Geek’s Blog

Macs Cannot Get Viruses: Fact or Fiction?

When it comes to Mac repair, most users think viruses will not be a part of the equation, but is this actually true? The short answer is no – Apple Macs are able to get infected by malware – viruses included – it just happens less often than it does with PCs running Microsoft Windows. Today we are going to discuss how and why this is possible. We will cover the difference between malware and viruses, the reasons behind the myth, and explain why Macs are less likely to get a virus than a PC.

Malware vs Viruses

First of all, it is important to understand the terminology. Malware and viruses are not the same thing; viruses are a specific type of malware. Originally, any malicious software that took advantage of a computer was called a virus, but Yisrael Radai coined the term ‘malware’ in 1990. Since then, malware is considered to be anything that takes advantage of your computer, including viruses, adware, spyware, and ad pop-ups. Viruses are specified by their ability to self-replicate; they are able to copy themselves, and spread from computer to computer, all the while carrying out their main function – deleting files, reformatting disks, or eating up RAM.
Most often, malware is installed by mistake. It usually tries to trick users into installing it, hence the old industry term ‘trojan horse,’ which refers to a program claiming to install one thing, but really installing another. ‘Phishing’ is another term you may have heard – it refers to attempts of gaining your information or installing malware by pretending to be a trustworthy source through digital communication. The most common version of this is email – scammers tend to pose as a bank, for example, in an attempt to get a user to click a link.
Historically, people have commented that Microsoft computers get the most viruses because they have the widest user-base, and therefore the largest number of novice users, who may accidentally install malware without realising it. While this is statistically true, there is more to it than novice mistakes.

Why don’t Macs get as many viruses?

It is a fact that Macs are much less likely to need virus removal. Self-replicating viruses do not attack Macs as often, but they are vulnerable to all malware, just like other computers. It is also possible for a Mac to host a virus without it doing anything to the computer and pass it on to a Windows computer where it can do whatever damage it is designed for.
There are a lot of things that contribute to this strange relationship:
• Most viruses are designed for the Windows operating system because it has a higher number of users. Macs use a different operating system entirely, which Apple calls macOS, or more recently, OS X.
• Apple does not bother talking about malware as often, whereas Microsoft is forced to. This draws less attention to the few pieces of malware that do exist for OS X.
• Microsoft PCs were popular in the heyday of viruses – malware does not get made as often anymore, as they take a lot of effort to design. Today, it is more likely that malware will try to infect your browser software instead.
• Many commercial businesses still exclusively use Microsoft PCs, and most viruses target places where they can make the most money.
• Apple OS X features a number of built-in security apps, like Firewall, Gatekeeper, etc. Until recently, Microsoft computers generally depended on third-party security software.

Are Macs more secure than PCs?

In a manner of speaking, yes. Apple’s OS X is more restrictive to the user; there is less you can easily and directly modify and control in the operating system. This means users who want to adjust deep processes in their computer cannot, but has the added effect of blocking a lot of the viruses that would also try to alter deep structures in your computer. OS X tends to not let anyone change its main system, but Microsoft Windows allows some programs to change system files, or the system registry, and with this freedom and power comes responsibility and risk.
Some users avoid Macs specifically because they want the freedom to modify their computer, so it is really a trade-off. Macs have less freedom for advanced users, but more security in theory, the opposite is true for Windows PCs.

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