You’ve probably heard that Macs don’t need antivirus software. Whoever told you that was wrong.
The idea that Macs are generally more secure than a Windows PC isn’t totally off-base. Windows does tend to have more security vulnerabilities which is why there are so many great antivirus programs for Windows 10. That’s because Apple does everything in-house, while Windows operates on hardware from a handful of manufacturers. Apple’s closed-loop system simply makes holes smaller and harder to infiltrate.
But that doesn’t mean Mac’s security is hole-free. Antivirus software is still a worthwhile purchase for any Mac user. That’s why we’ve taken a look at the best antivirus for Mac so that you’re protected from online threats.
Do hackers prefer Macs or PCs?
It’s been a handful of years since Apple revealed that PC has it beat popularity-wise (by about four times, or 300 million active users). Apple’s been chomping away at the market share, but still, fewer people own Mac devices. Fewer Mac owners, fewer targets for criminals, right? Hackers are obviously more likely to create malware that’ll affect more people’s computers rather than spend extra time working around a tricky OS that fewer people have installed. Even antivirus for Android phones is needed now thanks to their extensive popularity, so Macs are fine, right?
Just like TikTok warns that the chances of your cat killing you are few but never zero, the chances of hackers deliberately going after Mac users are few, but never zero. MacBooks are the it-tech of the moment. They’re the cool laptop to have and flaunt like a cool bag or pair of shoes, especially for students getting their first laptop. Hackers have zeroed in on this so you’re going to need malware protection among other features.
They also know that most Mac owners are under the impression that their laptops — or iPads, which have surged Mac OS’s prevalence big-time — are invincible, and therefore might not bother to arm their Mac or iPad with any type of virus defense. They know that population isn’t paying attention. Big mistake. Huge in fact when virus protection is essential for all.
So it’s terrifying yet not that surprising that Mac’s malware problem has not just caught up to, but outpaced the PC infection rate. A report from Malwarebytes found that Mac malware saw an increase of over 400% between 2018 and 2019. That number is all but guaranteed to rise, with new threats like OSX.Generic.Suspicious and FakeFileOpener cited as significant disruptors in the macOS world. Adware, or advertisement-supported software, is also a problem. Though not as dangerous as a virus, these “potentially unwanted programs” bombard your device with ads, and can go as far as to change your browser’s homepage and add spyware. In recent times, we’ve seen malware like UpdateAgent becoming even more malevolent than before, proving far more dangerous to Mac user information.
You thought you had avoided the pain in the ass that is researching, installing, and paying regularly for antivirus software. However, it’d be far less convenient to have your valuable data compromised or to lose a lifetime of photos that you have yet to back up on iCloud, all thanks to nefarious Mac malware. The research is the most time-consuming part, so we’ve taken care of that. We’ve taken a look at some of the best antivirus solutions out there for your Mac, ensuring you have an extra layer of security between your data and nefarious viruses. We’ve evaluated their effectiveness at detecting viruses, and laid out any of their additional security features too.
The difference between a virus, malware, and ransomware
Every virus or instance of ransomware is malware, but not all malware is a virus or ransomware. Malware (short for malicious software) is an umbrella term covering any software used intentionally to cause damage to a computer, server, network, or the user of any of these things. Malware can be as duly irritating as adware (pop-ups that don’t go away) or as dangerous and invasive as webcam spying.
A virus is a form of malware that self-replicates in different programs by using malicious code. The infection can stem from a variety of places: email or text attachments, links on social media or movie-watching sites, pop-ups where you really thought you just X-ed out, or seemingly-safe internet downloads like a game or browser add-on.
Ransomware is a form of malware that blocks access to a system until a ransom is paid — essentially holding it hostage. Schools (institutions with lots of people who need access to computers to do their jobs) have fallen victim to ransom-related cyber attacks as of late. A school in Baltimore County experienced a days-long shutdown after a ransomware attack left the system inaccessible — in the middle of coronavirus-induced online learning, no less.
The average person probably doesn’t need to be as worried about such an attack as a school or business. Not to get all doomsday, but the point here is that no computer is 100% immune to the different types of malware, especially as hackers get more creative with their methods.
Antivirus software needs to look *extra* alive on public WiFi
Public WiFi is the kind you access at places like coffee shops, hotels, or airports (before COVID, at least). Expectedly, it’s a breeding ground for creeps. Hackers love free WiFi for the same reason you do: Connecting to the internet requires no authentication. That network is littered with unsecured devices, many times belonging to working professionals with bank accounts and business credentials that have phishers frothing at the mouth. Hackers could take advantage of this in two ways: sliding themselves between you and the connection point to eavesdrop on emails, credit card info, or work logins you may be relaying (a Man-in-the-Middle situation) or by distributing malware.
If this type of mobile connection is one that you use frequently, antivirus software should know how to handle these threats. They should be able to safeguard your online activities, detect phishing threats or subtle-yet-sketchy email addresses, and warn you about questionable URLs before the site loads fully. Your best-case scenario would be to use a VPN, which software packages like Norton and Kaspersky provide alongside antivirus software as internet security software. A VPN adds a level of encryption that a public network can’t guarantee to provide, hooking you up to a secure server and adding an extra wall of protection around your data.
Other precautions include disabling nearby file sharing and AirDrop, using your phone’s hotspot if you can, and asking an employee for the official WiFi name to avoid fake, malicious hotspots. Some parents seek Chromebooks for their kids due to the fact that each Chrome page or app runs its own sandbox, and GoogleOS isn’t super popular with hackers yet.
Do you really need a password manager?
Let’s say you find an email in your spam folder with one of your passwords — potentially one that you still use for multiple different logins — as the subject line. The email insists that by having that one password, someone was able to hack into your laptop’s webcam. Sextortion threats and sketchy links to Bitcoin follow. How freaked out would you be?
Once the initial shock wears off, some Googling will likely assure you that no, there’s very little chance that a hacker installed webcam-attacking malware using a single password. (The need for a webcam cover is a conversation for another day.) But what’s left is the fact that someone bad does know that one password. It’s less worrisome if you haven’t used it for anything in five years — but if you’re one of those people who recycle some rendition of the same password over and over, the number of websites or apps where that password and your email (and credit card info, or worse) are connected is… concerning. FWIW, tracking down old passwords requires, like, the most bare-bones hacking skills ever. Keylogging doesn’t even need to be involved. Vulnerable login credentials are constantly passed around the dark web after major security breaches (like LinkedIn’s in 2016 or Facebook’s in 2018).
Many antivirus software options consider password-related threats (which are equal opportunity employers, regardless of being a Mac or PC owner) to fall under the security threat umbrella and will include some type of password manager in their package. These programs take on the task of creating and remembering a super-random password unique to each website you log into. Saying goodbye to your go-to password can be a pain, but CNET insists the security benefits are worth it.
Now you know why you need Mac antivirus, let’s take a look at the best web protection around in 2022.