Can Macs Get Viruses? Everything You Need to Know in 2024

If you’re a Mac owner, you may have wondered, “Can Macs get viruses?” Contrary to what you may have heard, Macs are indeed vulnerable to viruses, and you’re quite right to be worried about how secure your device is from malware. Every year, viruses wreak havoc on unsuspecting Mac users – corrupting files, stealing data, and spamming users with pop-ups.

So, how can you keep your Mac safe from the thousands of viruses on the internet? In this article, we dive deep into the most common types of viruses that Macs get, the ways cybercriminals hack into devices, the tell-tale signs you need to look out for, how you can remove viruses from your computer, and how you can help keep your device safe with the best Apple antivirus software. Let’s take a look.

Can Macs Get Viruses?

Can Macs Get Viruses

If you’ve asked yourself this question, then you’re not alone. Every year, millions of Mac users put forward questions like, “Can Macbook get viruses?” to help put their minds at ease.

So, can Macs get viruses? Spoiler: yes, they can. Like other computers, Macs can and do get viruses. However, Macs have long had a reputation for being more secure than PCs – which is sadly something that is less and less true.

Historically, there were far fewer Macs than PCs on the market, so cybercriminals directed their efforts towards PCs. Since Macs have begun to explode in popularity, though, more and more Mac-targeted viruses have entered into digital circulation.

Fortunately, Apple’s tech minds have developed hardware and software with a security-first focus, including built-in protections like automatic encryption and app checks. These features offer impressive protection against hacks and viruses.

However, while Apple offers several protections against viruses, the idea that a Mac will never get a virus is a misconception. Indeed, there’s a wide range of viruses and malware you need to look out for.

The Types of Viruses That Can Affect Macs

There are various types of malware that can infect Macs. Viruses are malicious software programs that can be downloaded in a number of ways. They can encrypt, steal, and delete your data. They can also infect other files on your computer.

What are some of the most common types of Mac malware?

  1. Adware: These programs spam your computer with ads and pop-ups. Designed to cause panic and get clicks with messages like “your Mac is infected,” these viruses can send you to malicious websites that are built to steal your data and infect your computer.
  2. Macro viruses: This malware accesses your computer when you open an infected file, which triggers a series of actions. Typically, these kinds of viruses steal your data and corrupt or delete your files.
  3. Trojan horses: Designed to infect your computer with malicious code, these viruses clock themselves as a harmless or desirable file or piece of software. After you’ve downloaded them onto your computer, they can quickly corrupt your files – further copying themselves onto your device without your knowledge.
  4. Spyware: Hackers use spyware to monitor everything you do on your Mac – from the passwords you enter to the pages you visit. Cybercrooks use this type of malware to steal your data.

Here are some of the most common Apple viruses that have been discovered in recent years:

  1. MacStealer: Targets Mac users by masquerading as a legitimate application. If you accidentally install this virus onto your Mac, then you may become vulnerable to having your data hacked – from your bank login information to your Apple password.
  2. CrateDepression: Makes use of typosquatting – in which a malicious website registers a domain or URL that mimics a legitimate one to trick users into downloading malicious software. CrateDepression targeted rust developers by catching visitors who searched for “rustdecimal” rather than “rust_decimal.”
  3. Gimmick: Presents itself as legitimate software and infects your Mac after you download it. It bombards your computer with irritating ads and can also steal your personal information.
  4. ShawdowValut: Came onto the scene in July 2023 and began stealing login details, credit card information, and the crypto wallet data of Mac owners.
  5. MacOS.T-Virus: Managed to sneak onto Macs via Apple’s version 10.15 software update. It bombarded users with pop-ups to try to lure them into visiting malicious websites where they would be vulnerable to downloads that could infect their computer with a data-stealing virus.
  6. XCSSET: In the original variation, spotted in August 2000, this virus infected Apple computers with Xcode projects before infecting devices via a seemingly legitimate Mail application. Its most recent variation was as a fake Notes app.

How Do Macs Get Infected?

Macs Viruses

There are over 5.5 billion worldwide malware attacks each year. But what are the most common cyber attacks to be aware of? There are actually several ways your Mac can become infected.

1. Downloading Malicious Software

One of the most common ways Macs become infected is through malicious software downloads. Many people download Mac viruses inadvertently while downloading an app or another piece of software.

Through the software, cybercriminals can infect your computer with malicious code and cause digital chaos – impacting device performance, stealing data, and deleting files.

How do you avoid accidentally downloading malware onto your Mac? Make sure to always download software from the provider’s official website. In addition, do a quick Google search to verify whether any “too good to be true” offers on software are legitimate or not.

2. Visiting Compromised Websites

While people know to avoid downloading suspicious software, it’s easy to accidentally click on a website link and spend a few seconds on a compromised website. Malicious websites can expose you to viruses and other malware without your knowledge.

