Are macs really immune to computer viruses?

Macs may be well protected against malware, but other types of cyberattacks are getting to them Photo: Getty Images

By Philippe Fischer and Adrian Muhlroth [07. February 2019, 4:30 pm

The rumor persists: Macbooks and iMacs are immune to computer viruses. But is it true? TECHBOOK asks an expert and gives advice for safe surfing on the road and on the PC.

Are Macs really immune against viruses? TECHBOOK has asked Andreas Marx, managing director of AV-Test. Together with his staff, he researches and investigates malware.

He clarifies:" Macs are not immune to viruses or other attacks. security vulnerabilities exist under every (hardware) platform and operating system. In today’s world, most malware writers work with hard-core commercial interests.“ It doesn’t matter whether the fraudsters are using "simple" malware or not Preventing spam mails or extortion Trojans. In the end it is about making as much money as possible.

Fewer attacks does not mean safer

The myth that Apple devices are immune to computer viruses persists. Apple itself was so convinced of this that it played an ad in 2006 that portrayed Macs as immune to viruses.

However, this illusion is best exemplified by the words of Bogdan Botezatu, computer security analyst for Bitdefender, who posted on Facebook in 2015, "Mac OS X software has more high-risk vulnerabilities than all versions of Windows put together.“ The misconception that Macs are invulnerable stems from the fact that PCs were much more common than Macs for a long time, making it more worthwhile for hackers to write malware for Windows.

Most viruses are on Windows and Android

On average AV-Test registers about 350.000 new malware programs and potentially unwanted applications (PUA) every day. Of these, about 187 fell in 2018.452 malware programs on Windows alone, another 14.822 on Android. For macOS, it’s "just" 254. In 2015, however, there were just 13 per day for macOS, so the number of malware programs has grown 18-fold in just three years. For the iOS operating system, there are even fewer than for MacOS "although these few cases have been discussed much more aggressively in the media", Marx explains. So overall, the number of malware for macOS and iOS is lower- however, there is no guaranteed virus protection for Apple devices.

In the first month of 2019, there are already more new malware programs for macOS than in the entire year of 2015 | Photo: AV-Test

Users should not be lulled into a sense of security

Especially considering the fact that the number of malicious applications for Mac devices has increased so rapidly in recent years, users should better protect themselves. Although MacOS already has some built-in security features that are designed to prevent the installation of programs from dubious sources, similar to Windows, it is attacks via subsequently installed browsers and browser extensions such as Flash and Java that pose a security risk that is usually underestimated.

If the trend of the malware threat continuing to grow continues, using a Mac becomes increasingly dangerous. Especially if Mac owners continue to feel safe and therefore do not take the appropriate precautions against malicious software. Those who are not confident in using browser extensions and cannot distinguish a phishing mail from a legitimate mail should think about installing an antivirus program.

Here’s what to do if your Mac is infected

If your Mac is infected with malware, it will behave in a similar way to an infected Windows PC. The computer may be slower, programs, windows and menus respond sluggishly or the operating system freezes repeatedly. At the latest, if the system crashes regularly and without any comprehensible reason, such as a hardware defect, an infection is very probable.

But there are more signs. Since Macs are mainly vulnerable via the browser, you should immediately become suspicious if there is a new toolbar in your browser or if you are redirected to a different search engine than usual. Aggressive advertising on pages that don’t otherwise show ads, such as Wikipedia, or advertising pop-ups on the desktop are also often a sign of a malware infestation.

If you think your Mac might be infected, you should definitely not simply Google the bug and then download the next best program promising a solution. Supposed antivirus programs like MacDefender, What looks like a legitimate application is actually malware in disguise.

The supposed antivirus program "MacDefender is malware in disguise

Use only reputable programs from well-known manufacturers to remove viruses and malware, such as Malwarebytes, which you can simply download for free from the App Store on your Mac. The program scans for viruses and malware on the Mac and reliably removes troublemakers.

To be protected against viruses in the future, you should always make sure to install the latest security updates!

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