to hire a Certified Apple Consultant who understands the cybersecurity landscape for Macs and uses the right tools to protect your business. 

Having a Mac reduces your likelihood of getting a virus, but the truth is, they are not immune.

Download our free guide “How To Stay Protected Against Ransomware.“

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