Why Don’t Macs Get Viruses?

You’ve probably found this article because you’re either interested in tech, or you’re tired of your bulky anti-virus program hogging up your valuable resources on Windows and you’re considering a “virus-free” Mac. You may have been bitten by a nasty trojan or destructive virus in the past. To you, I say the notion that Macs don’t get viruses is only partially based on facts.

First, the Mac has been hit with viruses before. Users who downloaded pirated versions of iWork 09 were sometimes met with a nasty bit of code called iServices.A. This nasty piece of malware had unfettered access to the root of any Mac where it was installed. With this access, it connected systems to a botnet that could be used in DOS (Denial of Service) attacks against the botnet operator’s targets.

In 2007, a trojan horse (OSX.RSPlug.A) made the rounds on porn sites by tricking users in to installing it by claiming it was a required codec to watch videos embedded on the site. This trojan worked by changing the user’s DNS settings in a way that pointed them to malicious phishing sites that look and act a lot like genuine sites such as those hosted by banks and other online services. By doing so, they effectively steal your login information and gain access to whatever account it is you’re logging into.

Because the Mac has a relatively small amount of users compared to Windows, it is less of a target to those that look to exploit vulnerabilities. This doesn’t mean that Macs are “immune” or “impervious” to viruses. To the contrary, they’re just as vulnerable as Windows machines. The advantage Mac users have in their favor is that they’re a smaller target, especially to the kind of people that exploit these vulnerabilities. They want to capture the largest amount of systems in the fastest possible time.

Does this mean you have to use an anti-virus program with your Mac to stay safe? Not exactly. If you follow some basic rules of thumb when surfing the Web, you should be fine. The same can be said for users of Windows and Linux operating systems. Here are some tips to help keep you virus-free:

  • Don’t follow links that contain IP addresses instead of domain names.
  • Don’t download anything from a site unless you absolutely know and trust it.
  • Don’t open email with attachments unless you know the sender and you know what and why they’re sending it.
  • Don’t download pirated software, music, or movies.
  • Don’t download or install “codecs” to watch videos on sites. If you have Flash, Silverlight, and VLC, you should be covered.

Don’t let this dissuade you from buying a Mac. The very nature of software includes the potential for vulnerabilities and Apple is very good about keeping its software updated. Computers that run Windows get a bad rap for viruses, especially from the Mac crowd, but as Macs become more popular, the potential for malicious software developers to turn their attention to Apple’s computers increases.

14 comments On Why Don’t Macs Get Viruses?

  • What’s a good virus scanner for the Mac?
    Right now I have ClamXav, but I have no idea if it’s any good.

  • The truth is that Linux systems are much harder to compromise than Mac or Windows. Google “Pwn2Own” for an example. Given the incentive of prize money, hackers were invited to attack all three OSes. Mac fell first, then Windows. Linux remained secure.

  • Well said. Viruses shouldn’t really be a problem on any platform as long as you use common sense and an anti-virus though. Don’t go out paying for one either, Microsoft Security Essentials is free and has a good reputation.

    For less tech-savvy users though, maybe switching to Mac OS or Linux might be a good idea. Linux is free to install too, and is arguably safer.

  • I own a computer repair business myself and seriously you have to be honest most computer users do not actually do smart things while they are online. Probably 50 to 75 percent of my clients come in because of massive viral infection even after I tell them the things to watch out for. You have to be honest here the average end user is probably more interested in looking up porn than actually worrying about not getting a virus. I have removed viruses from almost every Windows PC I have fixed. I have had to removed viruses from Mac as well but I have never had to remove a virus from a Linux box. I have run probably every OS at one point or another and in computer school I was training on probably 7 different OS systems. I found that the schools network constantly got viruses, being a computer school that isn’t surprising at all but what is more surprising is that the Linux networks never went down because of a virus. Linux has it’s issues but usually it is related to not being able to run a program because it needs another program to run. I tell any of my clients worried about security or viruses that they should consider a Linux system. Systems like MINT linux and Ubuntu linux are getting to be very user friendly. The interface on MINT is very Windwos like. Obviously it has it’s differences being a linux and all. Even the installs are getting more end user friendly, MINT Linux install all you have to do is put the cd in the drive and boot from the cd and it brings up a desktop and you click on install to hard drive. It is that easy. Ubuntu has a Windows based installer you can use right from Windows but the menu system of Ubuntu leaves something to be desired. Seriously though you can’t expect the general population to ever learn from their mistakes especially most end users. If all people had common sense I probably would not have a job.

  • I forgot to say,
    When I ran Windows and Mac I needed an antivirus.
    Since I switched to Linux I don’t use any antivirus and never have needed one since I switched.

    I am root

  • The mac might not have the userbase of Windows, however its becoming the most attractive target… Why? Because 80% of Windows users update windows, and their browser on a regular basis, aswell as their AV software… The last 20% are probably already infected…

    How many Mac users have AV software installed? Less than 5% according to official figures, I have two macs, neither of which have any AV installed.

  • thanks for sharing the info

  • This article is about viruses and not one virus is listed. Proves that there are NO viruses on Mac OS X. None. Zilch. Nada.
    Please do yourself a favour and educated yourself as to the difference between a trojan, a worm and a virus.

    • Viruses were one of the first malware lots of common peoples heard about, and a lot of people say virus when they want to speak about malware.
      I think this article want to speak about malware protection rather than viruses.

      You cannot deny, apple OS is not totally safe against malware.
      The common idea that their OS is safe is one of the big security problem, as the user is often the one that ask the malware to install.

      Anti-viruses software (in fact the right term would be antimalware), for me are a protection when user fail, for example, when downloading something he do not know where it is from.
      I Recently had the problem wanting to download VLC, I took the first link given by google, not looking which website it was from, avira told me it do not trusted the .exe, I deleted it immediately, and this time gone to the official website of VLC. The .exe file didn’t have the same name, and avira didn’t complain (VLC is a safe software, but only if from a safe source).

      Lots of Mac users have been infected by sites asking to download a fake plugin.

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Ryan Matthew Pierson