How to Protect a Mac from Viruses, Malware and Adware

Long spared from viruses, the Mac is now the target of almost as many attacks as a Windows PC. macOS has adapted to these threats by offering many security features. But in some cases, an additional security suite can be useful.

It’s been a long time since Apple computer users could proudly say, "There are no viruses on the Mac! Today, no computer system is invulnerable, Mac included. And even though macOS has many security features built in as standard, precautions should be taken to protect against malware and hackers, especially in an age where we are all connected to the Internet at all times. Hence the recurring question: how to protect your Mac effectively? And its corollary: should you install a security suite on your Mac?

What are the threats on Mac ?

On the Mac as on the PC, there is a wide variety of threats related to malware – the generic term for malicious software or code. Apart from adware, which is more annoying than dangerous, most of them exploit security holes in the operating system, which are sometimes slow to be identified and fixed. But others rely on the naivety or inexperience of the user who can introduce malicious software on his computer himself: As a famous computer scientist’s saying reminds us, the greatest danger on a computer is between the chair and the screen… It must be said that computers, operating systems and software have become extremely complex today, especially with a permanent connection to the Internet, and that it is in fact very difficult, even for a specialist, to know exactly everything that is happening on a machine.

Threats are even more difficult to identify because they take very diverse forms. For example, viruses (which hide in host files) and worms (which operate autonomously) aim to spread by copying or transferring, while Trojans are content to install themselves discreetly. All of them can execute malicious code for different purposes: to open secret accesses on the computer (the famous back doors that allow hackers to remotely enter the machine), to siphon off personal data (contacts, account identifiers and passwords, credit card numbers, etc.), to spy on the actions of the user, and so on.), spy on the user’s actions, erase or encrypt files to make them inaccessible (the famous ransomwares that require payment to regain access to the data), install encryption software (which exploit the computer’s resources to calculate crytpom currencies such as bitcoins), send spam, etc. All these threats are spread in multiple ways, as well as via files copied from a USB key as downloaded on the Internet, by consulting infected Web pages hiding malicious code, by opening a malicious e-mail, or by being abused by a phishing attempt, this technique which is more and more widespread and which consists in usurping the identity of a service (telephone operator, tax office, bank, shopkeeper, etc.) in order to recover personal data with the consent of the victim! Clearly, the danger can come from everywhere, especially since hackers and other criminals do not lack means or imagination.

Companies specialized in the detection of computer threats in general and on the Mac in particular, demonstrate this in the studies they publish every year. In its 2020 State of Malware Report, MalwareBytes points out that for the first time in 2019, some malware dedicated to the Mac had reached the top of the list of the most detected threats in all categories, including Windows. That’s quite a blow to the head of Apple’s most fervent defenders. Intego, for its part, points out in its 2020 review that not only is the number of Mac-specific threats increasing, but that Apple’s system has also become a target like any other for all other types of problems: the speed with which hackers exploit the slightest security flaw, the misappropriation of data in an attempt to deceive the user, the violation of privacy.

What are the defenses built into the Mac?

Has the Mac become a sieve? Fortunately not! With each successive version of macOS, Apple has greatly strengthened the Mac’s built-in defenses. We often forget, for example, that macOS has a kind of integrated antivirus, a bit like Windows, even if it is less complete than the latter. Called XProtect, it is based on a list of malware specific to the platform and blocks them if necessary. The automatic update of this list is enabled by default, as you can check in the System Preferences, by clicking on the Software Update icon. Then click the Advanced button and make sure the Install system data files and security updates checkbox is selected in the window that appears.

The best protection against malicious applications is to prevent them from installing, so the Mac also has several levels of protection. Since the early days of MacOS X, a window has always prompted you to type in the password for a local administrator account when software tries to install or change an important system setting. If you didn’t initiate this prompt, or if you’re unsure, just click Cancel and the process will stop. This is a classic infection attempt: many malwares have pretended to be the installer of a legitimate program.

Since macOS 10.15 (Catalina), Apple has also considerably reinforced the barriers to entry. As on an iPhone or an iPad, each time an application needs to access a type of data stored on your Mac (contacts, photos, geographical position, calendars, etc.) or a hardware resource (webcam, microphone, external disk, etc.), it must make a request to the system which, as a result, displays a dialog box asking you to grant it or not.

More generally, let’s remember that for Apple there are three categories of applications. First, the applications distributed via the Mac App Store. (the equivalent of the App Store on the iPhone and iPad) which go through a very strict validation process. Then there are the applications that you download from their publisher’s Web site, but which have shown Apple their credentials beforehand, via its "notarization" system. When this is the case, their developer is identified and pre-validated. The system only asks you for a simple confirmation to launch these applications once they are installed.

