Can Macs Actually Get Viruses? Myth vs Reality

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Can Macs Actually Get Viruses? Myth vs Reality

Key Points

  • In spite of the myth which exists about their immunity to viruses, macOS systems are vulnerable to them, although viruses which attack them are different from those which attack PCs.
  • Although more viruses used to target PCs compared to Macs, recent reports have noted that the reverse is now the case.
  • The types of viruses likely to attack a Mac include: adware, ransomware, rootkit, spyware, and rootkit.

Computer viruses can be frustrating, costly to fix, and even dangerous. Whether you’re dealing with irritating adware or ransomware threatening you and everyone in your network, it’s essential that you understand the myth vs reality of Mac viruses. Learn about the history of Mac viruses, common types, and what you can do to protect your computer from future malware attacks.

Common Mac Virus Myths

Apple computers, smartphones, and other devices have had a reputation for being safe. The reputation is so strong, in fact, that it has helped spread a few myths about Macs and viruses. Consider each of these common myths to learn more about common Mac misconceptions.

Mac Viruses Don’t Exist

Ever since Apple first started creating computers, viruses have been a threat. The first detected virus on a Mac was Elk Cloner, which spread in 1982 on Apple DOS 3.3. While there are different types of viruses for Mac vs PC systems, there is no shortage of harmful viruses and worms that can affect macOS.

PCs Get More Viruses Than Macs

For years, this myth actually had some truth to it. Apple security features and the smaller number of users helped make it a safer computer choice than a PC. In 2019, however, comparing Mac vs PC viruses found more Mac ones reported.

Mac Gatekeeper Is the Only Protection You Need

Your computer may come with Gatekeeper, which is designed to monitor sites and data for malicious code already installed. Unfortunately, Gatekeeper may not be enough to protect against every attack. It’s important to be vigilant and take proactive steps to avoid encountering a security breach.

XProtect is Apple’s anti-malware software that helps protect from viruses.


Types of Malware That May Infect a Mac

While computer virus is a more common and recognizable term, the reality is that Macs are at risk of many types of malware, or malicious software. This term generally describes any code or program intent on stealing information or causing harm. A computer virus works similarly to a human one. It attaches to code or a program and self-replicates as it spreads throughout a network.

Your Mac may be infected with various malware, each with a unique set of issues. Among the possible malware that may infect a Mac are the following:

  • Adware
  • Spyware
  • Ransomware
  • Trojan Horse
  • Rootkit


Adware is a kind of virus that causes many adverts to open in and out of your web browser. Ads that attempt to get you to click on a link and install a program to treat a virus on your Mac are common.


Malware, known as spyware, can lurk on your Mac for lengthy periods, observing what you do to steal your personal information. Using this data for advertising, fraud, or even accessing your bank accounts is possible. The prevalence of spyware programs among iPhone users is also rising.


Ransomware is used by hackers to slow down your Mac or bombard you with notifications, then attempt to compel you to comply with particular requests (typically paying for a fraudulent “service”). Other types of ransomware are far more straightforward and inform you that your computer is locked until you pay a ransom.

Trojan Horse

Another type of malware that fools you into downloading and installing it by seeming to be something else is a trojan horse. This type of attack may induce you to install bogus MacDefender, MacProtector, or MacSecurity software on your computer.


One rare type of malware is a rootkit, which finds a vulnerability and takes control of a device, allowing hackers to access any files and/or programs. Rootkits were first encountered on macOS in 2009.

Worst macOS Malware Attacks

While there are many types of malware and viruses, a few dangerous attacks have had significant effects. Here are the top worst macOS malware attacks by hackers so far:

  • Generic.Suspicious
  • Silver Sparrow
  • XLoader
  • XcodeSpy
  • Pirri/GoSearch22
  • ThiefQuest/EvilQuest
  • FakeFileOpener
  • SearchAwesome
  • LoudMiner

Ways to Avoid Getting a Mac Virus

Apple takes security very seriously. macOS has sophisticated capabilities to defend your Mac from most malware attacks. When comparing Mac vs PC protection, it’s important to understand the Apple-specific antivirus solutions. Here are some of the protection features on your computer that helps decrease your vulnerability to attacks:

  • Gatekeeper
  • Notarization
  • XProtect
  • Anti-malware program
  • Automated updates for security


The first line of defense against malware on your Mac is Gatekeeper. Updating your Mac is made easier with this feature, which isolates newly installed software from the rest of your system until Apple certifies that it is safe to use. Gatekeeper is also responsible for the warnings you receive when you start a new app for the first time.


