Although Macs have long been viewed as a safe haven from the kind of malware and viruses that pervade the Windows PC landscape, that’s gradually been changing in recent years, and it’s something that Mac users should really be sitting up and taking notice of.
It’s true that Macs have historically been less prone to malware and other threats, but at least some of that immunity was simply a result of them being a much smaller target — there were vastly more Windows PCs out there, which made them more attractive to bad actors. Further, the architecture of macOS also made it more secure from malware than early versions of Windows, so hackers went for the low-hanging fruit.
In recent years, however, both of these things have changed, as the market share of Mac users has increased and Microsoft has improved the security of its Windows platform. In fact, the scales have now tipped in the opposite direction, according to a new report from Malwarebytes, shared by Gizmodo, which reveals that last year Mac-specific threats actually outpaced PCs by an alarming 2:1 ratio.
In other words, last year we saw twice as many threats aimed at macOS than we did at Windows, although the report doesn’t speak to how many of those threats were successful in compromising users’ computers, there’s little doubt that hackers and cybercriminals have begun attacking Mac users in record numbers.
The report specifically notes that the volume of Mac threats increased by more than 400 percent compared to 2018, an increase that can’t be accounted for simply by a larger Mac user base. Breaking it down to “threats per endpoint” the analysis determined that there were an average of 11 unique threats for every Mac computer, compared to only 5.8 per Windows PC. In 2018, that number was only 4.8 for Mac users.
Malwarebytes cites increased market share as the main reason for the increase, since a larger number of Mac computers makes for a more attractive target for miscreants.
It’s also important to note that “malware” is a fairly broad category, and while Mac users may now face more threats than their PC brethren, the threats are actually substantially different, especially since there area areas in which the Mac is still relatively vulnerable.
Mac users aren’t facing the traditional malware that Windows users have become accustomed to, but are instead seeing more adware and “potentially unwanted programs” (PUPs) — both areas that Apple’s built-in security doesn’t really address yet.
Examples of PUPs cited include “cleaning” apps like MacKeeper and MacBooster that are installed by many users in an effort to improve their system performance, but actually hide tracking and advertising components that users are often unaware of. Another app which topped the list NewTab, was cited as an adware app that masquerades as a flight or package tracker but actually replaces the advertisements you see on the websites you visit with other ads the generate revenue for NewTab’s creator in order to earn “illicit affiliate revenue.”
Although these types of apps are considered less dangerous than traditional malware, they can slow down your computer and are almost certainly collecting data on you and using your web browsing habits for their own nefarious purposes, and the numbers from Malwarebytes‘ report shows that they’re getting more aggressive.
So while Mac users may still be less likely than PC users to need traditional antivirus software, it’s a mistake to assume that you’re completely immune to malware just because you’re on a Mac, and therefore in the very least it’s best to be on your guard and exercise safe browsing habits.
Of course we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the obvious point here that Malwarebytes is a company that makes anti-malware apps, and therefore may have a vested interested in spinning these numbers a bit for their own benefit, but it’s very unlikely that the numbers are completely fabricated, and certainly there’s not much motivation for them to specifically make out Mac users to be more vulnerable than Windows users.