Compromised websites aren’t always easy to identify and can appear very much like sites you use every day. Cybercriminals install “exploit kits” on hacked websites, using them to reroute you to other pages without your knowledge.

Once you’ve landed there, the crooks can scan your computer for vulnerabilities, which they’ll then exploit to install malware onto your device.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from this kind of attack is to make sure you regularly update your Mac. With each update, Apple brings out new patches to help remedy vulnerabilities and fix bugs.

3. Opening Infected Email Attachments

Phishing is when a cybercriminal sends out emails containing infected email attachments. Once they’ve infected your computer, these types of viruses can prevent your machine from working, expose you to pop-up spam, and steal and delete data and files.

In addition, once you’ve opened these emails, it’s easy for this kind of virus to spread, with malicious emails getting sent to everyone on your contact list.

How can you spot these dodgy emails and avoid infecting your computer? Look out for emails with convoluted subject lines, suspicious-looking contacts, such as sender names with a messy combination of letters and numbers, poorly formatted emails, and emails with out-of-place text or logos from well-known brands.

If something feels or looks off about an email, then it may be a threat to your device.

Now we’ve covered how your Mac can get infected by a virus and the most common viruses out there, we’ll move on to how to check for viruses on your Mac.

Tell-tale Signs Your Mac Has a Virus

You may be wondering how you can suss out whether your device has been compromised. How can you tell if your Mac has a virus? Here are some signs to keep in mind:

  1. Your computer has slowed down
  2. You’ve noticed an unexplained reduction in your storage space
  3. Your homepage has changed, or you’ve noticed new extensions on your browser
  4. You notice new apps or programs on your device that you didn’t download
  5. People in your contacts list mention getting weird messages or emails from you
  6. Your Mac regularly overheats, even when you aren’t running multiple programs or apps
  7. You can’t open certain files or programs

Best Practices for Protecting Your Mac from Viruses

With thousands of new viruses on Macs emerging each year and cybercriminals becoming ever more inventive, it’s understandable to worry about the security of your Mac and whether you’ll fall victim to a virus. Luckily, there are a number of best practices you can put into play to help keep your Mac safe.

Install Reputable Antivirus Software

TotalAV Interface

First and foremost, you need to make sure you install the right antivirus software. Despite Apple’s built-in security and antivirus protection, we recommend people look into additional antivirus tools for Mac for added security.

We’ve tested, reviewed, and compared all the best antivirus software currently on the market. TotalAV, in our opinion, comes out on top. Here’s why:

  • According to AV-Comparatives tests, TotalAV boasts a 97.7% protection rate when it comes to defending against malware and viruses. It blocked 508 online threats out of 520.
  • TotalAV offers extensive security coverage, including malware scanning, protection against phishing, email scanning, and malicious URL blocking.
  • It immediately blocks suspicious website links, keeping you safe in real-time.
  • It offers both a free and paid version (the latter is just $29 per year). They also offer a 30-day money-back guarantee for their annual plan.

While we highly recommend TotalAV when it comes to choosing antivirus software for your Mac, there are also several other great options out there for Mac users. You can check out our guide on the best Mac antivirus software solutions for more information.

Keep Your Operating System and Applications Up To Date

An image showing software updates available on Mac.
Source: Apple

Regular software updates help protect Macs against vulnerabilities. With each software update, your computer benefits from additional bug fixes and attention to vulnerabilities that could leave you vulnerable to a virus or malware attack.

It’s important to keep your applications up to date as developers help ensure the biggest Mac security flaws are remedied with each update.

Avoid Suspicious Websites and Downloads

Suspicious websites and downloads are one of the most common ways people’s Macs become infected with viruses. From typos that lead to malicious sites to malware masquerading as popular software applications, it’s easier to fall victim to these types of attacks than you may think.

Take note of any websites with “odd” names (such as a haphazard mix of letters and numbers rather than coherent titles) or common brand names that are spelled incorrectly. In addition, only download software from vendors’ official websites or the app store to help make sure you’re getting malware-free software.

Enable the Built-In MacOS Security Features

One of the best ways to keep your Mac secure is to ensure you have every security feature Apple offers enabled. MacOS offers a number of built-in security features, including:

The Apple M1 Chip

The Apple M1 chip provides a built-in Secure Enclave that automatically encrypts user data. This chip also provides file-level encryption and protects your login password.

XProtect

Runtime protections in macOS provide built-in Apple antivirus software that’s been made to block and remove malware. Dubbed XProtect, the technology uses YARA signatures – a tool that conducts signature-based malware detection.

Apple uses XProtect to monitor for viruses, updating signatures automatically and blocking the execution of both viruses and malware.

macOS Firewall

Mac includes a built-in firewall to help keep your computer safe from attacks. To turn on macOS Firewall protection:

  1. Click the Apple Menu
  2. Head to “System Settings”
  3. Hit the “Network” button in the sidebar
  4. Then click “Firewall”
  5. Turn on Firewall

You can also play with additional security settings. Just select “Options” after you’ve turned the firewall on.

