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Do MacBooks Need Antivirus? Here’s What You Should Know

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Last updated: September 6, 2023

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Malware targeting macOS has increased, challenging the belief that Macs are invincible. But do MacBooks need antivirus? The short answer is yes.

Mac users have enjoyed relative invulnerability to the malware infections that have plagued their Windows counterparts for years. However, the situation has changed as MacBooks have gained popularity among cybercriminals.

In this article, I’ll explore whether MacBooks require antivirus software, considering the evolving threat landscape and the steps you can take to safeguard your digital life.

Before We Begin

Although manually blocking viruses can be difficult, using antivirus software is smarter. With MacKeeper’s Antivirus, you can effortlessly scan and quarantine viruses, resolving potential problems before they escalate. Download MacKeeper now for enhanced device protection.

The Myth of MacBook Invincibility

One of the biggest misconceptions about Macs is that they are immune to viruses and malware. While it is true that Macs have solid built-in security features that make them less vulnerable to certain types of attacks, they are not invincible.

Here are some statistics that might surprise you:

  • According to a report, Mac malware detections increased by 40% in 2019.
  • In 2021, the top Mac malware was Silver Sparrow, which affected over 30,000 devices.
  • The Flashback Trojan infected over 600,000 Macs in 2012, demonstrating that Macs are not immune to large-scale attacks.

With these statistics in mind, it’s clear that Mac users should take their security seriously.

So, Do MacBooks Need Antivirus?

does mac need antivirus

Yes, MacBooks definitely need antivirus. This is because some recent malware attacks were so grave they sent Apple’s security measures back a whole decade. Hackers created malware, Shlayer, that was not recognizable by macOS as a security threat and could skip all checks by the security mechanisms.

Besides that, Apple’s recent macOS update fixed its own vulnerability, Achilles (CVE-2022-42821). Microsoft pointed out this flaw, where hackers tricked the Gatekeeper and got into your macOS. Simply put, the malware will install without Mac’s defensive tools stopping it.

So, if you want to keep your Mac running smoothly and avoid surprises, it’s wise to take some precautions with its built-in security systems and good antivirus software.

Apple has fixed these vulnerabilities with its latest security updates: macOS 13 (Ventura), macOS 12.6.2 (Monterey), and macOS 11.7.2 (Big Sur) on Dec 13, 2022.

When Do You Need More Security on Mac?

While MacBooks are generally considered more secure than other platforms, there are situations where you may need to enhance security measures on your Mac.

Here are a few scenarios when additional security precautions may be necessary on your Mac:

  1. 📥 Downloading Third-party Apps: While Apple’s Gatekeeper feature protects your Mac from malicious apps, it may not catch everything. It’s always a good idea to be cautious when downloading apps from third-party sources and to use additional antivirus software to scan them before installation.
  2. 📶 Using Public Wi-Fi Networks: Public Wi-Fi networks can be convenient but also a security risk. These networks are often unsecured, so hackers could intercept your data. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) or other encryption software to protect yourself.
  3. 🥷🏻 Physical Theft: If your Mac is stolen, built-in security features like Find My Mac can help you track it down or wipe it remotely. However, if someone gains physical access to your device, they may still be able to bypass your password and access your data.
  4. ⚔️ Social Engineering Attacks: Hackers may use social engineering tactics to trick you into giving away sensitive information, such as your login credentials or credit card numbers. Always be wary of unsolicited emails or phone calls, and never give out personal information.
  5. ⛏️ Cryptojacking: Cryptojacking is a relatively new form of cyberattack where an attacker hijacks your MacBook to mine cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrency mining involves solving complex mathematical problems to validate transactions on a blockchain network and earn digital coins as a reward.

MacBooks can be targeted for cryptojacking due to their powerful hardware capabilities, which are ideal for resource-intensive tasks like mining. Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in macOS or web browsers to secretly install cryptojacking scripts or malware on your MacBook.

macOS Built-in Security Features

macOS has several built-in security features to protect your device and data from malware, cyber-attacks, and other security threats. Understanding and using these features can keep your Mac safe and secure.

