How to scan Mac for malware

Macs don’t get viruses, right? Wrong, sadly. But don’t panic yet! It could be that a virus is not as malicious as you think. Also, you can be sure to know how you get rid of it quickly and efficiently by the time you finish this article.

6 obvious signs that your Mac is infected

Here are some symptoms that your Mac is infected with a virus:

  1. Your Mac has started freezing or restarting itself.
  2. Your browser homepage has changed, and you see pop-ups and redirects when they are not expected.
  3. You start seeing fake pop-ups telling you that your Mac needs an urgent update or your data is in danger.
  4. There has been a significant increase in CPU and RAM usage and Mac is overheating even though you haven’t installed resource-intensive apps or started doing anything new.
  5. You can no longer access your private files.
  6. You have noticed that disk space has disappeared for no apparent reason.

    Viruses come in all sizes and shapes. They appear in browser extensions, others run in the background, but some appear as applications in your Applications folder. Before explaining how to scan for viruses on Mac, check these five tell-tale signs an app is a virus.

    If any of the above is true, it’s possible that your Mac has a virus, but remember not to panic! It may be relatively easy to remove.

    How to scan Mac for virus and malware automatically

    Some drivers prefer cars with manual and some with automatic transmissions. Same with Mac users: some prefer tracking viruses automatically with specialized tools, some manually.

    Several Mac virus scanners allow you to scan for malware. However, it’s vital that you don’t just google ’free Mac antivirus software.’ Many sites that claim to offer free antivirus tools host viruses themselves. And you can end up making the problem worse.

    So, how to check for malware safely? We recommend using reputable tools. Our personal favorite is CleanMyMac X. CleanMyMac X detects thousands of malware threats, including adware, spyware, worms, ransomware, cryptocurrency miners, etc. When it finds something suspicious, it offers immediate removal.

    Here’s how to scan MacBook for malware and viruses:

    1. Download CleanMyMac X (free edition here) and open the app.
    2. Click on the Malware Removal tab.
    3. Click Scan and then click Remove.
    Removing malware files

    Malware monitor in CleanMyMac’s Menu is another thing we love about the app. With its help, we can easily see if our Mac is under malware attack. You can enable it from the Protection tab in CleanMyMac’s Menu preferences.


    How to get rid of suspicious apps

    We hope our simple tutorial on how to check viruses on Mac was handy. The next logical step is to remove them. Again, if you find an application you didn’t intend to install, you should get rid of it. But don’t just drag it from your Applications folder to the Trash — that won’t remove every trace of it from your Mac.

    Applications store files in several different places in your Mac’s Library folders. You could track them down and remove them manually, but it’s quicker and easier to use a dedicated uninstaller we mentioned earlier, CleanMyMac X. That way, you can remove every application trace, and no stray files will be left behind.

    1. Download CleanMyMac for free here.
    2. Open it from your Applications folder.
    3. In the Applications section, click on Uninstaller.
    4. Look through the list of applications until you see the one you want to get rid of. Select the box next to it.
    5. Click the Uninstall button.

    If you want to use built-in tools to check your Mac for malware, viruses, or suspicious apps, we’ve fetched a list right here that you can use.


    Apple protects its macOS users with a unique built-in technology called XProtect. It has an extensive database of virus signatures that scan Macs for malware. Since it’s already built into your system, it runs by default without your involvement. But remember, this is only a basic level of protection that won’t help with serious threats.

    How to scan Mac for viruses manually

    1. Turn on Mac’s built-in protection

    If you’ve ever got a warning on your computer asking whether you’re sure you want to download something, you’ve seen File Quarantine in action. It lets you decline the download of an item in case you don’t completely trust the source it’s coming from.

    Another built-in utility, Gatekeeper, checks that there’s an electronic signature from an approved Mac supplier on any item you attempt to download. So, making sure it’s turned on is a great way to protect yourself from downloading something malicious.

    1. Go to System System Settings > Privacy & Security.
    2. Under “Security,” ensure that “App Store and identified developers” or “App Store” is selected.

    2. Examine your Disk Utility

    Navigating to Disk Utility will give you a sense of what’s taking up space on your drive. You can also click on First Aid to run a scan of the drive and repair any errors. Make a note of the types of things taking up space, especially if any category is unusually large — this would be a good one to target directly or to check on later to see if it became smaller through the measures you are undertaking.

    3. Update your software

    As searching for “online virus scan Mac” doesn’t help much, the first thing to do to really protect your Mac is to update to the latest macOS version and turn on auto-updates for all your apps. The latest versions of the software include all the necessary security patches known to developers, so it’s a good starting place.

    1. Check the App Store for software updates and install them.
    2. In System Settings > General > Software Update, click the i icon next to Automatic updates.
    3. Select all the options there.

    4. Check browser extensions

    Some viruses and malware come in the form of browser extensions that sneak onto your Mac. Therefore, another way to detect malicious software is to check these add-ons and plug-ins. Note, though, that you will have to do it for all browsers you have installed on your computer. Below, you’ll find the steps for three most popular browsers.

    1. Open Safari and click Settings from the menu.
    2. Select Extensions.
    3. Next to any extension you don’t recognize, click Uninstall.
    1. Open Chrome and go to Window (from the menu bar) > Extensions.
    2. Click Remove next to any extension you don’t recognize.
    1. Open Firefox and click three lines top right.
    2. Select Settings > Add-ons and themes.
    3. Click an ellipsis next to any extension you don’t recognize and choose Remove.

