Ask Deemable Tech: Can Macs Get Viruses?

Oct 18, 2014

Nancy asked, "I’m fairly new to Apple computers, and one of the reasons I made the switch from PC was to avoid viruses, hackers and other bad stuff. Should I install an antivirus program on my Apple laptop?"

Credit Ricky Romero / Flickr

If you’re like us, Nancy, you’ve probably heard a lot of people say that Macs don’t get viruses. While this isn’t entirely true, there is a lot to back this claim up. Macs are safer on average, and it has to do with a couple of factors.

When hackers write a virus or a piece of malware, their goal is to make money. The most efficient way to make money is to get the virus on as many computers as they can. Apple has always had a pretty low market share in the world of home computers, usually around 10 percent. So, if you were trying to write a virus, what would make the most sense: writing it for the majority of computers running a version of Windows, or writing it for the small number of Macs?

Also, Mac OS X is based on Unix, which (without getting into all the nerdy technical details) makes it much harder to hack than Windows. However, this does not mean that Macs are unhackable.

You may have heard about the recently-discovered bug called Shellshock, which can let a hacker gain unauthorized access to computers running Mac OS or Linux. Although it impacts very few Mac users, it is just one of several bugs and security vulnerabilities that have been discovered in Mac OS X lately. Apple does a fairly good job of patching these up once they’ve been discovered, but it usually takes a little while.

To answer your question, Nancy: we actually wouldn’t recommend installing any antivirus software, unless you are using your computer to run a business. This may sound strange considering what we just said about recent bugs, but it has to do with the cost-to-benefit ratio. As we said, the chance of you getting a virus is very low. When you take those odds into account with the cost of antivirus software, and the amount of resources that software takes making the computer slower and less productive, it just doesn't make sense to invest that much into it.

We do recommend, though, that you install antivirus software if you use your computer to run a business, especially if you work in the medical field or if the data on your computer is incredibly sensitive. Avast and Kasperky both make highly rated antivirus software for Mac OS X. Avast is free, and Kasperky starts at $39.95. 

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