Are Macintosh Computers Immune to Viruses?

There’s no denying that Macs are stylish and sexy, and people often seem pretty confident about how cool they look with their Macbooks at the local coffee shop. That tech swagger may also be related to how cocky Mac users feel about the security of their computers.

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There is a long-standing belief that Macintosh computers can’t be infected by malware, making them far better than PCs, which always seem to be riddled with viruses and constantly under attack.

The question is, is there any truth to that belief?

Macintosh Computers – Myth vs. Reality

Right off the bat, we should mention that Apple has publicly stated that its computers are NOT immune to viruses, which is definitely a change in the tune they’ve been humming since 2006. But where did that belief come from in the first place? And was it ever true?

When Apple was first emerging in the market as a major player against PCs, the company’s numbers were insignificant in comparison. PCs were everywhere, and their fundamental architecture was designed with tons of holes and access points for hackers and viruses. For someone who wanted to attack computers, it was basically a numbers game.

PC architecture and operating systems were far more common to study and easier to understand, so they received most of the attention. This didn’t mean that Apple computers were immune to viruses; it simply meant that a virus designed for a PC wouldn’t be able to affect a Mac, and most viruses were being designed for PCs, because there were WAY more of them.

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However, as Apple began to swell into the titan it is today, more people began paying attention, including hackers and virus designers. It can be very expensive and time-consuming to design a virus, particularly one that is advanced enough to infect a Mac, but they do exist! As Apple grew and the amount of potential victims increased, more and more malicious virus designers turned their sights on Macintosh devices.

In 2011, roughly 600,000 Mac computers were infected by malware called Flashback, and in 2014, another serious vulnerability to Mac systems was discovered as a result of a poorly designed security patch that was actually intended to fix the problem. That being said, even in 2015, nearly 50 million malware programs were identified, but only 5,000 of them were uniquely designed to attack Apple products, so the majority of focus is still on PCs.

The truth is, the operating system of Macintosh computers is more complex than PCs, particularly when talking about the UNIX foundation of the Mac OSX. There are many safeguards in place, and a more rigorous permission process for software to be able to run. A PC will utilize whatever resources it can to run a program, even if a virus is manipulating the direction and execution of that program. However, OSX doesn’t allow these unauthorized redirections without users re-entering their password, thereby avoiding most damage and infiltration of the system. No matter what promises a computer company makes (even if you trust everything Steve Jobs ever said), no operating system is invincible.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

Malware comes in many forms, some of which are more subtle and clever than others. Trojan horses, for example, are often disguised as beneficial software to clean up or protect your computer, and once you download the program and give it permission to run on your computer, the virus infects your system, slowing it down dramatically and potentially damaging your files and software.

Photo Credit: spaxiax / Fotolia

Photo Credit: spaxiax / Fotolia

The arms race of malware versus security is ongoing, and while Apple was foolish to perpetuate the myth that their computers were invulnerable, the company is trying to make up for lost time. Recent update patches for OSX have included certain programs, such as Gatekeeper, as well as interactive guides for users on how to protect their computer. Also, anti-virus software for Macs does exist, it simply hasn’t had the same marketing or popularity as anti-virus software for PCs, because Apple still enjoys that assumed superiority of its systems. You can get proven anti-virus software for Macs for as little as $40, and some basic programs are even free!

Most importantly, since Mac OSX does have such a solid foundation designed to protect against unauthorized programs and malware, just stay aware of what you’re downloading, what websites you’re visiting, and what permissions you are granting when prompted by your device.

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No computer is ever 100% safe, but common sense and some inexpensive defense software can protect you from the vast majority of attacks on your computer. Also, if you’re an overly proud Mac owner, please stop telling people that your computer can’t get infected by a virus. In the immortal words of Apple think different.

References:

Do Macs Get Viruses? – Mac World UK

 

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About the Author:

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor and publisher who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Urbana. He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and calls the most beautiful places in the world his office. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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