Can Macs Get Viruses?

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It’s not common, but Mac computers and other Apple products can get viruses. Historically, macOS has been more secure than Windows, but hackers and other cyber attackers are figuring out how to get around Apple’s robust defenses. Malwarebytes Labs reported that malware attacks on Macs grew more than 270% between 2016 and 2017.1

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Built-in Mac security measures

Unix system

Macs are built to resist malware and other computer viruses thanks to the Unix-based Mac operating system. Unix includes many built-in security components that are challenging for hackers to circumvent. Apple also builds security measures into its operating system to help fend off attackers. Macs come with built-in anti-malware protection and a malware scanning tool, plus macOS prevents you from downloading software that hasn’t been approved by Apple.

Gatekeeper

Every Mac comes with Gatekeeper, a system that blocks downloads from unidentified developers. Whenever you try to download software on a Mac, Gatekeeper checks to see if the software has been digitally signed. This means that the developer has been vetted and approved by Apple. If the software doesn’t have a digital signature, you’ll get an error message that the download is blocked. You can go into Settings to bypass the Gatekeeper block, but that is not recommended.

Sandboxing

Another security measure that helps protect Macs from viruses is called sandboxing. Sandboxing applies to apps, and it makes sure that apps can’t do more than what they are designed to do. It prevents apps from accessing sensitive data like your Mac’s system components, your data, and other apps.

FileVault encryption

Apple also provides built-in data encryption via the FileVault setting, which protects all the data on your Mac and encrypts all files. To use this protection, you need to manually turn on FileVault in the Security & Privacy section of System Preferences.

How to prevent computer viruses on your Mac

One of the biggest reasons virus attacks on Macs have been less common is due to the smaller percentage of people using Macs instead of PCs. As Macs take a larger share of the market, hacking them becomes more worthwhile. To better understand Mac vulnerabilities, learn about verified viruses and malware attacks that have happened in recent years.2

In addition to relying on Apple’s built-in security measures, there is more you can do to keep your Mac from getting hacked.

  • Keep your operating system up to date.
  • Turn on your Mac’s firewall, FileVault, and other built-in security settings.
  • Protect your passwords for your Mac and sensitive files.
  • Disable the automatic login setting.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network) when using a shared or public network.
  • Pay attention to privacy settings.
  • Turn off remote login.
  • Keep Flash and Java plugins updated.
  • Watch out for phishing email scams.
  • Enable two-step verification for apps and downloads.
  • Use antivirus software designed for Macs, such as MacKeeper.

Even though Macs are less vulnerable than traditional PCs, Mac users should still take measures to protect their computers and personal information.


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Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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