    5. Back up your Mac

    Another precaution against viruses you can take is backing up your documents. You can use your Mac’s built-in Time Machine utility to save your backup to an external hard drive. That way, frequent backups will allow you to restore recent versions of your documents should they get deleted or encrypted by a virus.

    1. Connect an external hard drive.
    2. Go to System Settings > General > Time Machine > Select Backup Disk and turn it on.
    3. Select Back Up Automatically.

    Note that you may need to set the backup disk if you have not done that yet. In this case, in the Time Machine pane, click Add Backup Disk and follow the on-screen instructions. Then, follow the steps outlined above.

    6. Encrypt your Mac

    It might come as a surprise, but files on your Mac are easily readable to anyone who can gain unauthorized access. They will be able to read your documents, apps, messages, etc. To prevent this, you need to turn on Mac’s built-in encryption engine called FileVault.

    1. Go to System Settings > Privacy & Security.
    2. Turn On FileVault and wait for the encryption to finish. Done!

    7. Use Activity Monitor and check Applications folder

    Application or process can stop your system from being responsive. When that is the case, Activity Monitor comes in handy. It allows you to track down troublesome apps or processes, check for the most significant energy consumers, and monitor CPU disk usage. You can also use it to detect malware.

    Follow these steps to run Activity Monitor:

    1. Go to Applications > Utilities.
    2. Open Activity Monitor and click % CPU column to see processes and apps with high CPU use. Quit those by clicking the X button in the upper-left corner.
    3. Find any other suspicious process and simply google it to see if it’s malware.

    If you want to look for viruses hidden within apps, then try auditing your Applications folder:

    1. Go to the Applications folder.
    2. Find any suspicious app you don’t recognize.
    3. Check it with Google and delete it if necessary.

    8. Clean up your drive

    In general, cleaning up your computer will improve your day-to-day experience and ultimately mean you won’t have to buy a new one too soon, saving you money.

    1. From the Finder, open the Applications folder (Cmd + Shift + A).
    2. Go through the list and uninstall any programs you’re no longer using.
    3. Then, check your Documents, Pictures, Movies, and Music folders for files you haven’t been using in a long time.
    4. Empty the Trash when you’re done.

    Here is an ultimate tutorial on how to clean up your hard drive.

    It’s easy to forget about keeping your files tidy (sort of like your apartment), so periodic cleanups are a must.

    9. Check if your email has been compromised

    You hear daily that millions of user emails have been leaked due to the careless policies of Facebook or other corporations. Could your account be one of those? The security expert Troy Hunt created a website that allows you to see if your email has been hacked. 

    Check out this website

    You can even get a clue as to which company leaked your email.

    10. Protect and optimize your Mac in one click

    If you have the time and are willing to be methodical about the cleanups you need to do and how often you need to do them — ideally once a month — you can go through the above checklist every time.

    However, why not save some time and make sure you do it the right way? The truth is there is no online virus scan macOS would be happy about, but there definitely is some pro software like CleanMyMac X that can do it better. It’s fast, automatic, and vigilant — saving you time and doing a more thorough and complete job of taking care of your Mac than you can.

    CleanMyMac X looking for malware

    After you finish scanning for malware, as described earlier in the article, don’t forget to perform additional scans for Optimization, Maintenance, Junk, and an overall Smart Scan. In each case, CleanMyMac X takes care of all the tasks necessary to protect and optimize your Mac. Repeat the process every week or so, and you are set.

    CleanMyMac X is notarized by Apple, which confirms its safe status for using on Mac computers.

    You’ve just learned how to scan for malware on Mac and why it is better to avoid online malware scan tools advertised on the internet. Hopefully, this article will encourage you to study the built-in protection layers of your Mac. In case you did find malware on your Mac, that’s not the end of the world, as we’ve shown you some antidotes you can try. If you want to learn more, check out this handy guide on complete malware removal.

    How safe is your Mac from viruses?

    Here is the thing, your Mac may be safer from malware than the average Windows PC, thanks to its Unix core and Apple’s default security settings. But it’s not 100% immune. All it takes is one thoughtless click on a link in a phishing email or a website, and your Mac gets infected. So, answering the Mac-virus question — yes, Mac can get a virus! But the great news is that performing a Mac virus scan is simple, and now you know how to scan your Mac for viruses online. 

    Stay tuned for more Mac tips!


    How long does a virus scan take?

    It depends. When you scan Mac for malware, it can take between several minutes and a few hours based on the type of scan you choose, the tool you use, and the space your data, apps, and files occupy.

    Does Mac have a built-in virus scanner?

    Mac comes with XProtect, which is a built-in database of virus signatures scanning it for malware. It also comes with Gatekeeper — a utility checking whether the apps you are trying to install come from trusted developers. Although effective for protecting your Mac from some threats, they cannot detect the newest ones, so consider investing in a dedicated antimalware app.

    What to do if you find malware on your Mac?

    If you find malware on your Mac, you should get rid of it immediately by removing suspicious apps, hunting down their leftover files, and resetting browsers, to name just a few steps. But it is better to invest in a trusted cleaner app that can completely remove the virus.

    Laptop with CleanMyMac
    CleanMyMac X

    Your Mac. As good as new.