Here is a more detailed explanation of macOS built-in security features:

1. Gatekeeper

macOS gatekeeper feature

In macOS, the Gatekeeper is a security feature that protects your computer from malicious software. It prevents the installation and execution of potentially harmful applications, specifically those downloaded from the internet or third-party sources.

By default, Gatekeeper is set to the Mac App Store and identified developers option, providing a good balance between security and flexibility. However, you can adjust the Gatekeeper settings in the Privacy & Security settings on your Mac.

    2. XProtect

    macOS xprotect feature

    XProtect, also known as File Quarantine or XProtect.plist, is a built-in malware protection feature in macOS. It is designed to detect and block known malware and certain types of malicious software from running on your Mac.

    XProtect maintains a list of known malware signatures, which Apple regularly updates through system updates. When you attempt to open or execute a file, XProtect checks its signature against the known malware signatures. If a match is found, it will prevent the file from opening and display a warning message.

    3. FileVault

    macOS filevault feature

    FileVault is a disk encryption feature in macOS that provides strong data protection for your Mac’s startup disk. It uses XTS-AES-128 encryption with a 256-bit key to encrypt the entire contents of your disk, including your operating system, applications, and user data.

    FileVault uses your login password as the encryption passphrase, meaning only someone with your login password can decrypt and access the encrypted data. It provides a high level of security, as even if someone were to remove the hard drive from your Mac and attempt to access the data, they would not be able to decrypt it without your login password.

    4. Firewall

    macOS firewall feature

    The Firewall in macOS is a network security feature that protects your Mac by monitoring and controlling incoming and outgoing network traffic. It acts as a barrier between your computer and the internet, allowing you to define rules for which connections and network services are allowed or blocked.

    You can configure it to allow or deny connections based on specific criteria, such as the application making the connection, the port being used, or the IP addresses involved.

    5. Sandboxing

    macOS sandboxing feature

    Sandboxing in macOS isolates applications from the rest of the system, preventing them from accessing sensitive resources or performing potentially harmful actions. It contains applications within a controlled environment, a sandbox, to enhance security and protect the system and user data.

    When an application is sandboxed, it is restricted to a specific set of resources and capabilities defined by a set of entitlements. These entitlements determine what the application can access, such as files, network resources, and system APIs.

    6. Malware Removal Tool (MRT)

    macOS malware removal tool feature

    The Malware Removal Tool (MRT) in macOS is a built-in security feature designed to detect and remove certain types of known malware from your Mac. Apple periodically updates it, and it automatically runs in the background to scan your system for malware.

    MRT operates silently and does not require any user intervention. It runs at regular intervals and checks for the presence of specific malware signatures that are known to Apple. If it detects any malware matching its database, it removes or quarantines the malicious files from your Mac.

    7. System Integrity Protection (SIP)

    macOS system integrity protection feature

    System Integrity Protection (SIP), or rootless mode, is a security feature introduced in OS X El Capitan (10.11) and later macOS versions. SIP protects critical system files and directories from unauthorized modifications, even by processes running with root privileges.

    The main goal of SIP is to enhance the macOS’s security and integrity by preventing intentional and accidental tampering with system files. By restricting access to protected system locations, SIP safeguards the stability, reliability, and security of your Mac.

    8. Safari Built-in Protection

    macOS safari built in protection feature

    Safari Built-in Protection refers to security features and technologies integrated into the Safari web browser in macOS. These built-in protections aim to provide a safer browsing experience by mitigating various online security risks, protecting user privacy, and blocking potentially malicious content.

