Do I Need Antivirus for Mac operating systems

It’s likely that you’ll have heard from someone, somewhere, that a macOS is such a good option because it can’t get computer viruses. The simple truth? That’s not true.

Do I Need Antivirus for Mac operating systems

It’s likely that you’ll have heard from someone, somewhere, that a macOS is such a good option because it can’t get computer viruses. The simple truth? That’s not true.

Historically, the threats facing a Mac operating system were significantly lower than for a Windows PC – low enough that you could rely on your macOS built-in defences.

But with a drastic increase in macOS users, and a rise in the sheer number of cyber threats being developed, this is no longer the case. It’s now more important than ever to invest in antivirus software for your Mac device, to protect against viruses and stop you becoming the victim of a malware attack.

Across the globe, we’ve seen a startling increase in malware designed to target macOS – as well as a much sharper increase in the number of threats found per endpoint on macOS than found on Windows computers. This makes antivirus for Mac more essential than ever.

Security threats to your macOS

The threats to macOS users and Apple operating systems are generally much lower than those for Windows machines, but there are still a number of threats you need to consider. While macOS devices are, by design, relatively safe from viruses, there are a number of existing and emerging malware threats that you’ll need to protect your macOS from.

What is a virus and are there Mac viruses?
A virus for macOS or PC is a piece of code that’s capable of copying itself and therefore spreading from device to device, as well as within a device's files. Usually these viruses have malicious intent.

What is malware and has Mac malware been developed??
Malware, otherwise known as Malicious Software, is software that’s been created to infiltrate your computer and perform a task. This can include installing unwanted programs, changing preferences, holding your data to ransom or stealing valuable information. Malware is the main threat to Mac users as a large number of malware has been developed to target them.

What is Malware?

While the majority of threats to macOS or Apple devices fall under ‘malware’, there’s still a lot to worry about. Malware can perform a number of tasks, ranging from annoying to outright dangerous. The kind of malware threats an antivirus software would protect your macOS from include:

Adware & Spam on Mac
Typically programs designed to cause annoyance or make someone money. They may not seem too bad on the face of it, but when they’re changing your default browser, bombarding you with pop-ups and other seemingly innocuous things, it can both be annoying and slow your macOS right down. In addition to this, adware could hijack your browser or install other more malicious threats. These are some of the most common threats to macOS devices.

What is adware?

Mac Spyware
This is a whole suite of macOS malware threats. Typically, they’re designed to steal your personal information, whether it’s through logging keystrokes from your keyboard, stealing passwords or important financial information.

What is Spyware?

Ransomware Attacks on Mac
Ransomware has, historically, been rare on macOS devices. That said, every few years a new macOS ransomware program gets developed. Ransomware can hold your entire device, important parts of your operating system or your data to ransom. Security software can be specifically designed to restore your system to a state before the malware attacked it or reclaim your macOS from ransomware.

What is Ransomware?

Trojan Horses target Macs too
One of the reasons macOS has been considered safe for so long is Apple’s insistence that all software usable on macOS has been digitally signed for safety. A trojan horse is specifically designed to mimic safe software, tricking you or your system into installing it by bypassing security features.

What is Trojan Horse?

Phishing Attacks for macOS
Many attacks won’t enter through installed software. While malware can include phishing, a large number of these threats come through your email, so it doesn’t matter what operating system you use. A phishing attack tries to trick you into entering important data by impersonating a trustworthy source – malware may do this by redirecting you to a particular website. Phishing protection is essential for any operating system, including macOS.

What is Phishing ?

A macOS is vulnerable to all of these cyber attacks and you need antivirus software to help protect it.
Learn more about the types of cyber threats your macOS could face.

What Apple do to protect the Mac operating system and why built-in macOS security isn’t enough

It’s true that macOS comes with their own security software, antivirus protection and other Apple security features, but on their own they generally aren’t enough to keep your device protected. The overall quality of the built-in security systems has helped continue the myth that macOS is completely safe, but you do still need to be wary. macOS offers XProtect, aimed at targeting and removing malware, and Gatekeeper, aimed at blocking downloads of unsafe software – but these still aren’t quite enough to protect your Mac device.

XProtect & The Malware Removal Tool

XProtect is an anti-malware program designed to run in the background of the macOS. It checks against an existing database of known malware threats whenever something is downloaded to your macOS. While it’s updated fairly regularly, you do have to wait for these software updates to be completely safe, and the updates may not be exhaustive. Things can and do get missed.

