How to remove viruses and malware from Mac
Long gone are the days when Macs were immune to malware and viruses. In fact, cybercriminals target Macs more often than Windows computers. Sounds scary? Worry not; continue reading to discover our Mac malware removal guide.
What is malware
The term “malware” is a broad term for all unwanted intrusions. Common types of malware you can encounter on Mac are download managers, backdoor infections, spyware, keyloggers, botnet, Trojans, ransomware, and potentially unwanted apps (PUAs).
How to remove malware and viruses from Mac
Regardless of the type of malware, there are common ways to remove malware from Mac — manually or automatically. Here is how to get rid of malware on Mac.
How to remove virus from Mac automatically
The Mac virus removal is better with a dedicated app.
There are lots of antimalware applications available, and many of them are either free or allow you to scan your Mac for free to find out whether you need to take action. Be careful, though. It’s important to choose a tool from a reputable vendor. If you just google “Mac antivirus tool,” some of the results may well be for tools that are themselves malicious.
We recommend using CleanMyMac X. It can identify thousands of malware threats, including adware, spyware, ransomware, worms, and cryptocurrency miners. If CleanMyMac X finds something suspicious, it will offer immediate removal. Here’s how to perform a full system scan:
- Download CleanMyMac X (free download) and open the app.
- Go to Malware Removal tab.
- Click Scan and then Remove.
How to clean malware from Mac manually
Quick tip: Disconnect from the internet and back up data
If you suspect that your Mac is infected with malware, disconnect from the internet and stay offline as long as possible. It may help prevent the further spread of infection and the loss of data since the virus won’t connect to its command and control server.
Most of the malware removal steps below do not require internet connection, so disconnecting it is an additional precaution.
Another thing you should do is back up data so that you won’t lose any of it in the process of removing malware. In fact, it’s a good idea to turn on automatic backups if possible.
Now, let’s move to manual virus removal.
1. Use Activity Monitor
If you know which app on your Mac is malicious, you’re halfway through the problem. First, close the app and then root it out from the system processes:
- Open Activity Monitor from Applications.
- Locate the problematic app in the list of processes.
- Use the [x] button to quit it.
Now, go back to your Applications and move the app to the Trash. Immediately empty it.
This method is simple, but for the best malware removal results, you’d have to invest a bit more time. There are still parts and pieces of the virus app scattered around your system folders. It’s a bit like killing a dragon that regrows its head after you’ve chopped it off. So, how to remove malware from Mac completely? Uninstall apps.
2. Boot into safe mode
Sometimes, malware can make your Mac so slow that it’s impossible to do anything. Booting it into safe mode may help. It prevents loading certain software and only runs essential apps and processes macOS needs.
Boot into safe mode on an Intel-based Mac:
- Restart your Mac and press and hold the Shift key as your Mac starts up.
- When the login window appears, release the Shift key and log in.
- You should see “Safe Boot” in the upper-right corner of the screen.
Boot into safe mode on a Mac with Apple silicon:
- Restart your Mac and hold the power button.
- Release the button when you see the startup options.
- Select your startup disk, then press and hold the Shift key and click “Continue in Safe Mode.”
- Log in to your Mac. You might need to log in several times.
3. Uninstall suspicious apps
If you’ve inadvertently downloaded an app that turns out to be a virus, you need to uninstall it immediately. There are a couple of ways to do this. Here’s the hard way:
- Go to your Applications folder and drag the app to the Trash.
- From Finder, Go > Go to Folder, type
~/Libraryand look in the Application Support folder for any files related to the app and drag those to the Trash.
- Look in the other folders in
~/Library, especially Launch Agents and Launch Daemons, and remove any .plist files related to the app from there.
- Repeat Step 3 for the main Library folder (
- Don’t forget to reboot your Mac — until you do, all these files are still in memory.
4. Reset and verify browser
Malware usually targets web browsers, so resetting each of those you have installed on your Mac is a sure way of removing malicious software. We’ll show you how to do it for three most popular browsers: Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox.
How to reset Safari
- Open Safari Settings (in the top menu) > General.
- Double-check Homepage.
- Go to the Search tab.
- Double-check the selected Search engine.
How to reset Chrome
- Open Chrome Settings (a three-dot icon).
- Go to Reset settings.
- Click Restore settings to their original defaults.
How to reset Firefox
- Open Firefox Settings > Help.
- Click Help and choose Troubleshoot mode.
