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Mac Security 101: How to Protect Your Mac from Viruses & More



With a sticker price topping $1,000 per computer (but often costing much more), the last thing you want is for a Macbook or Apple computer belonging to your company to stop functioning as it should. Apple computers tend to be relatively well made, which is one of the reasons that they seem to command a higher price than many of their Windows counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that they’re indestructible. Of course, spilling a cup of coffee on the keyboard or dropping it on a concrete floor can ruin the functionality of a brand new Mac computer, but so can opening the wrong email or downloading a file that you shouldn’t have. We’re going to discuss some of the malware threats and exploits that specifically target macOS, and we’ll show you what you can do to stop them.

Are Macs Better than Windows for Cyber Security?

For years — maybe even decades now — Macs have had a reputation for being less vulnerable to viruses and other sorts of malware than PCs. This may be because the number of zero-day exploits – new vulnerabilities that were not previously identified by the software developers — for Windows far outweighed the number of those discovered for Macs. One of the reasons that Windows systems are a more popular target for malware developers may be the fact that Macs have never cracked more than 20% of the desktop computer market and an even smaller share of the global laptop market. While there are millions of Macs operating in the world, Windows computers have always presented a more prolific target for cybercriminals.

Apple Experiencing Increased and Enhanced Attacks

But that conventional wisdom may not be holding. To quote the Malwarebytes Labs 2020 State of Malware Report, “Beyond that what we saw was a virtual landslide of adware and PUP detections, far outpacing growth on the Windows side. While these threats are not considered as dangerous as traditional malware, they are becoming a much larger and more noticeable nuisance for Mac users, who can no longer say that their beloved systems are immune from malware.” It should be noted that Malwarebytes is a software developer that makes antimalware software for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. The report goes on to say that the threat to Apple Mac computers has been growing each year and that the nature of the malware has become more persistent and damaging than in the past.

Windows Response to Security Threats

Another reason that Mac computers may have a better reputation than Windows is because of Microsoft’s traditional slowness in addressing exploits. For instance, Mimikatz is an open-source exploit developed by an ethical hacker that allows the attacker to access a clear text file in Windows systems that stores login information and password. While Microsoft has known about Mimikatz for close to a decade, more recent versions are still reported to work against PCs. And there have been other instances where Microsoft ignored or was slow to address vulnerabilities in their systems. Recently, cybersecurity experts complained that Microsoft incorrectly declared Follina and DogWalk — two newer exploits, non-threats to security.

One conclusion that we can make from the comparison is that Apple may deserve its reputation for being proactive against cybersecurity, but bad actors are now willing to go the extra mile to develop effective exploits over it.

Do you Need Antivirus Software for Macs?

Apple has had its own antivirus/antimalware software on all Macs since 2009 at no additional cost to the consumer. It’s called XProtect, and if you have a newer Mac computer, it’s on there, silently protecting your device in the background. But is it enough?

One of the best ways to determine whether or not you need to add third-party software protection to your device is to consult the manufacturer. However, in this case, Apple has not given clear advice. They do not recommend any third-party antimalware product, but they also don’t recommend against it. While Mac computers are protected against any malware or viruses that the company knows about, new threats are constantly emerging. It’s entirely possible that Apple may not be aware of newer exploits that target their systems that a security software developer might.

How Do You Check a Mac for a Virus?

You could have a virus or other type of malware on your Mac right now. If you don’t have security software to run a scan, here are a few of the signs that can tell you whether or not your computer has been infected:

Slow Performance and Loading

There are many non-malware reasons why your system may be running slowly, but if you’ve noticed a slowdown in performance, it could be because it’s been infected. This could be an intentional feature of the Malware, but it can also be used as a side effect of your computer being tasked for other purposes, as is the case with a botnet.

Pop-ups or Intrusive Ads

Remember the 90s when pop-up ads came with nearly every webpage? That’s no longer the norm, and it’s almost always a sign that your system has contracted uninvited adware. Oftentimes, these ads will say that your computer is at risk and encourage you to click on their link to deal with the attack. Don’t click on the link.