    Here are some key components of Safari Built-in Protection:

    1. 🔒 Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP): ITP combats cross-site tracking, a common technique advertisers use to track users’ online activities across different websites. ITP restricts cookies and other tracking methods, preventing unauthorized data collection.
    2. 🔐 Enhanced Intelligent Tracking Prevention (EITP): EITP, introduced in macOS Monterey, builds upon ITP and provides additional privacy protections. It limits cross-site tracking by isolating the cookies and storage used by embedded content, such as social media widgets, advertisements, or third-party scripts.
    3. 🚫 Safe Browsing: Safari incorporates Google’s Safe Browsing technology to protect you from known malicious websites. It checks URLs against a constantly updated database of dangerous sites, phishing, and malware-infected pages. If you visit a flagged website, Safari will display a warning.
    4. 🛡️ Web Content Filtering: Safari includes built-in content filtering mechanisms that block certain types of harmful or unwanted content, such as malware, phishing attempts, and fraudulent websites.

    9. Password Monitoring

    macOS password monitoring feature

    Password Monitoring on macOS is a feature that continuously checks passwords stored in the user’s Password AutoFill keychain against a curated list of passwords known to have been exposed in online leaks.

    The monitoring process compares passwords in a two-part process. Firstly, your device checks if the password is contained within a local list of commonly leaked passwords. If it matches, you’ll be immediately notified.

    If not, the password is compared against less frequently leaked passwords by interacting with Apple servers using a cryptographic private set intersection. This process ensures minimal information is shared with Apple while determining if your password has been leaked.

    10. Two-Factor Authentication (TFA)

    macOS two factor authentication feature

    Two-Factor Authentication (TFA), also known as Two-Step Verification, is a security feature in macOS that provides additional protection for your Apple ID and iCloud account.

    Two-Factor Authentication requires you to verify your identity using two different factors: something you know (your password) and something you possess (a trusted device or phone number). It means if someone obtains your password, they would still need access to your trusted device or phone number to complete the sign-in process.

    11. iCloud Keychain

    macOS icloud keychain feature

    iCloud Keychain is a feature in macOS and iOS that allows you to securely store and sync your passwords, credit card information, and other sensitive data across your Apple devices. It serves as a password manager and simplifies and enhances the security of your online activities.

    12. Find My

    macOS find my feature

    Find My is a feature in macOS (iOS and iPadOS) that allows you to locate and track your Apple devices, such as Mac computers, iPhones, iPads, and even AirPods. It helps locate your devices if lost or stolen and provides additional functionalities to protect your data and privacy.

    Find My is a valuable tool for locating and securing your Apple devices, providing peace of mind in case of loss or theft. It combines location tracking, remote locking, and data protection features to enhance the security of your devices and personal data.

      Best Antivirus Software for Your Mac

      Mac has robust built-in protections that are regularly updated, but you should still install antivirus software to ensure full protection against the increasing threat of Mac-targeted attacks. And make sure to look into the compatibility of the software with your macOS version.

      Here are the best antivirus software for Mac that you can install to protect your system:

      1. MacKeeper Antivirus: Provides comprehensive security features, including real-time and on-demand malware scanning, ad-blocking, website trackers, VPN, and data breach monitoring, with 24/7 live support.
      2. Intego Mac Internet Security X9: Provides VirusBarrier and NetBarrier for malware detection and a two-way firewall for intrusion detection.
      3. Avast Premium Security: Offers protection from various types of malware and attacks, Wi-Fi network monitoring, and Real Site protection, but customizing its behavior can be tricky, and no single-device license option.
      4. McAfee Total Protection: Monitors Mac for unauthorized software activity, two-way firewall, and WebAdvisor to prevent browsing from risky websites.
      5. Norton 360 Deluxe: Offers protection against various threats to Mac and other devices, with additional features, like VPN and password manager, but Cloud Backup doesn’t work on macOS.
      6. Mac Premium Bundle X9: Includes Personal Backup, Mac Washing Machine, and ContentBarrier for cleaning, speed optimization, and multi-user safe surfing intelligence.
      7. Bitdefender Total Security 2021: Protects Mac and other devices from malware but lags in features, with no password manager, identity protection, or Wi-Fi security advisor, and a limited bundled VPN.
      8. Malwarebytes Premium: Offers basic security features such as virus and malware scanning. It has consistently received top marks from AV-Test for protection, performance, and usability.

