Do I need an antivirus for my Mac?


A very common question in the Mac community is whether or not antivirus software is a necessity. There is a long-held belief that Macs simply do not get viruses, but this is in fact a myth, and we are going to address this so you’ll have better insight.

The core of the “Macs do not get viruses” belief comes from the fact that for a long time, viruses on Mac computers were extraordinarily rare. This was not necessarily due to some bulletproof protection offered by Apple, but simply because it was not seen as lucrative to target Mac users. The majority of business enterprise computers are running Windows software. Apple always targeted a younger, artistic type of crowd, whereas Microsoft targeted the business crowd.

So because Windows was the preferred platform for business operations, cybercriminals considered Windows a much more lucrative target. However, this has been changing over the years, especially as cybercriminals shift their focus to targeting all platforms, including mobile devices.

Now, there’s some truth that Mac offers a bit more security to the end-user, and this is due to a few different factors. For starters, Apple generally does its best to limit its user-base to the Apple sandbox. For example, Macs have a security feature called Gatekeeper, which essentially blocks software from being installed that hasn’t been digitally signed by developers approved by Apple (unless you decide to disable it).

The other factor is that Mac is a Unix-based platform, similar to Linux. Both Mac and Linux sprung out of Unix, which generally offers several security layers not found in the Windows platform.

Mac security threats in 2019

As we mentioned, however, times are changing. Macs have certainly grown in the enterprise market in recent times, and because cybercriminals have been shifting their focus to developing “one size fits all” malware which targets all computer platforms and mobile platforms, Mac is no longer as safe as it was once believed.

So far in 2019, there have in fact been 6 major viruses or exploits that target Mac. Cybercriminals have been discovering ways to get around Apple’s Gatekeeper technology, such as hijacking developer signatures to upload malware-infected apps to the Apple Store. That is just one example, but the known Mac viruses and exploits discovered so far in 2019 are:

  • OSX/CrescentCore: This is a malware that was available for download from several websites, which appeared in Google search results. It was disguised as a DMG file, which is associated with Adobe Flash Player, but in reality it would install either an app called Advanced Mac Cleaner, or an extension for the Safari browser. The malware was also sophisticated enough to check if the user had any antivirus software installed on their Mac.
  • LoudMiner/Bird Miner: This was a cryptojacker hidden in a pirated copy of Ableton Live.
  • OSX/Linker: Released in May 2019, this malware exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Apple Gatekeeper to install unsigned malware.
  • OSX/Newtab: This malware would add tabs to the Safari browser. It was digitally signed with a stolen Apple Developer ID.
  • Netwire/Mokes: Another malware that was able to bypass Gatekeeper, this was a Firefox-related malware which targeted cryptocurrency users.
  • OSX/Shlayer (aka Crossrider): This was a type of adware that infected Macs through a fake Adobe Flash Player installer. It was distributed through popular torrenting websites, and it would install several malware-infested apps on the user’s Mac, including Advanced Mac Cleaner, MyShopCoupon+, mediaDownloader, MyMacUpdater, and Chumsearch Safari Extension.
  • CookieMinermalware: This malware was able to steal passwords and login credentials from Chrome, access iTunes text message backups to gain information required for bypassing two-factor authentication, obtain browser authentication cookies used for cryptocurrency exchanges, access the user’s cryptocurrency wallet, steal cryptocurrency, and install cryptomining software on the user’s Mac.
  • Mac Auto Fixer: A type of adware that displayed pop-ups informing the user their Mac needed the (paid) software for fixing or cleaning problems found in their Mac system. It was of course a scam.

Those mentioned above were the most notorious Mac threats so far in 2019, but you can expect cryptominers to continue rising in popularity. Many of those mentioned viruses were being delivered through third-party website downloads, or installations that bypassed Apple Gatekeeper’s security. However, it’s important to note that several of the malwares were able to either completely bypass Apple Gatekeeper, or had appeared as authentic apps using stolen developer IDs.

Staying safe

It’s easy to say that users should never go outside of the Apple sandbox and always install only trusted apps verified by Gatekeeper, but this isn’t entirely realistic. For starters, its been shown that cybercriminals are starting to figure out methods of bypassing Gatekeeper. Second, users will always take the risk of downloading software they want, whether or not it has been “approved” by Apple.

So with all that said, that leaves us with the original question of this topic. Do you need antivirus for Mac? We will respond with a firm “yes”. Antivirus software is absolutely crucial for any platform, whether its Windows, Mac, Linux, or mobile devices. Even if Mac is considered “safer” and has more built-in protection than Windows, you should have an antivirus for a worst case scenario, at the very least. You may think you don’t need antivirus for Mac, until disaster strikes, and then you’ll be wishing you had it.

If you need to know which antivirus software is a good choice for Mac users, you can read our antivirus comparison articles, such as Bitdefender versus Avast which mention if the companies offer any products for Mac.

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