Finally, there are all the other applications, distributed by an unidentified or uncertified developer. For these, you must go to System Preferences, click on Security and Privacy and then on the Open Anyway button in the General tab to force them to open. But at your own risk…

What are the advantages of a security suite on the Mac ?

While the Mac already has several layers of protection, they are neither perfect nor always easy to understand, and despite Apple’s best efforts, security is not complete, even with certified applications. On several occasions, Apple has validated applications containing malware, which installed without any problem. That’s why it’s useful to supplement macOS protection with specialized tools.

This is precisely the domain of Intego, which offers since 1997 security tools dedicated to the Mac, for individuals and companies. The Mac Premium X9 Bundle is the most complete set of the range since it gathers all the security tools of the editor: an antivirus (VirusBarrier X9), a firewall (NetBarrier X9), a parental control module (ContentBarrier X9) but also a cleaning utility to recover disk space (Mac Washing Machine X9) and an automatic backup tool to protect precious data (Personal Backup).Each program offers many more options and controls than the Mac’s built-in tools, including regular malware database updates. This helps you protect your Mac from all threats, including your own mistakes!

Intego is offering a special deal for CCM readers with a 50% discount off the regular price of the Mac Premium Bundle X9.

VirusBarrier: Detect and Remove Malware

The Mac’s built-in security features are only preventive. If malware does manage to find its way in, only dedicated security tools like Intego’s are able to remove it. Thus, VirusBarrier is much more complete than the antivirus included in macOS. Above all, it is updated much more regularly and automatically, to be permanently effective. It tracks not only viruses in all their forms, but also adware (adware) and phishing attempts, which are becoming increasingly common. With the real-time protection feature, all files passing through your computer are scanned as soon as they appear and each time they are opened. VirusBarrier is even able to detect threats intended for Windows: they are inoperative on the Mac, but this prevents you from being a vector of contamination yourself if you transfer an infected file to a PC user. And if your iPhone or iPad is connected to your Mac via a cable, you can even have VirusBarrier scan its storage for malware. Handy!

NetBarrier: Track what’s coming in and going out

macOS has a firewall that monitors what comes in and out of a Mac to avoid intrusions via the Internet. Only flaw: it doesn’t say what it does. By installing NetBarrier X9, you’ll be in control of all Internet connections. Every time one of the applications needs to connect to send or receive data, an alert asks you whether you agree or not. You can then say yes once and for all, grant permission to connect until the next request, or simply deny access.

The number of alerts is very high at first, so you can see how many connections to and from the Internet your Mac is making. But once the necessary permissions are granted, everything becomes simple and transparent. And you are only alerted to unusual, and therefore suspicious, connection requests. In addition, NetBarrie X9 automatically adapts to your environment, whether you are at home, in the office, on the road or in a public place, by adjusting its settings according to the circumstances. In short, NetBarrier X9 becomes your Mac’s security guard: it monitors all comings and goings, under your control!

ContentBarrier: How to control each user

As the primary user of your Mac, you’re very careful not to click on Internet links you receive by e-mail or install an application that looks suspicious. But if you share your Mac with other family members, are you sure they’re as vigilant as you are? Rather than constantly lecturing them or living in anxiety (one is not exclusive to the other), install the ContentBarrier X9 parental control tool to restrict certain access to other users of the machine. The settings can be different for each of them, from restricting use during certain time slots only, to banning certain applications altogether, to creating a list of allowed websites. For tighter control, you can do the opposite and allow only certain applications and exclude all others. With ContentBarrier X9, you can be sure that your children, as well as all your Mac users, are surfing safely.

Mac Washing Machine: Clean and Optimize the Mac

On a Mac, as on any computer, files naturally accumulate over time. To the point of cluttering up the disk and slowing down overall operation. To do a big cleanup, free up storage space and restore the Mac to its original vigor, you need to use specialized software like Mac Washing Machine X9. This easy-to-use but highly effective utility lets you find and eliminate unnecessary files (especially duplicates) in a matter of seconds. But it also helps you to automatically organize your files and folders to make things more convenient.

Personal Backup: Automatic backups

For irreplaceable files, such as family photos, for example, it’s a good idea to multiply the levels of protection. And backup is a good complement to antivirus. Included in the complete Mac Premium Bundle, the Personal Backup module allows you to choose precisely which files you want to backup, where and how often. For example, you can dedicate an external disk to these files, which you designate as the target for your backups. Then, as long as the hard disk is connected, Personal Backup will take care of placing your precious files on it. To go further, you can also decide to create a full backup of your Mac on the external drive and make it bootable. This way, if your Mac ever crashes, you can simply plug your backup disk into another Mac and resume your activities almost where they left off.

As you can see, a security suite does much more than the protections built into macOS. By installing a suite like Mac Premium X9 Bundle, you can be sure that your precious data will be safe from malware and intrusions.