Can Macs Get Viruses?

And if yours does, how can you remove the virus?

A laptop computer with binary code displayed on the screen.

 Andrew Brookes/Cultura/Getty Images

For many years, Apple fans who used Mac computers claimed that their computers couldn't get infected by a virus. But can you get a virus on Mac? The simple answer is yes.

A virus is nothing more than a computer program that gets installed on your computer. Instead of doing something productive like a spreadsheet program or a web browser, a Mac virus is an application that attempts to do something malicious to your computer.

Why Macs are Less Likely to Get Viruses

As the use of Mac computers became more mainstream, more hackers started turning their attention toward programming virus that could attack Mac computers.

It is a little harder to circumvent Mac OS security, but it isn't impossible. How do Macs protect users better than the Windows OS does?

  • File Checking: Whenever you attempt to download a file to your Mac, the Mac operating system scans the file for malware.
  • Approved Software: You aren't allowed to install applications on your Mac that haven't already been approved by Apple and are digitally signed. However, users can bypass this protection by holding down the Ctrl key when opening the app.
  • Xprotect: Whenever you attempt to open an application, Mac's Xprotect tool automatically scans the application to see if it's on Apple's list of known malicious software.
  • Automatic Updates: Unlike Windows computers where users can either slow down or even entirely disable updates. On a Mac, all updates happen automatically, keeping the system immediately up to date and patched whenever Apple identifies vulnerabilities.
  • Sandboxing: Approved Apple applications are blocked from performing any actions that aren't approved by Apple.
  • Safari Anti-Phishing: Safari, the default Mac browser, has anti-phishing technology built-in that detects fraudulent websites and blocks the page from loading. The browser only allows the latest version of plug-ins like Flash, QuickTime, Java, and Silverlight.

    These challenges cause most hackers to turn to writing Windows viruses instead, because Windows is easier to manipulate. However there are some hackers that feel compelled to focus on writing Mac viruses because of its growing user base.

    The Most Common Mac Viruses

    We know Macs can get viruses because in recent years there have been major ones.

    Image of a hacker crawling out of a laptop
    John M Lund Photography Inc/Getty Images

    The following are the most common malicious applications that still remain a threat to Mac systems across the world.

    • Word Macro Viruses: Word macros are scripts that run inside word, but macro viruses will actually log keystrokes or steal private information off the computer.
    • Safari Viruses: One major threat to Safari users is a piece of malware known as Safari-get. Once your computer is infected with it (usually by clicking a bad web link), the virus will overload your Mac and attempt to freeze it with a window displaying a fake Apple tech support number in order to steal your credit card information.
    • Pirrit: Hidden inside cracked versions of Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office, this virus is able to gain root privileges and download additional malicious software.
    • Dok: This malware will intercept all web traffic in order to scrape your private or sensitive information.
    • Fruitfly: This malware, once on your system, will steal files like images, sensitive records, and other files by capturing screenshots and even taking images from the computer webcam.
    • MaMi: First introduced in 2018, the path of infection is usually either malicious website ads or email phishing attempts. The software alters DNS settings to redirect web traffic and capture sensitive information.

      There have been other Mac viruses through the years. In some cases they were simply scareware meant to make users believe their systems were hacked when they weren't. But what this list makes clear is that a mac can get a Trojan virus, malware, worms, and any other threat that Windows users face.

      How to Protect Your Mac from Viruses

      Since there are many protections already in place if you own a Mac, staying safe from these threats is fairly easy.

      The best way to avoid malware and viruses from infecting your Mac is to stick to only using approved software from the Mac store.

      Screenshot of the Mac store

      The following actions will further ensure your Mac stays clean.

      • Browser Updates: Keeping Safari fully updated will ensure you have the latest versions of Java, Silverlight, and other browser add-ons. These are sure to have the latest patches that will protect you from any viruses.
      • App Updates: Keep all apps that you use on your Mac fully updated. This will prevent any new security vulnerabilities from becoming a threat to your Mac.
      • Beware Phishing: When you receive an email with a link, be very wary about clicking on it. If it's from a company you do business with, avoid clicking the email link and log into the company website directly instead.
      • Avoid Social Ads: Social media is fast becoming one of the most commonly used platforms by hackers. Avoid clicking on ads on Facebook and elsewhere. If a friend sends you an 'interesting video', avoid the temptation to click it.
      • Don't Install Flash: Since HTML5 has made Flash obsolete, there's little reason to install Flash Player at all. Flash is a significant security risk, and keeping it off your system will greatly improve your security.

        How to Remove a Mac Virus

        If you do find your Mac infected with a virus, there are a few things you can do to clean a virus from your Mac.

        • Downloaded Files: Viruses most commonly come from downloaded files. So the first thing you'll want to do is go to your downloads folder and clear it out. Remember to empty the trash after.
        • Delete New Apps: If you recently installed a new app, go to Applications and drag the icon to the Trash bin, then empty the trash.
        • Uninstall New Extensions: If a malicious browser extension is the cause, find recently installed extensions in your browser and uninstall them.
        • Malwarebytes: This application is one of the most successful at removing adware, malware, and viruses. Install Malwarebytes for Mac and run a full scan on your system.

        The most important thing you can do, whether or not you've been infected, is to install antivirus software for your Mac. There are a number of very good antivirus apps available for Mac. Choose one, and install it.