Do Macs Need Antivirus? My Expert Investigation

By | October 1, 2017
(Last Updated On: October 1, 2017)

Apple fans have long thought their operating system is superior to PC platforms. And it’s true; because of the proprietary nature of Apple software, they were able to make a much higher quality product that’s more stable, more secure, and the desire of every creative professional on the planet. In fact, at one point in time, Apple was the most valuable brand in the world.

And even though Mac OS X has its roots in BSD (a type of Unix operating system kernel), what you don’t about Macs security may shock you, because they aren’t inherently secure. A lot of people tend to think that Windows is the only modern operating system that gets viruses, but that’s not true.

However, this does raise an important question: why is Windows one of the most popular targets of malware and viruses?

Basically, it’s a risk and investment versus reward decision for the hackers and coders creating this dubious software. You see, iOS and Mac OS X devices make up an incredibly minute portion of the entire computer, laptop, and mobile device markets.

Despite their immense popularity within the US, they really don’t control significant market share; instead, they’re just a drop within a sea of competing computing devices.

Windows, on the other hand, is easily one of the most popular and widespread computing platforms (with exception to mobile devices, Android, etc.). It runs independently of manufacturer hardware, and comes as the default OEM operating system for a smattering of different vendors.

Now consider that if hacker wants to rip the most people off, cause the most destruction, or steal the most data, it only makes sense to target the largest market possible.

In addition, the structure of the Windows operating system is simply more flawed and less secure than OS X. Keeping these points in mind, however, understand that there certainly are a lot of security issues with Macs.

Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you a computing system is 100% secure; that’s just a flat out lie, and there will never be a computer system or device that will be perfectly infallible.

Mac Viruses Are Just a Myth, Right?

It really is too bad that so much misinformation exists on the Internet. Worse yet, non-techies get together and further spread mistruths and misunderstandings by word of mouth, such as the fallible idea that Mac viruses are just a myth.

To put this misunderstanding to death, let’s go ahead and take a look at some of the most popular viruses that plague Apple systems.

I-Chat Worm

One of the first worm and Trojan combos to infect Mac systems started with an infected version of the old instant messaging application I-Chat.

The messaging system was compromised for the first time almost ten years ago in 2006, proving that viruses and security vulnerabilities on Mac systems certainly aren’t a new development.

Basically, a contact’s chat window would pop up with an infected file that was disguised as a preview of the following OS X Leopard operating system.

Then, the worm would do one of two things. First, it would continue to propagate to other contacts within a user’s social circle. Secondly, it would inject malicious code into any previously opened applications, which would destroy them and render them unusable.

Fake Codecs

Believe it or not, there are a lot of viruses that were first designed for Windows systems, which were then ported to various OS X versions.

Back in 2007 and continuing until 2009, common plugins and extensions such as OSX-DNSChanger, OSX-Jahlav, and OSX-RSPlug were contaminated with Trojan viruses.

All of the codecs targeted viewers and searchers of pornographic content and would claim that a codec first needed to be installed before a user could view the content.

And since Mac users were woefully proud and naive about their operating systems ability to contract viruses, none of them had any antivirus protection – leaving the door wide open for the malicious codecs.

After the malicious codec was installed, it would mostly redirect traffic to a whole host of other malicious websites that contained further viruses or initiated phishing attempts. Mostly the Trojan affected DNS entries to send traffic to the destination of the virus-developers’ intent.

Scareware in 2008

These days, most people are a little skeptical when they run across a .exe file for their Windows operating system that promises to clean and optimize its performance.

Some of them contained viruses, while others attempt to scare a user into purchasing additional software claiming to solve and fix problems falsified in scans and reports. Well wouldn’t you know it; some nefarious hacker had the bright idea to implement the same gimmick on Mac systems.

In 2008, the OSX-MacSweeper application was designed to look like the legitimate version of Mac Sweeper. Poor unsuspecting users were hoodwinked into downloading what appeared to be real software designed to help clean their Mac. In reality, however, it would falsify reports that were intended to scare the user into an up-sell.

More Fake Codecs

It’s true what they say: there really is a sucker born every minute. In 2008 there was a string of more fake codecs that were variants on spyware that was created for Windows.

This spyware was referred to as OSX-OpinionSpy, and users would accidentally become infected with this malicious code after they had filled out a form that claimed to be a market survey (offering some incentive or bait at the completion of the survey).

This spyware was actually pretty nasty, and it would collect a multitude of information about the host.

Not only would it steal typical usernames and passwords, but it could also steal payment card data and bank account information. Furthermore, it would even delve into a user’s browsing history, email addresses, and collect instant messaging conversations.

Other Types of Viruses, Malware, and Malicious Code

These are just a few examples, but there are much, much more. In fact, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of different viruses lurking around on the Internet, just waiting to take advantage of an innocent user.

And there are more popping up every day. Right now, you can view catalogs of Mac viruses online. For example, there are catalogs and classifications of different threats, such as a catalog of some 30 different malware applications.

The key takeaway here is that viruses and malware are an inherent part of computing, and they’ll never go away…even if you own a Mac.

How Do You Know If You Need Antivirus Software?

It isn’t a question of whether you might or might not need antivirus software for your Mac.

The simple truth is that everyone should be equipped with the right tools to eradicated viruses as soon as possible – some software can even catch them in real time before they have an opportunity to take over your computer, steal your data, or delete personal files.

Think of them like the seatbelts in your car. You don’t wear your seatbelt because you expect to crash your car on the way to the grocery store. Instead, you wear your seatbelt in case anything unforeseen happens. It’s just an extra layer of protection.

The same holds true for antivirus software. Though at one point in time it was quite rare for a Mac to get a virus, it seems that hackers and developers are targeting OS X more today than ever before, and you need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

As time marches forward, there’s only a higher and higher chance of viruses and worms multiplying through Mac systems.

I know that sounds a little pessimistic and gloomy, but it’s true. Many of the aforementioned viruses could have easily been stamped out with a little bit of precaution and the right antivirus software.

But too many Mac users are of the mindset that their computing systems are superior, impregnable, and impervious to viruses.

Category: Antimalware

About Conner Sinclair

Conner is a self-professed tech nerd, obsessed with digital security and privacy. He loves debugging "lost causes" and thwarting hackers. When not in his depressing cubicle in Corporate America, he's blogging here.

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