Rise in macOS Malware Due to Increased Detection

By Chand Bellur

February 12, 2020 at 9:15 p.m. PDT

  • Malwarebytes released their Annual State of Malware report, showing a 400% increase in macOS malware.
  • The increase corresponds to greater adoption of Malwarebytes detection software for macOS.
  • macOS is mainly affected by low risk, annoying malware, such as adware and unwanted programs.

macOS Malware Threats Grow Due to Increased Detection

Malwarebytes, maker of malware remediation software, issues an annual State of Malware report. This year, macOS malware threats have increased by 400%. This increase correlates to more users installing Malwarebytes software, which is the annual report’s data source.

Needless to say, the blogosphere has run wild with the news, claiming that macOS is more vulnerable and susceptible to malware than Windows. Like a game of telephone, bloggers are drawing conclusions from other misinformed websites, instead of reading the actual report.

Malwarebytes has an incentive to deceive users about Mac vulnerabilities. They develop and sell malware remediation software. The company has been honest and forthright, however, attributing the rise in macOS malware to increased installation of their software:

“We saw a significant rise in the overall prevalence of Mac threats in 2019, with an increase of over 400 percent from 2018. However, since you could argue—validly—that part of this was due to a corresponding increase in the total number of Mac endpoints running Malwarebytes software, it’s more interesting to look at the change in
the number of detections per endpoint.”

The report makes clear that the Mac has twice as many threats directed at detection endpoints than Windows. This doesn’t mean the Mac is more vulnerable. The data show that hackers are attacking macOS more frequently than Windows.

Mac Vulnerabilities Annoying Yet Harmless

Adware and unwanted programs are the bulk of macOS malware threats. No one is going to ransom your MacBook Pro. At worst, you will see a few extra ads. Perhaps a downloaded program will trick you into installing Flash, which can deliver more annoying vulnerabilities.

For the most part, Apple has limited the damage that Adobe Flash can do, to the extent of completely removing it from Safari. The next version of Safari won’t have any support for Flash. Adobe is also killing off Flash in 2020.

The notion that Windows is now safer than macOS is false, however, tech writers have taken advantage of Malwarebytes report. Taken out of context, one can cast shadows of macOS vulnerabilities. In reality, Windows is still subject to severe threats, including ransomeware. Some Windows systems are ransomed for over $300,000, according to Malwarebytes’ report.

Does a Mac Need Malware Protection?

Out of the box, Apple provides world class technology to thwart cyber threats. Even though they’re a large corporation, they’re not latent in response. Apple fixes and patches vulnerabilities faster than any other tech company. They even update older operating systems, such as iOS 12, with security patches.

Computer literacy is critical to determining whether malware remediation software should be installed. Both average and sophisticated users are adept at avoiding adware and additional programs. macOS prompts users with several warnings before they can install software from the web. If the software is dubious or unsigned, this process is even more difficult.

Some users lack the skills to interpolate obvious cyber threats. Most famously, John Podesta practically handed over his Gmail password to hackers in a phishing attempt. Unfortunately, most malware detection software and email systems can’t block a targeted phishing attempt.

Mac malware remediation software, such as Malwarebytes, is unecessary for most users. Mac threats are innocuous compared to Windows malware. Furthermore, most users don’t fall for adware or shady installers, as macOS issues warnings.

Users with below average computer literacy skills should use malware detection software. Although the threat level is low, it’s best to be on the safe side. As macOS grows and Windows shrinks its user base, cyber criminals may focus more on the Mac in the future.

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