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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Do You Need an Antivirus on a Mac?

A MacBook laptop open on a wooden desk.
Krisda/Shutterstock

No software is immune to attack, including macOS. The rising popularity of Apple computers has made them a prime target for malware. And security companies are increasingly offering antivirus for Macs, but do you really need it?

Here’s everything you need to know to protect your Mac from malware.

How macOS Protects Your Computer

Your Mac has many built-in security features to keep it safe. The bedrock of macOS (formerly Mac OS X) is a rock-solid Unix foundation. This is the same operating system on which BSD and Linux were built, and it’s earned its reputation for reliability and security thanks to a robust permissions system.

To keep the platform secure, each Mac uses a suite of proprietary technologies. It might surprise you to learn your Mac already runs an anti-malware scanner in the background called Xprotect.

Whenever you open a file on your Mac, Xprotect scans and checks it against known macOS malware definitions. If it finds something suspicious, you see a warning that the file will damage your computer. When your Mac installs system updates, it also updates the malware definitions.

Another technology called Gatekeeper tries to prevent unknown applications from causing harm. By default, macOS blocks all software that isn’t signed with an Apple-issued developer certificate or downloaded from the Mac App Store.

A macOS GateKeeper alert, asking if you're sure you want to open a third-party app.

Not all unsigned apps are harmful. Developers who create free, open-source apps often cannot justify the $99 required to enter the Apple Developer Program and issue certificates. To circumvent Gatekeeper, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy, and then click “Open Anyway” after you attempt to open an unsigned app.

To prevent signed apps and those distributed via the Mac App Store from damaging the operating system, Apple uses sandboxing. Sandboxing provides the app with everything it needs to perform its purpose and nothing else. When you run an app in a sandbox, you limit what it can do and provide additional permissions based on input.

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