Can Apple Macs Get Viruses or Malware?
Myth

Apple Macintosh computers (Macs) can't get viruses or other malware.

Can Macs Get Viruses or Malware?

Apple Macintosh computers (Macs) are vulnerable to malware, including viruses, but infection is less common then on Microsoft Windows computers.[1][2][3]

Difference Between Viruses and Malware

First off, it’s important to know that, in modern and specific terms, viruses and malware are not technically the same thing.

  • Malware is anything that gets installed on a computer that preforms unwanted tasks. Malware includes viruses, adware, spyware, and even ad pop-ups.
  • A virus is a specific type of malicious software (malware) that can replicate itself and spread to other computers, or is programmed to do things like damage a computer by deleting files, reformatting the hard disk, or using up computer memory.[1]
  • Likewise, Spyware is another specific type of malicious software that transfers information to a third party without your knowledge, and browser hijacking software is any advertising software that modifies your browser settings.[1]

FACT: Before the term malware was coined by Yisrael Radai in 1990, all malicious software was referred to as computer viruses. Today malware refers to any malicious program of any type, while terms like virus and spyware refer to specific types of malware.

How Do Computers Get Malware?

In almost all situations malware is installed accidentally by the user. This could be as part of a “Trojan Horse” (you think you are installing program “X”, but an un-installable program “Y” is also installing), or due to fake links on websites or in emails (although not typical on a Mac).

This video from 2011 gives some opinions on why Macs “don’t get viruses”. Note: today in 2015 there are still more Windows PCs in use than Macs, but the 90% figure in the video has applied since around 1998 (a time when creating viruses was much more popular and profitable).

TIP: Generally, Macs, Windows, and Linux based computers can all get malware, including viruses. However, Windows has the largest user base and arguably the most novice users, that paired with other factors described below leads to Microsoft Windows based machines being the more likely to fall victim to viruses and malware.[4]

Do I Have to Put My Password in to Install Malware?

Some malware will ask for your password, but not all malware requires it. Mac’s requirement to enter your password to install programs may offer a layer of protection in most cases, but even on a Mac it is possible to get malware just by clicking on a link online or in your email.

How Can I Protect Myself Against Malware

You can’t fully protect your computer from malware, but both Mac and Microsoft offer third party malware protection software. You can also do things like:

  • Update your OS regularly.
  • Encrypt your data.
  • Disable third party web plugins like Flash and Java (or others you don’t use).
  • Be very careful about what sort of websites you view, what links you click, and what sort of content you download.

Can Macs Get Viruses Specifically (Not Just Malware)

Macs are far less likely than Windows computers to get infected with true computer viruses that replicate on one’s computer. Macs can also get viruses, which they can pass onto Windows PCs, so even a Mac that isn’t experiencing issues can have a “dormant” computer virus.

All of this being said, the myth that Macs can’t get viruses stems from the fact that Mac’s rarely actually get viruses in real life and instead are for most practical purposes just theoretically at risk.

One of the first Mac viruses

Why Don’t Macs Seem to Have as Many Malware Problems?

There are a number of reasons Macs seem to have less malware problems, some reasons have to do with the way a Mac is designed, some reasons are just a matter of perception and practicality[2][3]:

  • They use a different Operating System (OS); viruses designed for the Windows OS don’t work on the Mac OS.
  • Apple rarely talks about malware where there is a whole ingrained malware protection industry centered on Microsoft.
  • When viruses were more popular, PCs were more popular too. Viruses are a lot of work to make, and that only becomes truer over time, over that same time the popularity of Apple has grown. Today other types of malware like spyware and browser hijacking software are both more simpler to make and more profitable to make. Both OS’s have issues with spyware and browser hijacking software.
  • The majority of businesses used in the past and still use Windows based computers. Most people who make Malware do it to make money.
  • OS X has built in security components including Application Firewall, Gatekeeper, and XProtect (also known as File Quarantine) making third party protection less necessary out-of-the-box.
  • OS X locks down it’s architecture a little more not allowing files to generally be added to the main system folder.
  • Both OS’s simply have different user bases.
  • Newer OS X operating systems run on Unix kernel, one of the oldest and most secure operating systems.

Is the Architecture of a Mac OS More Secure than Microsoft Windows?

Mac’s don’t generally allow files to be added to the main system folder; with Windows it’s common for applications to modify system files and the registry. This can make it easier for malware to infiltrate a Windows system. Despite this, neither type of computer is actually safe from Malware.

Can Non-Mac Computers Like Linux Based Computers Get Malware too?

Macs, Windows, and Linux based computers can all get malware, including viruses. No computer is completely safe from malware.



Conclusion

A Mac can get infected with malware just like a PC, but it’s more common for viruses to affect Windows.


References

  1. Viruses, Spyware, and Malware“. Ist.mit.edu. Retrieved Oct 7, 2015.
  2. The Mac Security Blog“. Intego.com. Retrieved Oct 7, 2015.
  3. Do Apple Macs get viruses” Computerhope.com. Retrieved Oct 7, 2015.

Citations

  1. Computer Virus
  2. Malware
  3. Viruses, Spyware, and Malware“. Ist.mit.edu. Retrieved Oct 7, 2015.
  4. Linux vs. Windows


"Apple Macs Can’t Get Viruses or Malware" is tagged with: Cryptography, Internet, Systems


Vote Fact or Myth: "Apple Macintosh computers (Macs) can't get viruses or other malware."

Your Vote: {{ voteModel || 'no vote' | uppercase }}

Cuatemoc on

It is a lie, all the students and teachers think this and it is not true.

mal on

You have no idea what you are talking about, malware is a general term for any app/software that has malicious capabilities…….go back to school!

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

I agree with your general definition of malware, but not your claim. If you read the article carefully we clearly state that malware is any type of malicious software and that a virus is a type of malware. That said, thanks for the feedback, I updated the page to make sure it was clear for the next reader.