What’s the difference between antivirus and anti-malware?

If you’ve been using computers since the late 90s or early 00s, especially PCs, you must remember how scary it was to get a virus. Back then it seemed like the internet was this Wild West where any computer can get shot down by a virus in the blink of an eye. 

Luckily, by now things have changed and the hysteria has settled. It’s generally acknowledged that if you have one of the industry’s top antiviruses installed, you don’t have to worry about viruses getting into your life. 

In 2020, for the first time ever, the number of virus detections on macOS surpassed that of Windows.

Along with "viruses", you've also heard a different term used often: malware. And consequently, there are anti-malware programs too. Should you use them? Are antivirus and anti-malware the same thing? Let’s discuss these questions in detail. 

What’s better: Anti-malware vs antivirus 

As mentioned above, viruses were the true scare of the first decade or so of the World Wide Web. Technically, a virus is a malicious script that when executed replicates itself (like, you know, a real virus) and inserts its own code into your software, wreaking havoc. It could steal your personal information, block you from accessing essential data, and much more. 

But in the last few years, the development of new viruses has been dramatically reduced and most of the ones still out there are easy to deal with if you’re using an up-to-date antivirus. Cybercrime, however, is as alive as ever — thanks to malware. 

Some examples of manipulative tactics used by cybercriminals.

tactics used by mac viruses

Malware, as opposed to viruses, is an umbrella term that in fact incorporates viruses too, along with worms, spyware, ransomware, adware, trojans, keyloggers, and other malicious software. So malware is de facto a much more serious threat and is commonly used by today’s cybercriminals.

Virus is, by definition, able to replicate itself, which is not the case for all malware. 

So if you currently have an antivirus, it should protect you from the most common viruses out there, but it’s not likely to save you from a keylogger that’s capturing everything you type in (including your passwords). That’s why only anti-malware can offer you a complete, all-in-one protection.

macos catalina security features mac

Malware in Macs vs. PCs

A few words should be said about the difference between Macs and PCs with regards to malware. Since PCs occupy a much larger share of the computer market, most hackers have been focused on developing new viruses specifically for them. It also doesn’t help that the architecture of the Windows operating system is much less secure than Mac’s, so Windows users tend to bear all the consequences.

Macs, on the other hand, have stayed pretty much virus-free, since macOS is designed in a way (sandboxed) that makes it hard for outside scripts to infiltrate. And with the latest macOS Big Sur, security has been tightened up even more:

  • macOS Big Sur runs in its own read-only volume to exclude any possibility of overwriting system files.
  • Gatekeeper within macOS Big Sur ensures that all the apps installed on your Mac come from verified developers and are scanned for known security issues. 
  • The new Apple T2 security chip in the latest Macs encrypts your stored data by default.

For the anti-malware vs antivirus question, this means that if you’re running Windows, you should absolutely try to get both. For Mac users, having the best anti-malware app should suffice.

How to choose the best anti-malware app for Mac?

Now we know that the difference between antivirus and anti-malware lies in the scope of the issue being targeted. The best anti-malware apps are generally multifunctional and offer all kinds of optimizations for your Mac. Take, for example, CleanMyMac X, one of the reputable solutions on the market.

CleanMyMac X is a Mac-specific optimization software that focuses foremost on finding macOS viruses. It's been notarized by Apple, which means it's code has been verified as safe. 

Like most antiviruses it performs an in-depth checkup, scanning not only all known security vulnerabilities but also unneeded cache files, neutralizing potential threats, and much more. 

To check your drive for adware traces and covert browser agents:

  1. Download the free version of the app and launch it.
  2. Navigate to Malware Removal in the sidebar, under the Protection tab.
  3. Click Scan.
  4. If your system has been affected, remove any malware found.
Removing malware files

How is it better than other Mac antiviruses? For one it has a solid database of adware, which contains solutions against latest adware bots and data-mining apps. Like these ones:

adware found with malware removal module of CleanMyMacX

Other benefits of CleanMyMac X are also available from the same sidebar: just start a System Junk scan or dissect your Privacy settings in a few clicks to ensure your system overall is as top-notch as it could be.

So are antivirus and anti-malware the same thing? No, they are not. Sometimes you might need both, sometimes just anti-malware is enough. What’s certain is that given recent ransomware, spyware, and adware scandals it’s wise to equip yourself with the best anti-malware app you can get and initiate regular (approx. twice a month) checkups for your macOS. Better safe than sorry!

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.