How to protect your macOS devices from malware

Does your macOS device suddenly seem slower? Is your browser crashing? Are you being bombarded with pop-up ads? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your Mac device may be infected with malware.

Yes, that’s right, Mac users can no longer boast how their devices are “bulletproof” against malware. For the first time ever, there are more threats directed at Mac devices than at Windows devices. In fact, according to MalwareBytes' 2020 State of Malware report, the average number of threats per Mac device in 2019 is nearly double the number per Windows device.

The good news is that you’re not alone when it comes to protecting your Mac device — Apple has developed its own malware defenses.

What does Apple do to prevent macOS devices from being infected by malware?

Apple’s protection against malware is structured in three layers:

1. First layer: Notarization process and Gatekeeper program

Before becoming available in the App Store, apps first go through a review process to ensure that these are safe for download. But for apps that will be distributed outside the App Store, these have to go through Notarization, which is Apple’s malware scanning service. If there are no issues found, an app is given a Notarization ticket. Gatekeeper — Apple’s security technology — uses this ticket to verify and launch the app.

However, if the app is known to be malicious, it is given a revocation ticket — even if it has been previously notarized. Gatekeeper then uses the latest information on revocation tickets so it can block malicious apps from launching.

2. Second layer: XProtect

If malware appears on a Mac device, XProtect — macOS’s built-in, signature-based antivirus technology — identifies and blocks it to halt its spread. Afterwards, XProtect notifies the user of the malware so the user can move that software to the Trash.

3. Third layer: Malware Removal Tool

Should a malware penetrate the first two layers, macOS runs the Malware Removal Tool to delete it and remediate infections.

What can you do to defend macOS devices from malware?

While macOS’s three-layer malware defense is effective, users can still accidentally infect their devices in many ways, such as by visiting unsafe websites or clicking suspicious links in emails. Keep your Mac device safe by following these tips:

1. Make sure your macOS and apps are up to date

macOS updates keep your device’s built-in defenses strong, so whenever you’re asked to install these, do so right away. Updates often include information about the latest threats and security patches to fix discovered vulnerabilities.

Keep your apps up-to-date as well. Any app with known security gaps is a potential problem. Browsers, for example, are commonly targeted by hackers.

It’s recommended to update your system and apps automatically. But if you want to do so manually, you can update your OS by clicking the Apple logo on the top-left corner of your screen > System Preferences > Software Updates. For apps, you can open the App Store and click Updates. But for applications that you didn’t download from the App Store, you’ll need to look for updates in their respective developers’s websites.

2. Only download and install legitimate software

The best way to make sure that you download only legitimate apps is by getting them from the App Store. Directly downloading apps from developer web pages puts you at risk of downloading malware alongside these. By default, macOS will block software from unauthorized developers from launching, but you can easily turn off this setting, endangering your system’s security. Should you still opt to use apps outside the App Store, make sure to read reviews and check if the developer’s website is legitimate.

3. Install an anti-malware app

While the built-in XProtect provides some protection, you should still supplement it with a paid anti-malware program to boost security. Most paid apps have an always-on scanner so you can catch malware in real time, but that option can be heavy on system resources. An alternative to this is running regular scans.

4. Practice good cyber hygiene habits

User error or negligence can easily override any security technology. Therefore, you should maintain good cyber hygiene at all times. This means following best practices such as:

  • Use strong passwords and other authentication measures
  • Be wary of unexpected emails and their embedded attachments and links
  • Use only secure Wi-Fi connections
  • Avoid sharing personally identifiable information and other sensitive data online

Need more help securing your macOS devices? Get in touch with the IT experts of Cutting Edge Network Technologies. With our help, you’ll stay protected from cyberthreats that can hamper business growth.

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