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How To Detect Malware on Mac? [Scan & Find Viruses]

As a Mac user, you know that Apple offers a protection layer to detect malware on Mac and ensure that apps haven't been tampered with.

These security measures ensure that Macs and other Apple devices enjoy protection from malware and viruses differently from Android devices. 

But there’s more to malware protection on your Mac than just relying on the device to handle it. While you won’t easily find malware on Mac, the threat is still significant and looming. 

Recent reports suggest that macOS has had the most minor malware attacks among all other operating systems, but it's still vulnerable. This makes it essential to understand how to detect Mac malware and how to remove it.

Read on to learn more!

What is malware on Mac?

Malware is malicious software designed to disrupt computer operations, damage data, or gain unauthorized access. It may vary from known viruses, Trojans, worms, and other programs intended to harm your device or your privacy.

A malware attack on Mac targets the macOS, and it's sent your way to cause havoc and steal crucial information for monetary gain or sabotage. It can infect and spread to your Mac in numerous ways. Here are some of the most common ways to watch out for.

  • Email attachments: Attackers may hack an email and force it to send malware-infected attachments or links to malicious websites. When you open the attachment or click the link, the malware is installed on your Mac.
  • Messaging apps: Sometimes attackers may lay hostage message apps and use them to spread malware. These apps are used to send infected attachments or malicious links to unsuspecting victims who unknowingly open them and let malware in.
  • Pop-up alerts: Some malware attacks on Mac may also happen through pop-up alerts, such as a fake security alert. They intend to trick you into downloading malware disguised as security software.
  • Infected ads: Hackers are now evolving tactics, such as loading malware into ads via malvertising. They aim to hoodwink you into clicking the infected ad and downloading the malware to your Mac.
  • Physical media: Some malware and viruses may infect your Mac through physical installation with little involvement from the attackers. They only load malware onto a USB flash drive and wait for you to plug it into your device.

Most complex malware attacks rely on a command-and-control server. The server keeps the hackers and the infected systems in touch to allow easy exfiltration of sensitive data and even remotely control your Mac.

They may also use evasion and other smokescreen techniques, such as web proxies, to hide all the malicious traffic or source IP addresses. 

How to detect malware on Mac

To check for malware on a Mac, you must monitor it for possible warning signs and take appropriate action. Here is a look into some of the joint and first-hand symptoms of a malware infection on your Mac:

1. Frequent crashes and freezing

Your Mac may crash and freeze due to an outdated app, insufficient storage space, or faulty hardware. However, some malware—especially those that consume too much RAM and increase CPU temperatures will also cause your computer to freeze or crash.

So, if you notice a sustained high CPU usage leading to frequent crashes or freezing, it may be a sign of malware.

2. Check for deleted or corrupted files.

Another sure way to detect viruses on Mac is to check if some of your files are damaged, deleted, or inaccessible. In most cases, a malware-infected hard drive can corrupt your files on RAM, causing irreparable damage or deleting them entirely.

It’s usually part of the attacker's plan to cause as much harm as possible to your device or personal information.

3. Pop-up ads and browser redirects

Some malware, such as Adware, aims to spam your device with pop-up ads and alerts. So, any time you see an unwanted pop-ad or alert on your screen, it could be due to Adware operating in the background.

The same applies if your browser keeps redirecting you to sites you aren't trying to visit. This happens when a malware attack often necessitates changes to your DNS settings.

4. Unfamiliar apps

Certain malware, such as spyware, is often disguised as legitimate software or apps on your device. Attackers can install additional apps to spy on your activities and collect crucial information.

If you encounter any new applications or software you didn’t install on your Mac, it may indicate a potential malware attack.

5. Sudden performance decline

When malware attacks your Mac, it occupies and consumes most of its processing power. Your device must split and share resources, resulting in severe slowdowns. If you notice your device suddenly declining performance, it's time to check for malware.

