Do I Need an Anti-Virus Program for My Mac?

Being security-conscious may be the best defense

Macbook Pro on a table

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The Mac isn't immune to viruses, Trojans, backdoors, ransomware, adware, and spyware. The main difference between Mac and Windows PCs is that no successful viruses written for OS X have shown up outside a security research organization. It's not impossible to create a virus that could infect a Mac; it's just more difficult because of the nature of OS X and its security model.

Even though no known viruses target the Mac, it's not safe from attack. The Mac OS, its included applications, and third-party software have security issues that can allow an attack; however, the attack isn't likely to be from a virus. Currently, adware is the most common type of malware that infects the Mac.

Using Anti-Virus Apps on Your Mac

Do you need an anti-virus app for your Mac? It depends on how and where you use your computer.

The term anti-virus covers a wide range of malware that could target a Mac. Anti-virus programs don't just protect against known viruses; they also include anti-phishing, anti-adware, anti-spyware, anti-ransomware, and other tools that keep a Mac from picking up malware as you browse the web, open email attachments, or download apps and extensions.

The downside is that many of the Mac security apps available are ported Windows security apps that have a long list of Windows-based malware they protect against but don't include Mac malware in their databases. These apps may also cause the Mac to run slower, especially if these apps run in the background and consume resources to operate.

It is possible to forward an email or an Excel spreadsheet that contains malware from a Mac computer to a Windows computer that does not have anti-virus software installed. Security apps that were ported from Windows protect these Windows computers in mixed computing platforms.

Which Anti-Virus Apps to Use

Using anti-virus software that has active components that run in the background and continually scan for malware is not recommended. Using active scanning apps may decrease the performance of the Mac, cause stability issues, or prevent some apps from working correctly.

Here are a couple of anti-virus apps for Mac:

  • EtreCheck is a diagnostic tool that determines what's causing a Mac to behave strangely. It doesn't remove malware or adware, it discovers if any are present.
  • AdwareMedic is now known as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for Mac. It focuses on malware by scanning for the signature files left behind by malware installations. AdwareMedic has no active component, that is, it doesn't scan the Mac in the background. Instead, you run the app any time you think there's a malware issue.

Be Security Conscious

Being security conscious is probably the best defense against any of the threats that may target the Mac. Understand the type of actions that put your Mac, and you, at risk. Avoiding these risky behaviors is the best defense against malware.