If you’re like many Mac users, you’ve probably heard that Macs don’t need antivirus software. Even today, nearly 90 percent of the world’s machines are run on the Windows operating system. Because they’re more common, the logic goes, Windows PCs are more attractive to hackers.
And while it may be true that Windows machines are more common and that hackers therefore write more malware for them, it’s also true that many cyber criminals are increasingly seeing the value in writing malware to target the macOS. Macs are getting more popular, and Macs are more expensive, so Mac users are seen as having more money — and that’s appealing to hackers, who are, after all, just trying to make a quick buck.
So, yes, you do need antivirus software for your Mac. Macs have some built-in security features that are somewhat more robust than those found on Windows machines, but that doesn’t mean they’re not vulnerable. To the contrary, Macs can have serious security flaws, too — and one of them is definitely user error.
MacOS Security Features Have Their Limits
MacOS is a Unix-based system, and as such, it does have some built-in security features to keep users safe from malware. Apple’s proprietary XProtect software runs surreptitiously in the background, scanning files as they’re opened and checking them against macOS’s known malware definitions. Another app, Gatekeeper, blocks any software that isn’t downloaded from the Apple App Store or signed by an Apple-issued developer certificate.
Furthermore, macOS uses sandboxing to limit what apps can do without at least asking for permission. Apple’s system integrity protection (SIP) protects your system’s most vulnerable, core files, like system directories, from malware by preventing any downloaded apps from accessing that information. It also protects preinstalled apps, like Safari, from code injections that can change the way they work.
While all of that sounds great, these protections do have their limits — to the point that there are actually massive gaps in macOS’s armor as it comes right out of the box. For example, not all apps you might download from the App Store are safe — malware apps have been known to slip through Apple’s trusted developer checks and find their way to the app store. Others, like OSX/Crescentcore, use counterfeit developer certificates to fool Gatekeeper, while still others, like OSX/Linker, take advantage of zero-day flaws that Apple itself isn’t aware of and hasn’t released patches for. And it might surprise you to learn that XProtect’s list of malicious file signatures — its malware definitions dictionary — is only 94 entries long, enabling it to recognize only a small fraction of the malware programs that exist.
Macs Have Security Flaws, Too
It’s not just XProtect and Gatekeeper that have issues — Mac CPUs can have serious flaws, too. For example, the Spectre and Meltdown flaws, discovered in 2018, could have allowed hackers to gain access to sensitive parts of the system considered protected by the SIP. These flaws are believed to have affected every Mac sold for two decades, and while it’s not known whether any hackers actually exploited them to gain control of machines or access sensitive information about their users, Spectre and Meltdown stand as a warning of just how vulnerable a computer system can be, even when you don’t know it.
You’re Not Perfect, Either
Now, we’re not trying to blame and shame anyone, but the biggest reason why anyone gets hacked is user error. Maybe you’re checking your phone first thing in the morning, and you’re still groggy, so you open up what appears to be an email from your bank, click on the link, and give your banking login info to hackers before you realize that you’ve likely been phished. Or maybe you don’t fully understand the permissions you’re being asked for and why when a dialogue box pops up, so you grant permission without thinking.
These kinds of user error moments are what antivirus software was made for. A comprehensive anti-malware suite will protect you from these kinds of moments by, for example, blocking the suspicious email from appearing in your inbox or stopping the malicious download before it gets to the point where it needs to ask you for app permissions to ravage your directory. Even the most tech-savvy user will have moments of weakness in which they’re distracted, tired, emotional, or otherwise unable to think clearly. Antivirus software makes sure you’re protected during those moments.
The days when Mac users could cavalierly surf the web and move through life without antivirus protection are long over. These days, even Macs need an anti-malware solution to protect their users from viruses, malware, and cyber attacks. With the right software suite, you can worry less about protecting your information, and instead focus on what’s really important to you.