As computer lingo has evolved over time, the true definition of a “computer virus” has been somewhat lost. Indeed, these days, the term “computer virus” is perhaps most often used as a catch-all for all types of malware—from worms to Trojan Horses to keyloggers and beyond. The true definition of a computer virus, however—and the type of malware program it originally described—is a program that will infect programs and files throughout a computer system and change the way they behave and function.
Like worms, viruses are self-replicating and are adept at spreading throughout a computer system. Sometimes, viruses can even be self-modifying, making it possible for them to infect and cause problems with various different computer programs. For instance, viruses in the past have been known to corrupt files or programs, clog up hard drive space, access email programs and send spam messages to users’ contact lists, or even mess with sensitive system or boot sector data—thereby essentially making the computer impossible to use without a total reformatting of the disk.
A History of Viruses on Mac
Needless to say, computer viruses can be incredibly frustrating at best, and incredibly damaging at worst. The good news is that even as Trojan Horses, adware, and other types of malware are becoming more common on the Mac operating system, true “viruses” are still quite rare for Macs. Apple is fully aware this fact, and has actually used it as a marketing tactic to encourage consumers to switch to Mac from Windows PCs.
With that said, there have been a number of viruses written to target Mac computers over the years. That number is growing year over year. We recently hosted an episode of our Checklist podcast talking about the history of malware and the Mac.
Some of the initial Mac malware were merely annoyances. A proof-of-concept virus created in 2006 was used to show that Macs can indeed get viruses; it was dubbed the “OSX.Macarena,” after a ubiquitous Spanish dance pop song from the 1990s. The OSX.Macarena virus essentially posed no real threat to Macs, their users, or their files, but it could replicate itself and spread from folder to folder.
However, today these infectious programs are doing real damage to personal and enterprise systems. From keyloggers to ransomware, from adware to spyware, Macs have become a new favorite target of hackers. While the Apple operating system remains strong, poor usage habits are the easiest way for malware to infect systems and networks. Strong layered defenses are the best approach in these situations.
The Message: Install Antivirus on Your Mac
The message of the OSX.Macarena virus was clear: Mac users should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because so many people are saying that Macs “can’t get viruses.” While the virus itself wasn’t harmful and was never released “into the wild,” a hacker with malicious intent could easily use a similar concept to create a virus that would be extremely harmful and very difficult to remove. Today we see that’s exactly what has been happening.
Mac users will probably always be less at risk for computer viruses than their PC-using counterparts. Windows PCs still beat Macs in market share, which means they are essentially the “bigger fish to fry” for virus writers. However, with Macs gaining market share across the universe of Apple devices, Mac systems are under growing and persistent threat.
It only takes one computer virus to damage your computer or corrupt your files, and having anti-malware software on your computer is just a smart safeguard to reduce your chances of getting infected. Search for antivirus software on the Apple App Store to find specific apps, or visit our site at securemac.com to learn more about the tools that you can use for this purpose.
With free and well-reviewed antivirus options available for Mac, there is really no reason for Mac users not to protect themselves against potential threats. Most antivirus programs don’t just guard against computer viruses either, but look out for other types of malware, too.