I have heard broadly about the so-called "rise" of the Mac viruses. Apparently, there is a "whole new deluge" of Mac viruses. So far, I have gotten nothing that I can see.

But I'm beginning to wonder if this is a real danger and if I should take steps to protect my computer. I know that the Mac OS is very secure - that's part of why I use it - but is antivirus needed? I'd prefer not to have to use it - I've seen many PCs with antivirus that are slow because of it - and also because of the cost. Maybe I've just gotten lucky.

So: Is antivirus software a necessity with the "rise" of mac viruses?

I'd count Apple/security experts as good sources.

  • Please note that this question is different from apple.stackexchange.com/questions/141/…; that question was asked two years ago - before MacDefender. This question wants to know if the rise of MacDefender has changed anything. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:37
  • 1
    I would think this question might get flagged for being a discussion-type question rather than one with a straight answer.
    – Tuesday
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 1:32
  • Yes, this question really can't be answered. Not only is it dependent per user, but there really is no one answer for this either.
    – jmlumpkin
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 1:37
  • @jmlumpkin and others: See below - someone did provide a helpful answer - one that I and no doubt many others will find very helpful. It includes a link to where to find some AV software if it is required by IT. It is not a 'yes or no depending on your situation' but a simple 'no'. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 1:40
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    The beauty of this site is you can edit old questions - continue voting on them, put a bounty on them. This looks more like a "grab latest headline, discuss" than something that is moving the discussion forward. The only thing rising that I can see is new people discovering that malware exists. Tempted to close for improvement, but will see how things go over the next two days to improve this. Apple's canonical answer is still good advice - protect your computer if you notice suspicious files - docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=Mac/10.7/en/mh11389.html
    – bmike
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 18:32

3 Answers 3


I say no, and while MacDefender is not something I would ever install, it is an app you must install to be "infected" by it. Malware, crapware, bloatware or any other name it is not a virus which replicates itself without your knowledge or permission.

In a corporate environment you may be required to install some kind of email scanner because you will undoubtedly receive PC viruses in email from time to time - sometimes I have seen them arrive in hotmail etc. Having one may help stamp out the problem in the office but I have never encountered and never even read a reliable report of a Mac virus.

If you did want to install antivirus software, there's a good list in this AskDifferent answer - you might want to make an IT Manager happy, for instance.

Update April 2: This is also not a virus but a trojan - but it is worth knowing about. Ars Technica report on a new Trojan targeting Mac OS X

  • Could you please add some sources? Other than that, I guess some on the Windows side just needed to poke some fun at Apple, especially after the 'Get a Mac' ads that they're just recovering from. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:44
  • Not sure what you want? I think this is one of those cases where the proof of a risk is what needs to be shown, not the proof of no risk. I can't prove Apple won't introduce a new expandable Mac mini next week, but you wouldn't believe it was going to happen on that basis.
    – user3117
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:48
  • Something like an article on TUAW/other would be fine. I just want it to have some credibility so I can prove the Windows people wrong :) Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:50
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    Here's one: reedcorner.net/guides/macvirus the true "virus" just isn't out there. The sites I see saying there is a serious risk are usually selling antivirus software. Or they are ZeoBIT.
    – user3117
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:55
  • Great! I was hoping for something like that. Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:56

Good security software does not just think of viruses

Advanced Windows security software usually includes other features besides (live-) scanning the computer for infections. They also provide protection from:

  • Phishing attacks (attempts to steal your passwords)
  • Spyware (exploiting private information)
  • ...

OSX maintains a list of malicious software which you can update automatically (System Preferences → Security & Privacy → General).[1]

If you want advanced protection by a specialized company, I'd say go for it. But if you use your computer sensibly and browse the web carefully, there is no need.

Security patches

The renown german IT website Heise says that Apple can take months to fix a known security vulnerability. Microsoft on the other hand, takes threat reports very seriously. They encourage communication with the 'community' in providing security patches. "Replies from Apple are not to be taken for granted," they say.

Third-party security companies generally provide protection from newly discovered threats quite fast.

Working in a Windows environment

At the university I exchange files via flash drives or emails on a regular basis with Windows users. Some of those flash drives have been exchanged between lots of users which led me to use antivirus software myself in order to minimize the possibility of transmitting threats.

I've been using Sophos Mac Home (free) for a long time. Sophos updates it's signature list frequently. While the live-scan does not seem to add any significant CPU load most of the time, there are cases where it impacts the use quite noticeably. I'm thinking of repairing permissions lasting more than ten minutes instead of just one or spotlight indexing.

1 - Heise reported that this list contains only a relatively little amont of signatures and a smart attacker can easily bypass it. As of now, this security features is rather to calm down the user than offering advanced protection. Their words are that "any virusprotection software provides better a better solution".


The whole "immune to viruses" myth is completely false. When Windows controlled 90% of the market share, Apple got away with "security through obscurity." This means Macs were generally safe because the virus writers attacked the largest market, Windows; however, now that Apple has grown in popularity, more viruses have been reported, and the number will continue to increase. Since Apple has relied on obscurity, its security is actually very weak. It is easier to exploit a security hole on a Mac, but less have taken the time to do so.

Also, Macs are a bit nicer when they crash. Since there is no "blue screen of death" or scary error messages, many users never even suspect that a virus might have caused the crash.

Still don't believe me, eh? Well, considering it only takes10 seconds to hack, I'd say there are some vulnerabilities.

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