Types of malware on Mac

Most malware operate stealthily, so they cannot be easily detected on the device. The attackers aim to ensure they stay hidden while continually infecting as many files on the devices as possible.

If you're a Mac user, you must always be on the lookout for the most widespread malware attacks reported on Mac computers. Below is a deep dive into every malware you should anticipate on your Mac and how it wreaks havoc:

1. Adware

Adware has been around for a long time and is one of Mac's most common forms of malware. It refers to unwanted advertisements you see when you visit a website and is often installed in exchange for another service.

Adware is not necessarily dangerous. However, it may cause issues for your macOS, especially if it redirects you to unsafe sites. It also slows down your system noticeably. The best way to stay free from Adware attacks is to take precautionary measures when browsing online.

2. Viruses 

A virus is a common type of malware that attaches to a document, file, application, or program. It hides inside its hosts, attempts to infiltrate your macOS undetected, and spreads from host to host. 

Once you download the infected file or program, the virus will enter your device and lay dormant until you interact with it. Viruses will disrupt your macOS, causing significant operating issues and information loss. Some replicate themselves until they destroy the system.

3. Worms

Worms are similar to viruses, but they infect your computer differently. First, a worm enters your device and continues multiplying until it causes significant damage. It seeks to destroy the device or damage every data on the drive. 

A worm does not enter your Mac like a virus would. It enters through a downloaded file or a network connection before multiplying and spreading without your interaction. A worm is its program, making it much more dangerous than a virus. 

4. Trojans

A Trojan virus or a Trojan horse attack occurs when you’re lured into downloading a file or a software program. Most Trojan viruses appear as helpful or needed software programs. As you wait for the download, the Trojan releases malware that can spread or destroy your device.

It can gain access to crucial data on your device and modify or even delete it entirely. Trojan horse attacks can be extremely devastating to your device's performance and the information it holds. The only reprieve is that they're not designed to self-replicate.

5. Spyware

Spyware is malicious software that secretly operates on a device, allowing attackers to spy on you. It doesn’t disrupt any of your operations. But as the name suggests, spyware is like eyes and ears on your device that remotely relays sensitive information and access to attackers.

Attackers often rely on spyware to steal crucial financial or personal information. Spyware also records conversations; attackers can even use it to install programs and change settings on your device.

6. Rootkit

A rootkit is a malware designed to allow hackers remote access and control your device. Not only does it give the attacker administrator and root privileges, but it also attacks your device in a way that the operating system won't be able to detect it. 

A rootkit will actively modify the macOS functions so the malware it carries remains undetectable. Once implanted into your computer, the attacker will use it to steal personal data, install more malware, and launch ransomware or botnet attacks.

7. Ransomware

This is a type of malware sent your way to lock and encrypt your data, files, or more, making them inaccessible. Attackers will demand a certain amount of payment (ransom) to make the files usable again.

Most ransomware attacks are only noticeable after they're finished. It'll enter your Mac undetected, encrypt all your files, and lock your computer. Your data will be held at ransom until you agree with the attackers' terms or lose everything.

7. Browser hijackers

Browser hijackers are usually viruses that take control of your browser. They are coded to take control of a browser by changing the settings and directing you to malicious pages. Browser hijackers are not as harmful as other malware. 

They're primarily annoying and may redirect you to malicious pages where you're more likely to download dangerous malware. They can also slow down your Mac by consuming too many resources.

9. Keyloggers

Keyloggers are a form of malware that records what you type on your computer’s keyboard. Cybercriminals use key loggers for only one reason—to get your crucial data, such as bank details, passwords, and other personal data. 

Keyloggers may be launched alongside other malicious software, such as spyware. It's a type of malware you should actively look out for as it poses a serious risk of data theft and privacy breaches.

How to detect malware on Mac

If you notice any of the signs of malware on your Mac, the safest action is to find and remove it. This will protect your Mac against malicious software and prevent it from operating at its peak. Ready to get started? Here is how to delete malware from Mac using simple steps.

