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How to Keep Your Mac Safe From Malware

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Malicious Software, or malware for short is something many Mac users don't experience on a regular basis. Apple has always sought to advertise Macs as machines which are extremely hard to penetrate.

While it is true that Apple computers are preloaded with many different forms of protection, they are still far from invincible. Let's take a look at how Macs deal with threats as well as ways you can get rid of malware before serious damage occurs.


Introduction to Malware

For those who are unaware, malware covers every spectrum of attack on your computer, including the most common such as viruses and trojan horses. Their intention is to either damage or steal information from its host. Making it of critical importance that malware doesn't reach your Mac computer.

The most common place for malware to arrive is through your web browser. Infections can arise from the simplest of mistakes such as downloading an email attachment off an unknown contact; making the internet a huge breeding ground for infection. However, there are steps you can take to ensure safety while browsing and going about your day to day routine.


Hardening Your Browser

Regarding browser options there are many easy steps you can take to protect yourself. Possibly the simplest to do is regularly updating your browser and making sure to check "Automatic Update." Developers are constantly fixing flaws and improving security which makes updating absolutely necessary.

Two extensions that I recommend are: HTTPS Everywhere and Disconnect. HTTPS Everywhere is an extension for Chrome and Firefox and works by encrypting data to make your browser experience more secure. Disconnect is probably the best tool if you want to avoid tracking. Some of the sites it works best with are Google and Facebook. Using Disconnect you can ensure that no one will be tracking your internet time. (Every time a new browser version is launched you should check whether any of your extensions need updating because chances are that they do.)

Disconnect has some great benefits. If security is your priority services like this are perfect
Disconnect has some great benefits. If security is your priority services like this are perfect

Something which has come as standard on every browser is the blocking of websites which are known to be fraudulent or unsafe. This means if you ever stumble upon one of these websites you will be unable to venture any further. To make sure this setting is turned on be sure to visit your internet preferences.

Something to bear in mind is that the security settings that you can change on your browser are very limited. This has become far more evident as time as gone on. Basically, this means that more of the security is hidden and you'd struggle realize that it's actually there.

The settings here are all ticked automatically and as you can see, they aren't extensive
The settings here are all ticked automatically and as you can see, they aren't extensive

The Ways That Your Mac Protects You

Your Mac also has inbuilt systems which work for the majority of the time without you even realizing. This protection comes in three separate forms.

  • Gatekeeper
  • Firewall
  • Apple MAS Security Updates

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is a form of protection only available for users on the Mountain Lion version of Mac OS X. This is the form of defense assists when downloading software from a variety of different sources. If you've ever tried to download an app which isn't from the Mac App Store and you've been stopped, then Gatekeeper has done its job. In layman's terms Gatekeeper recognizes whether the software is from an unknown developer and consequently stops the app from accessing your system.

Gatekeeper has three different forms and you can choose between them in System Preferences.
Gatekeeper has three different forms and you can choose between them in System Preferences.

Of course, sometimes this can cause annoyance. Often you find apps which aren't in the App Store and with Gatekeeper enabled it will be impossible to acquire. However, there is one way you can alter the security settings to bypass Gatekeeper. This is achieved through System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General where you have three distinct options. Allow applications download from the Mac App Store, Mac App Store and identified developers and Anywhere. Obviously selecting Anywhere gives you less protection, but in turn gives you a wealth of different apps to download. (Even with the Anywhere setting turned on you will still be notified when downloading app which hasn't been verified as safe.)

Your Mac's Firewall

Many Mac users (including myself) choose not to turn on Apple's inbuilt Firewall. My main reasoning is that my Mac is a desktop and it's highly unlikely I'll ever move it from my room and connect to other networks. For those that don't know, a Firewall is a way of blocking the incoming connections to your computer. For example, if you're sitting in Starbucks any WiFi you connect to can be illegitimate and anyone could be connected.

Apple's built in Firewall is easy to turn on and could be helpful.
Apple's built in Firewall is easy to turn on and could be helpful.

However, for those who would like to turn on their Firewall, something I recommend to all portable Mac users, it is accessible in your System Preferences. Again you need to go into Security & Privacy > Firewall and simply click Turn On Firewall.

Once initiated the Firewall will prevent your Mac from accepting any incoming connections. You can also change the Firewall settings which help you choose which connections to allow. This is one of the main ways Apple aims to stop malicious software reaching you.

Apple MAS Security Updates

The final way Apple protects you is through constant MAS security updates. These fix common issues across the operating system and generally make your Mac a lot safer. (If you are experiencing a security issue you can contact Apple at www.product-security@apple.com.) The only way to keep on top of these updates is to regularly check for new software updates.

You can check for software updates easily in the top left of your screen.
You can check for software updates easily in the top left of your screen.

Removing the Infection

Although, sometimes malicious software can still reach your Mac and at that stage your first step should be destroying the malware before it infects everything. In my opinion, the best two pieces of software to do this are Sophos Free Anti Virus and MacScan. Both come with free downloads and can quickly fix your host machine.

My favorite of the two is MacScan, the app is simple and performing a quick search of your files is straightforward. You can make custom scans and even schedule scans for times of the day when you won't be as active on your computer.

As you can see, MacScan is basic and functional, giving you quick results.
As you can see, MacScan is basic and functional, giving you quick results.

On the other hand, Sophos is far more extensive in terms of preferences. Here you can even choose to enable live protection an option which increases your security by constantly checking everything.

Sophos is far more extensive, but more expensive at the same time.
Sophos is far more extensive, but more expensive at the same time.

Obviously both pieces of software are capable of removing malicious software from your Mac. It really depends on the price you would like to pay and the service you prefer.


Wrap-Up

In this article I've investigated and explained the two main barriers between malicious software and your Mac computer. The first layer of defense is through your web browser and each browser gives you different options in order to increase this protection. The second comes in the form of Apple security, this is extensive and will often oust the problem quickly. And if the unfortunate circumstance occurs where you have been infected there is always quick fixes.

Hopefully, you can now make your life a bit easier with regards to security. What virus protection software do you use on your Mac? Let us know below!

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