How to Prevent Malware on a Mac

Introduction

Malware is software that is specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. For many years Mac users were able to boast that Macs can't get malware. Those days are long gone. There are many more ways to infect a Mac and steal data now.
In this guide you'll learn how to recognize malware and methods to prevent infection of your Mac system.
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1 Tips to Prevent Malware

By definition, Malware, short for malicious software, is any software used to disrupt computer or mobile operations, gather sensitive information, gain access to private computer systems, or display unwanted advertising.

Types of Malware You May Encounter

  • Ransomware: One particular form of malware that’s been making a lot of headlines lately is Ransomware. This type of malware blocks access to and encrypts your data until a ransom is paid.
  • Virus: A virus is malicious software attached to a document or file that supports macros to execute its code and spread from host to host. Once downloaded, the virus will lay dormant until the file is opened and in use. Viruses are designed to disrupt a system’s ability to operate and can cause significant operational issues and data loss.
  • Worm: Worms rapidly replicate and spread to any device within the network. Unlike viruses, worms do not need host programs to disseminate. A worm infects a device via a downloaded file or a network connection before it multiplies and disperses at an exponential rate. Like viruses, worms can severely disrupt the operations of a device and cause data loss.
  • Trojan: Trojans are disguised as helpful software programs. But once the user downloads it, the Trojan virus can gain access to sensitive data and then modify, block, or delete the data. This can be extremely harmful to the performance of the device.
  • Spyware: Spyware runs secretly on a computer and reports back to a remote user. Rather than simply disrupting a device’s operations, spyware targets sensitive information and can grant remote access to predators. Spyware is often used to steal financial or personal information. A specific type of spyware is a keylogger, which records your keystrokes to reveal passwords and personal information.
  • Adware: Adware is used to collect data on your computer usage and provide appropriate advertisements to you. While adware is not always dangerous, in some cases adware can cause issues for your system. Adware can redirect your browser to unsafe sites, and it can even contain Trojan horses and spyware. Additionally, significant levels of adware can slow down your system noticeably.

Types of Infection Methods

  • Phishing: Phishing often uses social engineering to scare you into giving up valuable data such as usernames and passwords. Phishing has even gone so far as to get credit card information, social security numbers, and banking details. You may receive scam calls or falsified emails posing to be your legitimate bank, the IRS, or other official businesses.
  • Social Engineering: Social engineering uses learned social skills and queues to steal information from you. Phishing often uses this to scare or manipulate you into giving up banking details, gift cards, social security numbers, and more.
  • Exploits: Exploits use vulnerabilities in popular software such as web browsers, Java, Adobe Flash Player, and Microsoft Office to infect devices. Keeping your software up to date protects you.
  • Pirated Software: Websites that offer free downloads of movies or expensive software are often dangerous as malware can piggy back on the file you're downloading.

There are a few ways you can keep your Mac protected from malware.

Keep your MacOS Up to Date

App store menu bar with Updates highlighted.
Keeping your Mac up to date is the first line of defense in securing your computer. Microsoft frequently sends out updates and security patches to fix discovered issues and prevent malware from being installed and used.
Learn how to update your Mac.

Use Strong Passwords

Use strong passwords. Never use the same password over and over and avoid passwords that have personal information in them.

Secure Your Network

Our devices often connect to a Wi-Fi network at home. To keep your home network safe from traveling miscreants you'll want to secure it.

Learn How to Secure Your Network

Only Download and Install Software You Know is Legitimate

Always use the official Mac App Store or directly download your application from its webpage. Downloading anything from websites offering free copies puts you at risk of downloading malware along with it. While your Mac will keep unauthorized software from running, you can turn this setting off. Doing off puts you in danger of infecting your system.

Don’t Disable System Identity Protection

System Identity Protection, or SIP for short, prevents anything but a macoS update from changing the operating system. While this is annoying to some users who want complete control of everything, it protects your Mac from infection.

Install an Antivirus and Keep It Up to Date

By default Mac OS X does not come with a pre-installed antivirus program by the traditional definition; however, the operating system itself is quite secure by design. If you would like to add a layer to that security there are plenty of reputable 3rd party companies that offer security suites tailored to Macs.

Practice Good Web Browsing Safety

Exercise good web browsing skills and be aware of what you're viewing. For example, don't click on random links or believe everything you read.
Learn how to protect yourself online.

Backup Your Data

Windows Backup.
If all else fails and you do manage to get infected, you'll want to have a working backup of your system.
  • First and foremost, it is always wise to backup you data and backups should be performed regularly. Even beyond the scope of malware or security, it is always prudent to have frequent backups because hard drives can fail, systems can crash, things can break, "life can happen", so you're always better off safe than sorry.
  • Data backups, just like any type of backup are a matter of redundancy. One backup solution is good, two or more is better.
  • Offsite backups are always a good idea, especially as a secondary backup. That way if an event happens such as a fire, flood or theft, you have the remote offsite backup to fall back on.
  • It is always prudent to set your backups to use a versioning scheme. That way if files are corrupted, infected or locked, you don't have to worry about having only one backup which may be the bad version.
  • If you are using a local backup such as an external hard drive it is always a good idea to disconnect the drive when it is not in use. The reason being, some forms of malware can encrypt or corrupt all data on all connected drives, so a drive that is not connected will not be affected.