Many third-party antivirus programs for macOS, like ESET, constantly update and adapt to new and unknown threats. XProtect only looks for a handful of known threats, but when it does find them, you’ll receive a warning and the download will either be blocked or the Malware Removal Tool will kick in and remove it from your hard drive.


Apple has strict policies in place to approve software for the macOS app store. Apple insists that any software which can be installed on a macOS has to be digitally signed. This means that any software which hasn’t had these checks and hasn’t been notarised by Apple can either be blocked or have a warning message displayed before it’s downloaded. There are vulnerabilities to this though, and you do need to be careful. There have been occasions where malware has mimicked a signature from an approved developer.

Why you still need to install antivirus software on Mac despite this built-in protection

These built-in security systems, while powerful, aren’t enough to completely protect your macOS. There are new cybersecurity threats being developed constantly and security flaws which can be taken advantage of. Having a more all-encompassing antivirus protection is required.

Do Macs need antivirus protection: common Mac security myths

The simple answer is yes, Macs do need antivirus protection. But there are a number of malware myths that still do the rounds regularly when it comes to Mac users and Mac malware. We’re going to bust these Mac security myths open, so you can see why Mac security is essential for you to invest in.

Myth 1
There is no Mac malware

The story used to go that you didn’t need Mac security sofware for a very simple reason; there simply wasn any malware being created to target mac computers. This is simply not true. With the growing number of Mac users around the globe, the Mac OS has become an increasingly popular target. This, in part, is because people still believe this myth, and don’t install third party antivirus software.

Myth 2
While there is malware, Macs are safe from it

Another security myth that many believe is that Macs are safe from the malware that has been created. This is either because it only targets Windows PCs, or because Macs have been built in such an inuitive way that their OS isn’t vulnerable. This simply is not the case. In recent years Mac computers have become one of the most targeted types of system.

Myth 3
Macs have been developed to not have any vulnerabilities to taret

Many people have strong faith in Apple, and over the years their messaging may have lead many to believe that the devices they create are completely secure. If that was the case, they’d have to do far fewer updates to operating systems and software. The truth of the matter is that hackers and security experts identify vulnerabilities and flaws in the macOS all the time.

Myth 4
Macs don’t get viruses and are completely immune

This is only true if you take the literal translation of a computer virus. This being a code that can replicate itself. The truth is that most security threats in modern computing aren’t viruses, they’re malware or phishing. People often get viruses and malware confused, and as such don’t install antivirus software on their Mac, as they think they’re safe. Malware is a very real threat for Mac computers and other Apple devices.

How to tell if your macOS has a virus

Without performing any scans or being alerted directly by an antivirus software, there are a few things that could potentially alert you to an issue. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and some of these symptoms could simply occur from day-to-day use.

  1. A sudden change to your default browser or homepage
  2. Pop-ups and banners either on-screen or in-browser, particularly ones pushing you to download software
  3. Text on webpages changing, particularly hyperlinks
  4. Unknown programs on your device
  5. Crashing or freezing of your macOS
  6. Your macOS gets hot and the fan can’t cope or it speeds up with no obvious reason why

Check your activity monitor if any of these are happening, and see whether there are any unusual programs taking up a large amount of your processing power. If you have an antivirus software installed, you could either scan any suspicious files or your whole system.

It’s always worth running a software update as soon as you need to, to avoid any security flaws it may have – and the same goes for running system updates for your macOS. Often these updates contain patches for known flaws.

How a third-party antivirus software can help you

 A third-party antivirus software, like ESET, works alongside the existing macOS security suites to provide you with comprehensive protection. While you can rely on XProtect and Gatekeeper to look out for some of the bigger known malware, you can use a third-party antivirus software to target new and unknown malware attacks, as well as other non-malware related issues.

A third-party macOS antivirus, like ESET, protects against phishing attacks, email inbox spam, firewall attacks and even catfishing. When you add all of this to the protection already offered by macOS, it’s easy to see how it can help.

What to look for in macOS antivirus software

The main things to look out for in your macOS antivirus software include:

  1. Protection from a large database of known threats
  2. Machine learning to protect against new and emerging malware and viruses
  3. Cloud-based defence to keep your devices running smoothly
  4. Protection from physical threats installed from USB sticks
  5. Regular backups
  6. A pop-up free experience; a program that just runs in the background
  7. Protection from catfishing, identity theft, firewall attacks, cryptominers and other non-malware or virus related security problems

ESET provides all of these functions and many more, offering the best antivirus software solutions for your macOS. You can learn more about ESET's solutions for Mac devices here.