Your Browser Home Page Has Changed

If you open Chrome, Sierra, or Firefox and notice that it doesn’t open to your usual homepage, it might be because your computer has been infected and the intrusive bug has changed your homepage.

Your Browser Redirects You

Viruses like the Bing redirect virus, which directs your browser to Bing regardless of what you were searching for, is a common form of attack. If you find that this is happening to your computer, it’s likely that it’s contracted malware.

Your Mac Reboots or Freezes

As is the case with slowdowns, freezing or rebooting can be the result of a variety of issues, but malware may be one of them.

How Do You Clean Mac of Viruses?

Unfortunately, detecting and manually removing viruses and malware from your Mac is not an easy process. Here are the steps you need to follow if you discover or suspect malware on your Mac.

1. Disconnect From the Internet

This will help you contain the damage that the malware is causing.

2. Start Your Mac in Safe Mode

Safe mode will allow your Mac to run with only the necessary software. That may prevent the malware from loading when you boot your machine. To enter safe mode:

  • Shut your computer off.

  • Start it again, but hold the Shift key.

  • When the login window opens, release the Shift key.

3. Look at Your Activity Monitor

Open your activity monitor by hitting Command + Space and then typing “Activity Monitor” and clicking on it. You can examine the process names in the lefthand column. If you find a suspicious application or update, close it in the activity monitor, and then use the Finder menu to delete it.

The problem with manual malware elimination is that you may not actually find it, or you may not be removing all of the malicious software. There are, however, several effective antivirus software programs from reputable companies that will automatically scan and detect viruses. Macworld.com puts out a list of the best Mac antivirus software every year. If you’re not sure which one you should choose, read their reviews.

Do not click on a pop-up ad or open an email that says your computer is under attack. These are often put out by bad actors or bots trying to spread malware. Instead, go to the company’s site and download the software directly.

How Can an IT Company Help Your Mac Security?

Malware is a constant threat to the security of your company. There are many reasons that your businesses can be targeted for attack. Ransomware, for instance, locks you out of your system until you pay for access. Phishing attacks exploit the willingness of users to click on links, which often leads to the attacker gaining login credentials to information or raising havoc with your company. Another type of attack uses malware to herd computers into a botnet, which can then be used to assist with denial-of-service attacks but has the effect of slowing down your company’s system. None of this is good for your company, vendors, or clients. Here are a few ways that an IT company, like Flagler Technologies, can help.

Internal Training

If you ask any IT security professional and they’ll tell you that the number one point of access for cybercriminals is human error. By opening a link or responding to questions in a phishing email, your entire company can be put at risk. An IT company can prepare quick and cost-effective training that can raise your employees’ cybersecurity IQ points by severalfold.

Complete a Security Audit

An IT security provider can examine your existing network and devices and report on vulnerabilities. They can then develop a security plan to better secure your devices, servers, and data.

Recommend Effective Security Software

Whether your company uses Windows devices, Macs, or a combination, an IT professional can recommend the most effective antivirus software to help maintain the integrity of your system.

Frequently Asked Questions About Protecting Your Mac From Viruses

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from individuals and businesses, along with answers provided by our cybersecurity experts.

If I Bought a Mac Because of Their Superior Resistance to Malware, Why Do I Need to Purchase Additional Antivirus Software?

While all Macs come with built-in antivirus software, it’s only effective if Apple is aware of the exploit AND you’re running the latest version of macOS. However, new attacks are being discovered every day, and Apple may be behind in developing ways to defend against them. That means your best bet is to select a reputable antivirus software program that can offer extra protection alongside XProtect.

What Are the Costs of a Cyberattack?

On an individual level, if the cybercriminal launching the attack doesn’t breach your financial data, your costs may be limited to the price of your computer. Businesses face a much higher cost. According to a 2020 CNBC report, cyberattacks cost businesses $200,000 on average, but both the dollar cost and frequency have continued to grow. In addition to the financial cost, a business may lose the faith of their customers, which can further increase the damage.

Contact an IT Security Professional

If you own a company, your IT department may not have the specialized knowledge to secure your systems against cyberattacks. A managed security service provider, like Flagler Tech, can work with your IT team to prevent assaults on your information systems. Call today to schedule an initial consultation.



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