- Click Restart > Refresh Firefox.
- Confirm the refresh.
For all browsers, macOS will verify them by itself — no involvement on your part is needed.
5. Clean up extensions to remove adware and viruses from Mac
If you’re looking for how to delete malware from Mac, you should also check extensions in every browser you use.
- Go to Safari Settings > Extensions.
- Select an extension and click Uninstall.
- Open Chrome and click on the 3-dot icon in the upper right corner.
- Select Settings and choose Extensions from the menu that appears.
- Choose any extension you don’t recognize and click Remove.
- Open Firefox.
- Click the 3-line (hamburger) icon at the top right corner.
- Select Add-ons and themes.
- Click the Extensions tab and remove any you don’t recognize.
- Click the ellipsis and select Remove.
6. Remove Mac malware from your Login Items
Most adware or spyware will try to sneak inside the bootup process. The good news is that you don’t have to be a magician to prevent this.
- Go to the Apple menu > System Settings > General.
- Open the Login Items tab. Now, use the “—” sign to disable all the suspicious apps that you’ll find. Restart your Mac for the changes to take place.
If malware removal has failed
Below are a few more ideas to help you remove malware from Mac:
- Switch to a different user account and do a full system cleanup.
- Restore your Mac using Time Machine — to the point before it got infected.
- Update all your software, including macOS, apps, and browsers.
How to prevent malware from getting onto a Mac
So, now you know how to get rid of virus on Mac. If you want to learn how to prevent malware, we’ve prepared a few basic tips:
- Closely read all dialogue boxes.
- Get a reliable password manager app.
- Browse anonymously.
- Use passphrases instead of passwords.
- Create an “emergency” bootable external drive for your Mac.
- Whenever possible, browse only secure websites — those starting with https://
- Avoid clicking suspicious email links, especially if you don’t identify the sender.
- Don’t open any suspicious email attachments.
- Avoid downloading software or data from an unfamiliar website.
- Don’t click strange adverts or pop-ups that appear on websites.
How to protect Mac from malware
Now, as we’ve described how to prevent malware, we want to focus on some protection tips. We’ve covered that in more detail in this article, but here are a few pointers.
Create a new user profile
Usually, viruses are attached to a particular user profile on your computer, and so they control your admin profile. Creating a new user on your Mac can help escape the virus.
- Go to the Apple menu > System Settings > Users & Groups.
- Click Add Account and type in your admin password.
- Follow the on-screen instructions to create a new user. Make sure it is an administrator account.
Now, move your important information from one user to another. Do this:
- Click on the Finder > Go > Go to Folder...
- Paste in this:
- Copy the needed files from your old user account to the Shared folder.
Run regular scans
Another best practice is to develop the habit of running checks using a dedicated cleaner app. If you’re too busy to perform system scans, the app we mentioned earlier, CleanMyMac X, comes with a background scan and malware monitor tools. They not only check your system for malicious activities but also react to any active threats and let you remove them right away.
Here’s how to bring Mac virus and malware protection to a whole new level:
- Install and open CleanMyMac X (free download here).
- Navigate to the Menu app by clicking the iMac icon on the menu bar.
- Go to Preferences (gear icon at the bottom right) > Protection.
- Make sure that all three boxes are selected.
Keep your macOS up to date
New OS releases come with security patches, which may help prevent infection. So, head over to System Settings > General > Software Update and check if any update is available. While there, enable automatic updates.
As you can see, there are many different ways to remove a virus from a Mac, depending on how badly infected it is and what kind of virus it is. The main thing to remember is if you suspect your Mac is infected, don’t worry; it can be fixed. Hope your Mac stays virus-free, and may you never click on those scary Mac alerts again.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a Mac get malware?
Mac computers have long been considered virus-free. They are indeed secure, but as the Apple security features have improved, so has malware. Macs are mostly attacked by adware and PUAs, which macOS has no counteraction against.
How do I know if my Mac has a virus?
Here are some tell-tale signs that your Mac may have been affected by a virus or malware: unexpected Mac reboots and freeze-ups, a sudden drop in performance, apps starting for no reason, an increased amount of pop-ups and ads, new apps installed without your permission, and an unexplained change of browser settings (such as search engine or homepage).
Why is malware dangerous?
Malware may put your private and sensitive information at risk, not to mention that it significantly slows down your Mac. In the worst cases, it may result in financial loss and identity theft.