Learn how to backup your Mac.

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Malware is software that is specifically designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. For many years Mac users were able to boast that Macs can't get malware. Those days are long gone. There are many more ways to infect a Mac and steal data now.
In this guide you'll learn how to recognize malware and methods to prevent infection of your Mac system.
Apple Logo

By definition, Malware, short for malicious software, is any software used to disrupt computer or mobile operations, gather sensitive information, gain access to private computer systems, or display unwanted advertising.

Types of Malware You May Encounter

  • Ransomware: One particular form of malware that’s been making a lot of headlines lately is Ransomware. This type of malware blocks access to and encrypts your data until a ransom is paid.
  • Virus: A virus is malicious software attached to a document or file that supports macros to execute its code and spread from host to host. Once downloaded, the virus will lay dormant until the file is opened and in use. Viruses are designed to disrupt a system’s ability to operate and can cause significant operational issues and data loss.
  • Worm: Worms rapidly replicate and spread to any device within the network. Unlike viruses, worms do not need host programs to disseminate. A worm infects a device via a downloaded file or a network connection before it multiplies and disperses at an exponential rate. Like viruses, worms can severely disrupt the operations of a device and cause data loss.
  • Trojan: Trojans are disguised as helpful software programs. But once the user downloads it, the Trojan virus can gain access to sensitive data and then modify, block, or delete the data. This can be extremely harmful to the performance of the device.
  • Spyware: Spyware runs secretly on a computer and reports back to a remote user. Rather than simply disrupting a device’s operations, spyware targets sensitive information and can grant remote access to predators. Spyware is often used to steal financial or personal information. A specific type of spyware is a keylogger, which records your keystrokes to reveal passwords and personal information.
  • Adware: Adware is used to collect data on your computer usage and provide appropriate advertisements to you. While adware is not always dangerous, in some cases adware can cause issues for your system. Adware can redirect your browser to unsafe sites, and it can even contain Trojan horses and spyware. Additionally, significant levels of adware can slow down your system noticeably.

Types of Infection Methods

  • Phishing: Phishing often uses social engineering to scare you into giving up valuable data such as usernames and passwords. Phishing has even gone so far as to get credit card information, social security numbers, and banking details. You may receive scam calls or falsified emails posing to be your legitimate bank, the IRS, or other official businesses.
  • Social Engineering: Social engineering uses learned social skills and queues to steal information from you. Phishing often uses this to scare or manipulate you into giving up banking details, gift cards, social security numbers, and more.
  • Exploits: Exploits use vulnerabilities in popular software such as web browsers, Java, Adobe Flash Player, and Microsoft Office to infect devices. Keeping your software up to date protects you.
  • Pirated Software: Websites that offer free downloads of movies or expensive software are often dangerous as malware can piggy back on the file you're downloading.

There are a few ways you can keep your Mac protected from malware.

Keep your MacOS Up to Date

App store menu bar with Updates highlighted.
Keeping your Mac up to date is the first line of defense in securing your computer. Microsoft frequently sends out updates and security patches to fix discovered issues and prevent malware from being installed and used.
Learn how to update your Mac.

Use Strong Passwords

Use strong passwords. Never use the same password over and over and avoid passwords that have personal information in them.

Secure Your Network

Our devices often connect to a Wi-Fi network at home. To keep your home network safe from traveling miscreants you'll want to secure it.

Learn How to Secure Your Network

Only Download and Install Software You Know is Legitimate

Always use the official Mac App Store or directly download your application from its webpage. Downloading anything from websites offering free copies puts you at risk of downloading malware along with it. While your Mac will keep unauthorized software from running, you can turn this setting off. Doing off puts you in danger of infecting your system.

Don’t Disable System Identity Protection

System Identity Protection, or SIP for short, prevents anything but a macoS update from changing the operating system. While this is annoying to some users who want complete control of everything, it protects your Mac from infection.

Install an Antivirus and Keep It Up to Date

By default Mac OS X does not come with a pre-installed antivirus program by the traditional definition; however, the operating system itself is quite secure by design. If you would like to add a layer to that security there are plenty of reputable 3rd party companies that offer security suites tailored to Macs.

Practice Good Web Browsing Safety

Exercise good web browsing skills and be aware of what you're viewing. For example, don't click on random links or believe everything you read.
Learn how to protect yourself online.

Backup Your Data

Windows Backup.
If all else fails and you do manage to get infected, you'll want to have a working backup of your system.
  • First and foremost, it is always wise to backup you data and backups should be performed regularly. Even beyond the scope of malware or security, it is always prudent to have frequent backups because hard drives can fail, systems can crash, things can break, "life can happen", so you're always better off safe than sorry.
  • Data backups, just like any type of backup are a matter of redundancy. One backup solution is good, two or more is better.
  • Offsite backups are always a good idea, especially as a secondary backup. That way if an event happens such as a fire, flood or theft, you have the remote offsite backup to fall back on.
  • It is always prudent to set your backups to use a versioning scheme. That way if files are corrupted, infected or locked, you don't have to worry about having only one backup which may be the bad version.
  • If you are using a local backup such as an external hard drive it is always a good idea to disconnect the drive when it is not in use. The reason being, some forms of malware can encrypt or corrupt all data on all connected drives, so a drive that is not connected will not be affected.

Learn how to backup your Mac.
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