App Review and Gatekeeper Mac

Whether you’re downloading apps via the net or Apple’s AppStore, Apple provides App Review to check the validity of an app before you install it on your device.

While Gatekeeper Mac checks every app from the internet for signs of known malicious code, as an additional Mac security boost, every app you use needs permission to access files on your computer.

Notarisation

Notarisation is Apple’s malware scanning service. Apple scans software put forward by developers outside of the App Store for any malware and issues them with a Notarisation ticket if no issues are found. Apple also gives out revocation tickets if apps are found to be malicious, even if they’ve previously been approved.

However, Apple’s built-in protections may not be enough to keep your Mac safe. We always recommend looking into additional antivirus software for an added layer of Mac security.

Use Public WiFi Safely

Around 47% of people in the U.S. say they regularly use public WiFi. From airports to hotels, public WiFi can be an affordable and easy way to get online when you have no cell data or are looking to reduce your data usage when away from home.

However, public WiFi poses several security risks, including the possibility of getting an Apple virus. To help keep your device and data secure, we recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) whenever you connect to a public WiFi network.

You can use a VPN to encrypt your data and hide your IP address from users on the WiFi network. VPNs help provide an added layer of security and privacy for anyone using public WiFi when out and about.

What to Do if Your Mac Gets Infected

Think your Mac could be infected with a virus? Don’t stress. There are several steps you can take to help remove the virus from your Mac, recover your files and data, and help make sure your device is more secure in future. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Perform a Full System Scan Using Your Antivirus Software

The first step is to run a full system scan with antivirus software. Here’s how to run a full scan with TotalAV, the antivirus software we recommend:

  1. Open TotalAV
  2. Select “Malware Scan” from the menu on the left
An image showing how to run a malware scan on TotalAV.
Source: TotalAV
  1. Under Malware Scan, select the green “System Scan” button

TotalAV will now run a full, in-depth scan of your computer – scanning every file and program for signs of malware on your device.

2. Quarantine Threats and Remove Any Identified Malware

The second step is to quarantine threats and remove any identified malware on your Mac. Quarantine is the process of moving a file to a “safe” location and blocking it from running on your device with the help of your security software.

If you’re using TotalAV, the software will fully remove the virus and move the virus to the Quarantine Virus Vault.

3. Reset Your Browsers and Clear Caches

To help sever any connections to malicious software, you need to clear your caches and reset your browsers.

Here’s how to reset Safari:

  1. Open up the Safari browser from your desktop
  2. Click on the Safari Menu
  3. Click “Clear History” from the dropdown menu
  4. A pop-up box will appear. Select how far back you want to go to clear your history.

Here’s how to clear your caches in Safari:

  1. Open Safari
  2. Click on the Safari Menu
  3. Select “Preferences” from the dropdown menu
  4. Tap the Advanced tab
  5. Select “Website Data”
  6. Click “Remove All Website Data”

4. Get Help From Professionals If You Need It

Still concerned about your computer? If so, we recommend seeking out professional help. While many people feel confident enough to tackle viruses on their own, professionals can help make sure you’ve taken the right steps to fully remove a virus from your computer and can help mitigate any damage they may have caused.

For example, you can reach out to Apple and book an appointment with a technician at the Apple Genius Bar or with an Apple Authorized Service Provider. You can find Apple stores and authorized service providers on the Apple website.

If you think your financial information has been stolen, then it’s essential to contact your bank as soon as possible.

Antivirus Guides We Recommend Reading Next

Now we’ve covered how to check for viruses on Mac and the signs to look out for, you might be interested in exploring some of our top antivirus guides for Mac virus protection:

Do Macs Need Antivirus Software?

No matter what you may have heard, Macs are vulnerable to viruses and other Apple malware.

From sneaking onto your Mac in the form of seemingly benign applications to spamming you with relentless pop-ups looking to redirect you to a malicious website, there are a number of ways you can fall victim to malware attacks.

Apple offers a number of defenses against viruses, including macOS Firewall, XProtect, App Review, and Gatekeeper Mac. There are several steps you can take to help remove viruses from your system – with a little help from the macOS tools or antivirus software like TotalAV.

With the right tools and know-how behind you, you should be able to keep your Mac safer from new viruses, and you’ll know just what to do when you detect a digital threat.

FAQs

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Kirsten Lamb
Technology Expert

Kirsten Lamb is a freelance conversion copywriter and content marketer with a specialist focus in technology. She previously studied at Keele University and The University of Edinburgh. She has over 7 years of experience in the marketing industry and has worked with brands like Hotjar and WooCommerce, plus on the tech side of Booking.com.