      MacKeeper – My Recommendation for Mac Security

      MacKeeper is a third-party security software that can enhance the security of your Mac. It is designed to complement the built-in security features of macOS and provide additional protection against various types of cyber threats.

      Here are some ways MacKeeper can enhance the security on your Mac:

      1. 🔒 Internet Security: By encrypting your internet connection, MacKeeper VPN ensures your online activities remain private and secure. It masks your IP address and protects sensitive data from potential threats, providing a secure browsing experience.
      2. 🌐 Public Wi-Fi Protection: MacKeeper VPN shields your data when connected to public Wi-Fi networks, protecting you from potential hackers and eavesdroppers. It creates a secure tunnel for internet traffic, safeguarding your personal information.
      3. 🔍 Identity Monitoring: MacKeeper ID Theft Guard monitors your email ID across various online platforms and databases. It alerts you if it detects any suspicious activity or potential breaches, allowing you to take immediate action to protect your identity.
      4. ⚠️ Adware Detection and Removal: MacKeeper Adware Cleaner scans your Mac for adware, potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), and browser hijackers. It identifies and removes these intrusive elements, ensuring a clean and ad-free browsing experience.
      5. 🧩 Browser Extension Management: MacKeeper Adware Cleaner helps you manage your browser extensions, ensuring only trusted and necessary extensions are installed. It prevents malicious extensions from compromising your privacy and security.
      6. 🚫 Ad Blocking: MacKeeper StopAd blocks unwanted ads across various browsers, preventing pop-ups, banners, and other intrusive advertisements from disrupting your browsing experience. It enhances website loading speeds.
      7. 🧹 System Cleanup and Optimization: MacKeeper includes various tools to clean up your Mac and optimize its performance. It can improve the security of your Mac by removing unnecessary files, system logs, and other digital clutter.
      8. 🛡️ Antivirus Protection: MacKeeper includes a powerful antivirus feature that can detect and remove various types of malware, including viruses, spyware, adware, and ransomware. It uses real-time scanning to monitor your system for malicious activity and can quarantine or delete any detected threats.

      Here’s how to run an antivirus scan using MacKeeper:

      1. Download and install MacKeeper.
      2. Launch MacKeeper and navigate to the Antivirus tab in the left sidebar.
      click antivirus under the security section 6
      1. Initiate an instant virus scan by clicking the Start Scan button.
      click start scan in mackeeper antivirus 6
      1. If any viruses are detected during the scan, click the Fix Items button to resolve the issues.
      2. If your system is threat-free, you’ll see a No threats found message. You can tap the Restart button to run the scan again.
      no threats found in mackeeper antivirus
      1. Enable real-time antivirus protection to safeguard your Mac from future threats by clicking the Enable button.
      click enable to allow real time protection

      Once you have configured your security settings, MacKeeper will continue to operate in the background, diligently scanning for threats and actively blocking any malicious activity.

      How Can You Keep Your Mac Safe From Malware?

      Besides having the macOS built-in security features and antivirus software on your Mac, you should do a few other things to protect it from viruses.

      Below, I’ve shared some tips to enhance your Mac’s security.

      1. Update macOS

        Software updates, including macOS updates, often include security patches that address vulnerabilities and weaknesses that malware can exploit. These patches fix known security issues and strengthen the overall security of your system. So, you should keep your macOS up-to-date.

        To update macOS on your Mac, you can follow these steps:

        1. Make sure your Mac is compatible with the latest version of macOS. You can check out my macOS compatibility checker or visit the Apple website for this information.
        2. Before performing any major system update, back up your data on Mac to prevent any potential loss.
        3. Ensure your Mac is connected to a power source or has a sufficient battery charge. I recommend plugging your Mac in during the update process to avoid interruptions due to power loss.
        4. Connect your Mac to a stable and reliable internet connection, as the update files will be downloaded from Apple’s servers.
        5. Click the Apple menu in the top-left corner of the screen and select System Settings. This will open the System Settings application.
        click the apple icon and select system settings
        1. In System Settings, click General and select Software Update.
        click general and select software update
          1. You should see an Update Now button if a macOS update is available. Click the button to initiate the update process.
          click the update now button
          1. The update process can take some time, depending on the size of the update and the speed of your internet connection. Your Mac may restart multiple times during the update process.
          downloading software update on mac
          1. Once the update is downloaded and installed, your Mac will restart with the latest macOS version.

