The Truth About Macs and Antivirus Software

There is no denying that Macs tend to be more secure than their Windows counterparts, but many users will hear this and take it to the most extreme logical conclusion: that Macs cannot get viruses. This is far from true, however. Every device using the Mac OS is vulnerable to viruses. While they are less vulnerable, that doesn’t mean they’re immune and the viruses that infect Macs can do everything from deleting your files to stealing your most personal and private data. That’s why we’re going to look at Mac antiviruses and why you should be relying on them.

What are Mac antivirus tools

The vast majority of viruses are going to be kept out of your system by the tools that already come with your Mac hardware. However, that’s not to say that the system is without its exploitable vulnerabilities. Updates can keep closing them, but virus creators keep finding new ways to get past them. The most reliable way to get past your system’s defenses is to encourage users, like you, to download shady software or to visit legitimate websites that have been infected. For the threats you might miss, antivirus is there to keep you protected.

Their main function is in identifying and deleting viruses from the computer, as well as providing some means of proactive defense. Most Mac OS devices already come with protection in the form of XProtect, their free anti-malware component. To assume that this is the only kind of protection you need, however, is being a bit reckless. Other antivirus producers focus solely on creating software with the task of identifying and protecting you from new threats.

While the threats might be relatively similar between Mac and Windows, the operating systems are different and it’s a good idea to rely on antiviruses that know the difference. Choosing the best antivirus for Mac OS is not the same as choosing the best antivirus for Windows operating systems. When you’re looking to invest in protection, make sure you’re specific as to what you’re looking to protect.

How Mac antiviruses work

The most broadly available function that all antivirus software, even the free kinds, include, is the ability to scan your system. Antivirus programs have what are known as definitions. Definitions act as a registry of all known viruses. It’s a database by which it compares all the files on your device to what threats are currently known. If the antivirus finds files that match the definitions, it will quarantine them so that they no longer pose a threat to the rest of them. Sometimes, it can delete the virus immediately. In other cases, it might require a restart of the computer to fully erase them.

Scans can vary in range quite a lot. You can carry out scans on single files, for instance. But you can also scan specific folders or even carry out a deep scan, which comprehensively goes through the whole Mac, file by file.

Heuristic scanning doesn’t rely on definitions, but rather is designed to identify new or unknown viruses that aren’t yet on the definitions. It does this primarily by recognizing some of the most common traits of virus. For instance, Mac malware might attempt to gain access to every single application on the computer at once. The heuristics scanning recognizes this and flags the software in question, allowing you to quarantine or delete it if you believe that it might be malware.

Most Mac antivirus software packages also feature what is known as “on-access” scanning. Rather than actively scanning every file it can, this method relies on quick scans of files and apps immediately before you open them. The delay is so small that most users don’t notice it. In most cases, the file will open seemingly immediately without incident. If the file isn’t safe, however, your antivirus will alert you and stop the file from opening without your consent.

What you should look for in a Mac antivirus

Users should be specific when choosing an antivirus from Mac OS devices. Reviews and online reputations can be helpful in ensuring that you’re downloading legitimate protection software and not malware in disguise (also known as Trojan horse malware.) You should also be aware of the differences between Macs and Windows, choosing the best antivirus for Mac devices specifically. Kaspersky and Avast are often recommended as the best security packages for Macs, for instance, while AVG is more suited to Windows users.

You should also be aware of the fact that there are other kinds of malware that aren’t viruses. Antivirus might be used as a blanket term for malware protection software, but you need to look under the surface to ensure you’re kept safe from all malware, not just viruses. For instance, Kaspersky can also protect you from spyware and ransomware.

You also want to make sure that you are being protected in the way that best fits your internet usage habits. Browser protection and social media protection are common features in many Mac antivirus packages. However, these tend to usually be kept for premium packages as opposed to the free software. For that reason, it may be worth investing in your online security as opposed to using only free platforms.

There are a few different rates by which you can measure the effectiveness of different software suites, too. AV Comparative is an organization dedicated to in-depth studies of success and failures rates. Most of the top Mac antivirus options, like Kaspersky, AVG, Avast, Trend Micro, and so on have protection rates of 99.9% and 100%. However, you also want to look at the rate of false positives, when the antivirus recognizes safe files as threats.

With the growing popularity of Macs, it should be no surprise that more shady figures are creating viruses specifically designed to target them. Without the right Mac antivirus, your system could be at risk.