I Thought Macintosh Computers Don’t Get Viruses?

July 4, 2011 / Updated: July 4, 2011 / Lena Shore
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No. Macintosh computers don’t get viruses.

A computer virus is a computer program that can copy itself to infect a computer without any action required by the computer user. By this definition, there are no viruses on Macintoshes.

But, that isn’t really the information you want.

The word “Virus” has become commonly used to describe all manner of malware. This includes computer worms, Trojan horses, spyware, dishonest adware and other malicious and unwanted software, and true viruses.

But, aren’t Mac’s safer than PCs?

Yes. Macintosh operating systems are built with the Unix Kernel which is more secure. By extension any program you put on it is inherently more secure. While Linux, and Unix in general, has always natively blocked normal users from having access to make changes to the operating system environment, Windows users are generally not.

The result of this is even if you had a virus on your machine it probably wouldn’t affect you.

So Mac users are totally safe from viruses?

I wouldn’t go that far. Out of the 20 years I have used a Macintosh on a daily basis, I think I have had two accounts of malicious behavior. One was on a floppy disk I got from a Windows machine. It didn’t affect me. The second one was part of a Microsoft Word Macro. I had to reboot my computer while holding the shift key to eradicate it. Both of these happened on old Mac systems before they were running Unix.

Its been reported that Macintosh has had 8 trojans while there are over 1,000,000 forms of Windows Viruses (including trojans and viruses). Trojans require you to do something on your end (download fake or illegal software and enter your password). So, they can’t affect you unless you give them permission.

The likelihood that you will “catch” something on your Macintosh is pretty small. However, if you follow some good guidelines it will get even smaller:

  • Software updates — Keep your software updated. They are full of little improvements that increase security as computing evolves.
  • Be Internet Smart — Don’t download or forward software from untrusted sources.
  • Backups — Keep your files backed up to an external disk. Macs make this stupid easy now. If something terrible happens, it won’t  be that terrible.

Antivirus Software

If you are interested in getting some software there are plenty to choose from. Some software scans your computer constantly for anything malicious, while other software can be used to scan your system to see if you have any problems. The bigger software names can do both.

Here are some popular antivirus softwares you might want to get familiar with:

  • Norton’s AntiVirus
  • MacAfee VirusScan
  • ProtectMac
  • iAntiVirus
  • VirusBarrier X6
  • www.clamxav.com
  • Sophos

Antivirus software is probably a good idea. I have run lots of it in the past. Today, I don’t run any. Years ago I was running a popular software package and they released a bad patch that caused me to have to rebuild my hard drive. I never really got over it. I probably should. Everyone makes mistakes.

One day some smart hacker will probably affect me and I’ll have to spend a few minutes pulling a backup. That will probably be the day I install some sort of antivirus software. But, for now, I don’t bother. Maybe you will be smarter.