Virus protection for your Mac: Is additional protection necessary?

Windows is often targeted by hackers and fraudsters. But how about the operating system for Apple computers, macOS? — dpa

Windows is often targeted by hackers and fraudsters. But how about the operating system for Apple computers, macOS? — dpa

When it comes to threats from hackers or malware, Apple computer users usually have nothing to fear compared with those using Windows. Even so, is it worth it for those with macOS to get more protection?

Windows is often targeted by hackers and fraudsters. Given how common the Windows operating system is, this is not surprising.

But how about the operating system for Apple computers, macOS?

"The security architecture of macOS is very well thought out and removes a large number of threats on its own," says Stephan Ehrmann, editor-in-chief of Mac & i magazine.

One way the system does that is by sandboxing, which mean that processes can access only their own approved areas. Something similar can be found in the iOS and Android mobile operating systems.

Every Mac also has its own built-in virus scanner called XProtect. That has a clear advantage over a third-party application, Ehrmann says: "Unlike the inflated virus scanners on the market, XProtect uses hardly any resources that could slow down the system."

Another advantage that macOS has is that its market share is small compared with Windows – that makes it a less attractive target for criminals. Windows offers a much larger target base. "For this reason, far less malware is written for Macs," Ehrmann says.

Even so, the numbers of threats to Macs has increased rapidly, according to the manufacturers of virus scanners.

In a report earlier this year McAfee estimated that the number of malicious programs targeting Macs went from 100,000 at the start of 2016 to more than 700,000 by the end of 2017.

That sounds like a lot, but it's still a long way behind the millions of attacks on Windows systems every day.

Ehrmann sees reports like the McAfee one as scare-mongering to drum up more customers for third-party virus scanners. Installing one could actually endanger the Mac, he says: "The scanners themselves can have security holes that hackers could exploit. So they potentially make the system even less secure."

Chris Wojzechowski from the Institute for Internet Security in Germany also trusts the native Mac scanner and says there's no need for an additional one.

He says most Apple vulnerabilities are only discovered under lab conditions and "are hardly exploitable". He recommends that users make the most of the integrated solutions that come with the Mac.

For example, there's FileVault, which can be used to encrypt the data on your hard drive so it's protected even if the device is stolen or hacked. Then there's Time Machine for creating periodic backups.

Both programs are an integral part of macOS and can be found on every Mac.

Wojzechowski sees two arguments in favour of an additional virus scanner for Macs: One, if it's mandatory in your company, and two, if a higher scanner refresh rate than XProtect offers is required.

In both cases, the free version of a third-party scanner is usually sufficient. They generally protect just as well as the paid version but get updates less often (usually once a day rather than hourly).

A test by Mac & i magazine found that free scanners generally do a good job without slowing down the system too much. The options include Sophos Home, Avast Free Mac Security and AVG Antivirus. – dpa