          2. Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks

          Public Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in cafes, airports, or hotels, are often unsecured and can be easily targeted by hackers.

          When you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, there’s a risk that attackers on the same network can intercept your internet traffic and potentially access your sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial data, or personal files.

          So, I recommend avoiding connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, especially for tasks that involve transmitting sensitive data. Instead, use a trusted cellular network or a personal hotspot with encryption enabled to ensure secure internet access.

          3. Use a VPN

          A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a secure and encrypted connection between your device and the internet. When you use a VPN, your internet traffic is routed through a remote server, which encrypts the data and protects it from being intercepted by hackers or eavesdroppers.

          Using a VPN, you can protect your online privacy, prevent unauthorized access to your data, and maintain anonymity while browsing the internet.

          To use MacKeeper VPN Private Connect to optimize your Mac for gaming, follow these steps:

          1. Download MacKeeper and install it on your Mac.
          2. Once MacKeeper is installed, launch the application. In the MacKeeper application, navigate to the Privacy tab. Look for the VPN Private Connect feature.
          click private connect in mackeeper
          1. Click the drop-down icon next to the VPN server location.
          click the drop down icon next to vpn server location
          1. Select a VPN server location from the list that is geographically close to the gaming server.
          select a vpn server location
          1. Click the Turn On button to establish a secure VPN connection. MacKeeper VPN Private Connect will encrypt and route your internet traffic through the selected server.
          click turn on 1
          1. Once the VPN connection is established, you’ll see a confirmation message or icon indicating you’re connected to the VPN. You can also check your IP address to ensure it has changed to the VPN server location.
          2. With the VPN connection active, launch your desired website. The VPN will optimize your connection by reducing latency, protecting against DDoS attacks, and providing access to region-restricted content.

          Remember to disconnect from the VPN once you’re done to restore your regular internet connection.

          4. Only Download Apps From Trusted Websites

          Download apps only from trusted websites or the official App Store to minimize the risk of downloading malware or compromised applications. Official websites of reputable software providers typically offer secure downloads, ensuring the software you install is legitimate and free from malicious code.

          While some popular apps may not be available on the official App Store, it’s important to exercise caution when downloading from third-party sources. Look for well-known websites with positive reviews and a reputation for providing safe and reliable software.

          5. Don’t Open Shady Email Attachments

          Email attachments can be a common method for malware distribution. Avoid opening attachments from unknown or suspicious senders, as they may contain malicious software to compromise your Mac or steal your data.

          Exercise caution even when opening attachments from known senders if the email seems unexpected or unusual. If in doubt, it is best to verify the authenticity of the attachment with the sender through a different communication channel before opening it.

          6. Regularly Clear the Cache on Your Mac

          Clearing the cache on your Mac, particularly in web browsers, removes temporary files, cookies, and website data. Malware can sometimes exploit vulnerabilities in these cached files to gain unauthorized access to your system or track your online activities.

          Regularly clearing the cache reduces the chances of malware incidents resulting from compromised temporary files. Here’s how to clear the cache on your Mac using MacKeeper:

          1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
          2. Once done, open MacKeeper and select Safe Cleanup in the left sidebar.
          click safe cleanup under the cleaning section 3
          1. Click Start Scan.
          click start scan in safe cleanup 2
          1. Select files from the scan results to remove unnecessary cache items from your system. You can also click the Check All checkbox.
          select junk files to remove or click check all 3
          1. Click Clean Junk Files.
          tap clean junk files 3
          1. You will receive confirmation that the cleaning process has been completed successfully. Click Rescan to scan your Mac again.
          click rescan in safe cleanup 2

          What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

          Besides running a virus scan on your Mac, offering VPN services, and clearing the cache on your Mac, MacKeeper offers a variety of features to enhance your Mac’s privacy and security. You can use it to block ads on Mac, remove browser extensions, and disable pop-ups on Safari. Check out my detailed MacKeeper review to learn more about its features.