1. Find and remove unknown apps.

One of the best ways to find viruses on Mac is to check for unfamiliar apps. Viruses and malware often creep into your macOS via apps that pose to be legitimate. That's why you should watch all the apps and where you downloaded them.

If, by any chance, you come across an app you don't remember downloading, then it shouldn't be there. Some apps may come bundled with malware that could put your data and the entire device at risk.

Here’s how to find and remove unfamiliar apps on your Mac:

  1. Open Finder.
  2. Select Applications.
  3. Choose the unknown app you want to delete.
  4. Press Cmd + Backspace.

Proceed to open the Application Support folder and look for all files related to the app. Drag them to Trash and ensure the app doesn’t leave any trace. You can also repeat the process for Launch Agents and Launch Daemons folders.

2. Check Login Items

Login items are apps that launch by default on your Mac. They are a harbor for malware on your Mac if left unchecked for a while. You must first check your macOS login items list to find malware on Mac hidden in Login items. 

This trick works to identify whether some of the Login items are infected, and if so, take measures to remove them. However, Login items like Launch Daemons and Launch Agents may not appear in the macOS login items list.

Follow these steps to check your login items list:

  1. Go to the Apple menu.
  2. Select System Preferences.
  3. Choose General.
  4. Proceed to select Login Items.
  5. Go through the items on the list and check out any suspicious login items.
  6. Click the minus (-)button to delete the login item.

3. Check the Downloads folder.

Attention to your Downloads folder may help you find and remove malware that conceals its presence and activity on a device. This type of malware often avoids standard detection in the download history and can be challenging to identify.

Checking your Downloads folder is often recommended and can help you find and remove malware, especially if you’ve been tricked into downloading malicious software. To get started, follow these steps:

  1. Open a new window in Finder.
  2. Select Downloads from the sidebar.
  3. Asses your Downloads for anything you don’t remember downloading.
  4. Right-click the item and hit Move to Bin. 
  5. Proceed to Empty Trash.

4. Check Activity Monitor

Macs are equipped with the Activity Monitor to help you identify any suspicious activity on the device. It enables you to see the background processes in real-time, the apps that are running, and if there are any viruses or malware.

Follow these simple steps to check the Activity Monitor for viruses and malware:

  1. Go to Finder and open Applications.
  2. Choose utilities and available Activity Monitor.
  3. Check the CPU tab and scan through the processes running.

Ensure you check out any suspicious activity—the most high CPU usage activities running in the background may be necessitated by malware. The Activity Monitor won't help you remove malware. However, it'll point you in the right direction and confirm any suspicions. 

5. Use macOS built-in tools.

MacOS comes fully equipped with tools that can help protect your Mac from viruses and malware. One such tool is the X Protect, a built-in antivirus technology that detects and removes malware from your device.

X Protect on Mac is a basic level of protection enabled by default. You can easily rely on it for malware protection alongside third-party antimalware apps. Remember that you should keep macOS current for X Protect to function optimally. 

Here are a few steps to do it: 

  1. Go to the Apple menu.
  2. Click System Settings.
  3. Select General and click on Software Update

You should also activate Automatic Updates alongside the Install Security Responses and System Files option.

Final thoughts

While Apple designs all MacBooks in a way that makes them more secure than Windows PCs, they are only partially foolproof from cyberattacks. A hacker can successfully attack your Mac and get away with crucial data or compromise your privacy.

The best way to keep your device secure is to adhere to the above-shared tips on detecting and deleting malware. This keeps your data safe and ensures your Mac performs optimally.

Learn more on how to find and remove malware from Mac.

Author Bio

Juliet is a book lover, which has driven her passion for writing. She’s an experienced and impact-driven copywriter with over five years of experience in content marketing and advertising. She has successfully crafted and delivered exceptional and creative types of content, including advertisements, publications, sales copy, and web content.

A mother of twins, Juliet is a marketing and communications graduate pursuing a master's degree in the same field.

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