/ Technology

Apple admits it – Macs aren’t immune to viruses

Apple has removed a statement from its website which had implied that its Mac operating system was immune to viruses. If you own a Mac, did you think it couldn’t catch viruses?

Apple previously claimed on its website that the Mac ‘doesn’t get PC viruses’ and told owners they could ‘safeguard your data, by doing nothing’. ‘A Mac isn’t susceptible to the thousands of viruses plaguing Windows-based computers’, the website also boasted.

For years Apple owners have been the ‘smug marrieds’ when it comes to security threats, and it is true that Macs have been less prone to malware than Windows-based PCs. But that situation has changed.

Flashback botnet changed the landscape

In April of this year the Flashback botnet infected over 600,000 Macintosh computers. Like Windows viruses before it, the botnet infected computers and lay in wait to steal sensitive information, such as passwords.

Since then the anti-virus firm Sophos has revealed that one in every five Mac computers is harbouring malware. The company took a snapshot of 100,000 Macs and found 20% of them were infected with some kind of Windows malware, which while not harmful to Macs could be passed on to and cause damage to Windows-based machines.

Sophos also found that 2.7% of Macs were infected with Mac OS X malware.

While Flashback drove a seismic shift in attitude, the change has been a long time coming. As Sophos wrote in its 2012 Security Threat report:

‘In 2011, the emergence of malware for the Mac upstaged Windows malware. There’s no doubt that the Windows malware problem is much larger than the Mac threat, but the events of 2011 show Mac users that the malware threat is genuine.’

Anti-virus protection for Apple Macs

Apple’s Mac OS X operating system claims to offer anti-virus protection. But, that protection is – again according to Sophos – limited.

It’s time Apple customers woke up to the threat of malware. However, I hope they’ll learn from the experience of Windows’ customers that it isn’t necessary to overload machines with sluggish anti-virus software in order to be safe. Equally, they should be wary of paid-for software that charges renewal costs automatically.

Apple’s new marketing message now says that the Mac is ‘built to be safe’ and ‘Safety. Built in’.

It may have safety built-in, but the best defence for Mac owners is the realisation that they aren’t as safe as they once thought.

Did you think Apple's Macs were 'immune' to viruses?

Almost - I just didn't think Macs were as likely to get viruses as Windows PCs (55%, 785 Votes)

Yes - I didn't think Macs could get viruses like Windows PCs (24%, 346 Votes)

No - I knew Macs were susceptible to computer viruses (21%, 301 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,442

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Kit says:
15 July 2012

The “Did you think Apple’s Macs were ‘immune’ to viruses?” options are:
* Yes – I didn’t think Macs could get viruses like Windows PCs
* No – I knew Macs were susceptible to computer viruses
* Almost – I just didn’t think Macs were as likely to get viruses as Windows PCs
– to which my answer is “non of the above” because the nearest – your “no” – doesn’t say it all, and your no 3 implies that Macs are just as insecure as MS-Windows.

So my answer no 4 is “I always knew that Unix- and Linux-based computers (such as the Mac) are far less susceptible to viruses because the underlying systems were carefully built to be as loophole-free as is humanly possible”.

That needs two “but”s:
* But any computer that is connected by wires to another computer is susceptible to attack – the question s how hard it is to mount a successful attack; and
* Anyone who runs Windows on a Mac/etc. is opening the Windows floodgates – it’s rather strange to attack Mac/etc for that.

James says:
16 July 2012

Hear, hear!

Real nerds already knew this, for ooooo about the last 15 years or so, give or take a month.

IT tutor

Roland says:
10 October 2012

I have to say that as a Windows user, I do know that the number of viruses that have successfully attacked Macs can be counted on the fingers of one hand that has had all of its digits removed. It doesn’t stop people trying though. I am constantly fielding potential attacks on my PC and so far the Anti-virus Software works. I also use a Mac. I keep getting e-mails suggesting I buy this, that or the other wonder virus protector. I use one. It has never reported a virus. It has reported a trojan though and this turned out to be file sent from a PC and wouldn’t have affected the Mac anyway.

I think some of the posters to this list may be mixing up the term “Virus” with “Trojan”. Even nerds get this wrong sometimes.

We are in the process of moving completely over to Macs purely because it makes business sense. We will however run Windows on one of them in a separate partition until it is no longer needed.

MacDonald says:
11 October 2012

This so-called “debate” is absolutely preposterous. I’m a Mac devotee, but that didn’t mean I imagined that Macs were invulnerable to viruses – which would be an an extremely stupid presumption. I simply believed – and still do! – that Macs are less vulnerable to malware than PCs are…!! That’s all…!!!

ashwin says:
1 March 2019

Thanks to this informational post