The best antivirus protection tips for MacBook

Ask most Mac users about antivirus for Mac, and they’ll tell you that macOS doesn’t get viruses, so there’s no need to worry about it. Sadly, that’s not quite true. While there’s been no serious outbreak or epidemic of Mac viruses in the wild, macOS has been hit by malware quite a few times. Just recently, Meltdown and Spectre malware exploited flaws in Intel chips and affected Macs.

Macro Virus is the new Mac-specific threat that was discovered in 2020. This virus gets on your Mac through an infected Word document.

While malware and viruses aren’t the same things, the steps taken to combat them are similar enough that we’re going to use both terms interchangeably. And the best security software for Mac should deal with both categories equally well.

Technically, a virus is a bit of code that infects your system and can cause all sorts of havoc. Malware is a much wider term used to describe anything malicious that finds its way onto your Mac from apps you download think they were something else and which steal data, to code that arrives on your Mac because you clicked on a link on a website and which shows you adverts or threatens to hack your computer if you don’t pay up.

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How to tell if Mac has a virus

Viruses display a number of different symptoms, depending on the kind of malware they are. It could be that your Mac starts behaving strangely and displaying odd things on the screen. Or you may see a message telling you that your Mac is infected and that you should call a premium rate number to get rid of it. If you see that, don’t call the number.

Here are a few signs that your Mac has a virus: 

  1. Your Mac suddenly starts running very slowly, or applications lag much more than they usually do. 
  2. You see adverts pop up on your Mac randomly. 
  3. Websites you visit show strange adverts that are unconnected with anything you’ve browsed or searched for. 
  4. You find a piece of software, like, say, a browser toolbar that you didn’t install. 
  5. Websites that don’t normally show adverts have banners on them.

If your Mac displays one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has a virus or has been infected with malware. It’s a sign that it might do, however. And it’s well worth getting to the root of the problem. You can do that by installing an antivirus program and using it to scan your Mac. It will alert you if it detects any known viruses or malware. 

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What do I do if my Mac gets a virus?

We’ve covered that in detail in a separate article here. In summary, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do.

Don’t google your symptoms, and then download whatever comes at the top of the search listings. One common host for malware is fake antivirus software, and often the websites that house these apps are optimized for the very symptoms they cause. So instead of downloading a solution, you make the problem worse. If you want to scan your Mac for malware, try using CleanMyMac X. It can detect thousands of threats, including adware, worms, spyware, ransomware, and more. 

It comes with a malware monitor that works in real-time. If some dubious app attempts to get into your Launch Agents, you'll see an alert and instructions on what to do next. Here's the screenshot of CleanMyMac X detecting a bunch of viruses on a MacBook:

adware found with malware removal module of CleanMyMacX

How Apple protects Macs from viruses

Over the years, Apple has implemented a lot of security measures to make their computers immune to malware. Here are some of the most effective features that help protect your Mac:

  • GateKeeper

Software that gets checked and verified by Apple receives a developer's certificate. GateKeeper then checks if the app you’re about to install has this certificate. If it doesn’t, you’ll see a warning message telling you it’s not verified.

  • Sandboxing

Sandboxing limits the damage that a malicious app can do. Malicious software can still sneak into your Mac, but it won’t be able to use your camera, microphone and access your data without permission.

  • Xprotect

Another built-in antivirus technology, Xprotect, helps protect your Mac from known malicious threats. It checks your apps when you first launch them and makes sure no new malicious changes get introduced in the file system.

Keep reading — we’ll tell you more about these features later in the article.

Do Macs need antivirus software?

With all the built-in antivirus measures, you might hesitate if Macs need antivirus software at all. Macs are indeed safer than other computers. But, with the emerging threats, Apple computers aren’t 100% protected. With malware getting more sophisticated, it isn’t that difficult to download an app that only pretends to be safe. For example, the recent threat, Shlayer, could even bypass GateKeeper and get on your Mac unnoticed. It then started showing intrusive ads and ran scripts that opened doors to other malware.

Staying vigilant will help you avoid most threats, but if you want to remain fully protected, investing in good antivirus software is something to consider.

How can I protect my Mac from viruses?

The obvious answer is to do research and install some trusted Mac security software. Our latest research on best antivirus for Mac may be a good starting point.

1. Clear your browser cache

If the malware has come from a website you downloaded, you don’t want any traces of the site or and files it’s deposited left on your Mac. You can quickly and easily clear the browser cache for Safari and Chrome using CleanMyMac X. Unlike many independent antiviruses; this program is notarized by Apple, so check it out.

Tip

CleanMyMac X can also remove extensions for those two browsers — extensions are sometimes infected, and if you get a virus, it may have come from one of those.


CleanMyMac X - System junk scan complete

2. Make sure your Mac’s Firewall is switched on 

  1. Go to System Preferences and click on the Security & Privacy pane. 
  2. Choose the Firewall tab. 
  3. If the green light next to the word Firewall is showing, Firewall is on. If it’s not, click Turn On Firewall. 
  4. Click on Firewall Options and check the Enable Stealth Mode box.

