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Mac Threat Detections Rose in 2019


Are Macs immune from virus infections considering that so few cyber criminals target the Apple platform? Conventional wisdom says so. But Malwarebytes' detection telemetry has produced a “startling upward trend,” the security provider wrote in a recent blog post.

“We’ve known for a long time that the 'Macs don’t get viruses' tale was completely wrong,” said Thomas Reed, Malwarebytes’ director of Mac and Mobile, in the blog post. “As time goes on, though, we’re seeing that Macs are increasingly popular targets, and the bad guys are ramping up their efforts to get a piece of the Mac market.”

Here’s some of Malwarebytes’ evidence:

Item #1: Of Windows PCs, Macs, and Android, out of top 25 detections, six of them were Mac threats. Overall, Mac threats accounted for more than 16 percent of total detections. Considering that Malwarebytes’ Mac user base is about 8 percent the size of its Windows user base, that 16 percent figure “becomes more significant,” Reed said.

Item #2: On Windows, Malwarebytes saw 4.2 detections per device in 2019. On the Mac it saw 9.8 detections per device. That number, however, may be somewhat distorted, Malwarebytes said.

Here’s why: There are some built-in biases in the data, Malwarebytes concedes, such as all machines have the company’s antivirus installed. While many Mac owners eschew security software, they still installed the vendor’s software. And, the machines in question may already have harbored an infection. But it’s no different for PC users, who themselves may believe that Windows Defender is enough protection. “Still the overall threat detection rate for all Macs (and not just those with Malwarebytes installed) is likely not as high as this data sample,” Reed said.

Item #3: For the first time ever, Mac malware broke into the top five most-detected threats in the world. In 2019, Mac malware represented the second- and fifth-most detected threats. Most of it is tied to a Mac adware family known as NewTab, which accounts for about 4 percent of Malwarebytes’ overall detections across all platforms. The adware uses browser extensions to modify the content of web pages. In general, malware for the Mac is usually limited in scope, Malwarebytes said.

The bottom line? “If you use a Mac, stay alert, use antivirus software, and don’t allow yourself to be lulled into a false sense of security,” said Reed.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.