          If you don’t have MacKeeper, you can clear system data on Mac manually by following these steps:

          1. Open Finder, click Go in the top menu bar, and select Go to Folder.
          click go in the menu bar and select go to folder
          1. A pop-up box will appear with an empty search bar. Type the following path into the search bar and press Enter:
          ~/Library/Caches/
          type library caches in the window
          1. This will open the Caches folder. Here, select the folder for the system data you want to clear.
          2. Right-click the files and select Move to Bin.
          right click system folders and select move to bin
          1. Permanently delete the cache from your Mac by right-clicking the Bin icon and selecting Empty the Bin.
          right click the bin and select empty bin

          7. Use Strong Passwords

          Strong and unique passwords are crucial for protecting your Mac and online accounts. A strong password typically includes a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

          Avoid using easily guessable information in your passwords, such as common words or personal details. Additionally, using a different password for each online account is recommended to prevent unauthorized access if one of your passwords is compromised.

          8. Enable All Built-In Security Features

          macOS offers various built-in security features that can enhance the protection of your Mac. Enabling these features adds an extra layer of security. For example:

            • FileVault: Enables full-disk encryption, ensuring your data remains encrypted and protected even if your Mac is lost or stolen.
            • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Requires an additional verification step, such as a code sent to your trusted device, when logging in to your Apple ID or other accounts. This helps prevent unauthorized access even if your password is compromised.
            • Find My: Allows you to locate, lock, or erase your Mac remotely in case of loss or theft.
            • Firewall: Activating the built-in firewall can help block unauthorized incoming connections and protect

              Protect Your Mac Against Malware Using Antivirus

              While MacBooks are generally considered more secure than other operating systems, it’s still important to take steps to ensure their security. Here are some tips for keeping your Mac secure in the future:

              Frequently Asked Questions

              1. Is it necessary to use antivirus software on a MacBook? 

                It is recommended to use antivirus software on a MacBook despite its built-in security features. While MacBooks are generally considered more secure against malware than other operating systems, antivirus software provides additional protection against various types of malware and cyber-attacks.

              2. Do Macs get viruses?

                Yes, Macs get viruses. While Macs are traditionally considered less prone to viruses than other platforms, they’re not completely immune. Despite having built-in security measures, Macs can get infected with malware.

              3. Can antivirus software slow down my MacBook’s performance?

                Yes, antivirus software can slow down your MacBook’s performance, as it continuously runs in the background along with the other Mac’s built-in security features. You should use reliable antivirus software like MacKeeper to avoid any performance issues.

              4. How often should I update my antivirus software? 

                You should update your antivirus software regularly to ensure you have the latest protection against emerging threats. Moreover, you should regularly update your Mac to ensure its compatibility with antivirus software.

              5. How do I know if my Mac has a virus?

                You’ll know if your Mac has a virus if you see signs like encrypted files, ransom demands, ad popups, unexpected slowdowns, browser redirection, and unrecognized applications.

              6. Does Mac have built-in antivirus?

                Yes, Mac has a built-in security feature called XProtect, which acts as a basic antivirus. It provides a level of defense by scanning files and blocking known malware. However, you should complement it with additional antivirus software, like MacKeeper, for enhanced protection.

              7. Do all MacBooks have the same level of protection?

                All MacBooks have the same operating system, making them vulnerable to similar attacks. However, newer MacBooks with the M1 chip may have different vulnerabilities than older Intel architecture.

              8. How often should I scan my Mac for viruses?

                How often you scan your Mac for viruses depends on your usage and security concerns. Generally, it is recommended to perform a full system scan at least once a week. Additionally, scanning any new downloads or suspicious files before opening them is a good idea.

              Hashir Ibrahim

              Author

              I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.

              Ojash

              Reviewer

              Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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