Macs are known for being generally reliable and secure, but just like any other piece of technology, they also have weak points, which may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous perpetrators. Within the last few years, there have been several reports of malware and virus attacks on Macs, albeit not worsening enough to be considered an epidemic. Still, the fact remains that the threat is out there and Mac users are not totally invulnerable to cyber attacks.
The latest reported Mac threat was the OSX/MaMi. It made the news in January 2018. The malware was designed to install a new root certificate, allowing it to intercept communications, even the encrypted ones. When it gets to successfully route traffic through malicious servers, that’s when it intercepts sensitive information.
Because of threats such as this, it’s imperative that you know of free Mac virus removal methods. Aside from virus removal methods, you should also educate yourself about the signs of malware and virus infection, as well as the most common sources of malicious and dangerous programs.
Is Your Mac Infected? Signs Your Mac Has a Virus
Before we proceed, let’s set things straight first. You probably noticed we mentioned both malware and virus, but take note that they are different. Malware is typically disguised as an app or program that promises to do something good for you or your system, but actually does something bad, such as spy on your online activities and collect sensitive data. Viruses, on the other hand, are bits of codes that penetrate your system in one way or another and designed to mess with your system.
The first step towards Mac virus removal is to of course know if your device has one. Here are some symptoms:
- Your Mac becomes slow and sluggish all of a sudden.
- There’s a new toolbar or plugin in your browser that you don’t remember installing yourself.
- Your searches get redirected to a different site, or to one that looks like a fake version of the real site you intend to visit.
- Every webpage is riddled with ads, including those that you don’t expect to be so.
- Advertisements that are not at all connected to your recent and common searches pop up out of nowhere.
If you notice any of these signs, be cautious and don’t panic. For one, there are many possible reasons for Mac slowdown. You can blame it on junk file and cache overload, or maybe an insufficient RAM. Before you assume the worst, run a Mac scan using a 3rd party cleaning tool to see if there are items that you can get rid of to improve your Mac’s performance. But if the problem persists, then it’s probably a malware or virus indeed.
Where Do Viruses and Malware Come From?
So, where could you have gotten the malware or virus currently wreaking havoc on your Mac? It might have originated from any of these:
- Laced software – Sometimes, legit and innocent programs and files may be laced with malware and viruses. These can range from simple adware that you unconsciously agreed to install on your system to more dangerous ones that are meant to gather important information about you.
- Fake files and programs – Malware and viruses may be disguised as another program — ironically, as an antivirus or anti-malware even. They are also sometimes made to appear in a photo, video, or pdf file that you might have downloaded onto your system unsuspectingly.
- Fake updates and utilities – You may also get malware and viruses by downloading a fake update or system tool for a program or an app on your Mac.
- Unsecured websites – If you don’t see a padlock icon on the URL bar, this means that you’re browsing an unsecured website. Even if the site itself doesn’t have any bad intentions, it can be easily penetrated by malware and viruses, which in turn can enter your system.
Free Protection Against Viruses: The Built-in Mac Tools
Now, you probably think that in order to protect your Mac from these threats and get rid of them should they get into your system, you have to shed a few dollars. Well, how did you think Mac got its reputation for being secure and capable machines? Well because of built-in tools, invisible background protection against malware and viruses. Your Mac has the following:
- File Quarantine – This is a Mac feature that was first introduced in OS X Leopard. When you download a potentially malicious file over a quarantine-aware platform, such as Safari or Mail, that file will be quarantined. When you open the file, you will be asked by macOS if you’re sure you want to open it, warning that it may be dangerous for your system. It will be in your best interest to heed the warning and not open the file.
- Gatekeeper – This basically works like File Quarantine, but for applications. A relatively new program, Gatekeeper was first introduced in Mountain Lion. It is designed to protect your Mac from malware and dangerous app downloads straight from the internet (not from the App Store). Apple gives recognized developers, who make their apps available outside the App Store, a unique Developer ID. If an app was created by a developer without a Developer ID, Gatekeeper will block its installation. The same goes for apps with fake or tampered Developer IDs.
- Xprotect – This is Apple’s built-in Mac virus scan. It was first introduced in Snow Leopard as a built-in feature of File Quarantine. Xprotect was added to scan for malware and viruses that may be embedded within the file downloaded from the internet. If the file is found to be infected, you will be informed so, and you should move it to the Trash.
By taking your Mac’s warnings seriously, you could keep it malware and virus-free.
Safety Precautions to Observe if You Think Your Mac Was Infected
If the File Quarantine, the Gatekeeper, and the Xprotect detected a threat that tried to penetrate your system, you need to be extra cautious when using your Mac until you’re really sure that it’s virus and malware-free.
- Don’t type passwords. If you suspect that your Mac is infected by a malware or virus, stay away from anything that requires you to type in passwords or login details. Some malware has keyloggers, which can record your login credentials as you type them. Some may even take screenshots, so refrain from copying and pasting passwords from a note or document. Do not click on the Show Password option as well.
- Stay offline as much as possible. Until you’re completely sure that the threats are fully extinguished, turn off your Mac’s WiFi or disconnect the Ethernet cable. This will prevent unauthorized transfer of data. If possible, use a different device if you really have to go online.
- Use Activity Monitor to your advantage. If your gut tells you a malware was installed along an update or app, quit that malicious app by pressing Command + Q. You may also choose Quit from the menu. Then, open Activity Monitor, which can be found in Applications > Utilities folder. On the search field at the top right, type in the name of the app you just quit. If it’s still in the list of running programs despite the fact that you’ve already quit it, then your suspicion has just been validated. Select that program, click [X] at the top left of the toolbar, then choose Force Quit.
- Use the help of third-party Mac cleaners. Tools like Outbyte MacRepair serve as an additional layer of protection on top of Mac’s built-in ones. With these tools, you can scan your Mac for problematic files and apps, allowing you to decide whether to keep them or remove them from your system to ensure optimal and secure performance.
- Restore from a backup. If you keep your Time Machine backup up-to-date, you can restore a version of your Mac from the time when it was still malware and virus-free.
- Change your passwords. After you’ve restored an old version of your Mac, consider changing passwords for all of your accounts. This way, even if a malware was able to capture any of your login credentials, they won’t be used to log in to your accounts anymore.
- Reinstall macOS and apps. Probably the last and final measure you could do to make sure no remnants of malware and virus is left in your system is to reinstall macOS and all of the apps you use.
- Check with your bank. Call your credit card provider to check if any unauthorized transactions were done using your card. You should also check your bank account if any fund transfer was made without your consent. Tell your credit card provider and bank about the situation as well as to warn them not to approve any unusual transactions. If possible, request for a new card and arrange to have your online account login details changed.
Indeed, your device is equipped with tools to remove Mac virus for free. However, we will never know when unscrupulous developers will be able to create malware and viruses that could hide and escape from those built-in tools. Sure, Apple will once again develop and offer improved versions of their free malware and virus removal tools to fight advanced threats. However, you should also do your part to keep your Mac safe from harm. Make it a habit to scan for malicious files and programs, and stay away from unsecured sites.