When an app is approved for the App Store, it is scanned for malware and notarized if the results are positive. So, when you install new software on your Mac, Apple will be able to compare it to a notarized version to see whether there have been any modifications made.

In addition, if the program is not authenticated, Apple will block the installation and warn you of its dangers.


On your Mac, XProtect is Apple’s built-in anti-malware software. Every time an app is started or updated, a scan is performed to search for the most recent known malware. Malware will be blocked, and a warning will be sent to you if XProtect discovers it on your computer and you don’t delete it.

Anti-Malware Program

Malware that has found its way into your system files may be removed automatically using Apple’s Malware Removal Tool (MRT). The MRT will instantly eliminate the virus as soon as XProtect identifies a new danger in the background.

Automated Updates for Security

Installing the latest security updates is one of the greatest ways to keep your Mac safe from new viruses. As new malware is uncovered, Apple works tirelessly to fix the security weaknesses that caused the virus to exist. It’s important for you to keep up with the most recent updates to make these benefits a reality.

Even with all of the precautionary measures Apple takes, Macs are still able to be infected with viruses.


Signs A Mac Computer is Infected by A Virus

Malware and viruses can be very deceptive. You may have a virus on your computer without knowing it, or you may encounter an obvious malware attack. Here are the signs that you may need to remove a virus from your Mac computer or decrease your vulnerability to a malware attack:

  • Slower computer performance
  • Mysterious new tools or applications
  • Increased number of ads and pop-ups
  • Lower storage space
  • Overheating
  • Unusual conditions

Slower Computer Performance

A slowdown in the performance of your computer or individual applications may indicate a problem. If this is the case, your Mac may be infected. Check your storage and see if you have too many apps or programs installed. If you still have plenty of space but your computer is running slowly, there may be a virus operating in the background.

Mysterious New Tools or Applications

If you detect additional programs or files added to your system without your authorization, this is a symptom of malware. A new homepage may also appear due to unexpected changes to settings.

Increased Number of Ads and Pop-ups

Even if you are not connected to the internet, the adware may cause a large number of adverts and pop-ups to appear. That’s something to watch if you detect an increase in inactivity.

Lower Storage Space

If malware has inadvertently been placed on your device, it will eat up storage. This implies that there will be less room for reputable applications and services. A rapid reduction in storage capacity might be a clue that your device has a virus.


Many apps running in the background can cause your computer to heat up. Check the number of programs that are running to see if you’re causing your Mac to heat up or if there is a possibility of a malware attack.

Unusual Conditions

Your Mac may be infected with some kind of malware, which may cause your computer to crash and freeze regularly. These symptoms, taken individually, aren’t always conclusive. There are several reasons for poor performance, such as an overcrowded Mac, so it’s good to eliminate unnecessary files to see if it helps.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How likely is it to get a virus on a Mac?

Since 2019, Mac devices have been more likely to get viruses than PCs. Proper virus protection and caution can decrease the likelihood of getting a computer virus.

Is Apple safer than Windows?

While Apple computers used to be considered safer than Windows PCs, Macs have been targeted by more virus and malware threats since 2019 than Windows computers.

Can a Mac get viruses from websites?

Yes, while Gatekeeper and other virus protection applications attempt to detect and prevent an attack, you can still get a virus from a website.

Can a Mac get a Trojan virus?

Yes, Mac computers are susceptible to Trojan Horse viruses.

Does updating Mac remove viruses?

Updating your Mac can remove known security vulnerabilities but it may not remove viruses already infecting your computer. You’ll need to run trusted antivirus software to identify and remove existing viruses.

How do I clean my Mac from viruses?

Your macOS already has XProtect, Gatekeeper, and other safety features to identify and remove malware. It can help to periodically check your Mac for suspicious activity, files or apps you didn’t download, or other issues.

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