3. Use public Wi-Fi networks safely

Keeping your Firewall on will help protect your Mac, but it won’t keep out every piece of malware. If you regularly use your Mac on a public Wi-Fi network, you should consider using MacPaw's ClearVPN — the first effortless VPN for a personalized and secure online experience. 

By using ClearVPN, you create a secure tunnel between your Mac and the websites you visit, and your data is encrypted. If the Wi-Fi network is compromised, your data and your Mac will be safe. 

4. Don’t click the link

Email messages are a very common distribution medium for malware. Never click a link in an email unless you’re certain you know who the message is from. Phishing, as it’s called, can catch anyone out if you’re not vigilant. We’ve all had emails that look legitimate, and that ask us to click a link to access a form or read an important message. Don’t do it. The easiest strategy and the best malware removal for Mac is simply being vigilant.

5. Trust in Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is a built-in security layer of the macOS itself. It's no replacement for antimalware software, but it has a couple of very helpful tools that protect your Mac. One is Quarantine. If you’ve ever downloaded an application from the internet, you’ll have seen it in action. It pops up a dialog box telling you that you’ve downloaded it and where it’s come from — assuming it’s been digitally signed by its developer. Apps that don’t have a signature, supplied by Apple, don’t even get that far. You must then click to approve the app before it can be opened. Please don’t ignore this box when you see it. Check the app you’ve downloaded is the one you expected to download before you agree to open it. 

6. Xprotect yourself

The other macOS tool is Xprotect — it scans files you’ve downloaded when you open them and looks for known malware. If it finds anything, it will warn you. If you see it, follow its instructions. 

7. Avoid known offenders

Both Flash and Java have been used in the past to spread viruses — usually by hackers who create fake installers that pretend to be updated and lure you into downloading them. But outdated versions of Flash (the MacDownloader malware used a fake Flash update as a host) and Java can leave your Mac vulnerable to malware. The safest approach is to uninstall them altogether. Now that most of the web uses HTML 5 video and Adobe discontinued support for Flash Player, there's no reason to have Flash installed on your Mac.

8. Keep macOS up to date

Apple introduces security patches and fixes to known software vulnerabilities with every update. That’s why it’s essential to stay updated. Here’s how to check for macOS updates:

  1. Go to Apple menu > About This Mac.
  2. Click Software Update.

If updates are available, click Update Now to install them. If you haven’t updated your Mac for a long time, there will be the Upgrade Now option that will install a new macOS version.

9. Keep your browser up to date

Safari updates are installed with macOS updates, while other browsers like Firefox and Chrome will alert you when your browser is outdated and a newer version is available. Don’t ignore the warnings. Update your browser immediately. Often, these updates will include security features designed to keep you safe from malware.

10. Back up your Mac regularly

If you back up your Mac, you can restore from that backup if a virus causes real damage to your system. And if you use Time Machine, you can boot your Mac into the recovery partition and restore from a snapshot taken just before your Mac became infected. That makes it very easy to get back up and running again. 

11. Avoid Facebook scams

It’s now clear that clicking a malicious link in a suspicious email may get your personal data exposed to scammers. The same works on Facebook. There are multiple Facebook scams that trick gullible people into giving away their personal information, like fake posts telling you’ve won a ​​vast sum of money. Here are some other popular Facebook scams to avoid:

  • Fake warnings
  • Direct messages with suspicious links
  • Surveys that contain personal questions
  • Scam ads

Be vigilant on social media and only click a link if you know where it leads.

12. Secure personal data

You could use macOS FileVault to encrypt every file on your Mac. But it consumes resources and hits your Mac’s performance. For most of us, it’s overkill. But you should make sure that all sensitive or personal data stored on your Mac is encrypted. One way to do that is to use a password manager. As well as passwords, most of these apps encrypt and safely store credit card details, bank accounts, and text notes. You should also use secure, difficult-to-guess passwords for everything, from your Mac user account to your Wi-Fi network. 

As you can see, the best virus protection for a Mac is to be alert and to use common sense. If you notice your Mac behaving strangely, take action immediately, even if it’s only launching Activity Monitor, to find out why your Mac is running slowly. 

Apple virus protection in macOS, in the form of Gatekeeper and Xprotect will help, but they won’t stop every possible piece of malware. You need to be vigilant, backup your Mac regularly, and minimize the risk by removing Flash and Java.

The chances of your Mac becoming infected with a virus are slim. By employing the advice here, you can reduce that risk even further.  

13. Use antivirus software

What to look for in antivirus software? Antivirus software is a juicy market that attracts many newcomers. That’s why you should look into the software with a reputable name and at least some years of credibility behind it. So, don’t fall for fancy names. And don’t install more than two antivirus programs because antiviruses often conflict with each other. What else to consider:

Reputable brand: Malwarebytes, CleanMyMac X
Apple notarization
: Legit apps are notarized with Apple
Real-time protection

Regular updates
: Because new viruses appear every day

We hope this article gave you some valuable insights. Our MacPaw team is on the watch for the latest Mac security updates, so stay tuned.

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