A report by antivirus maker company, Malwarebytes has debunked the common belief that Macs are safer and less prone to malware threats than Windows PCs. In its State of Malware Report, the antivirus maker discovered that malware threats targeting Mac computers had risen by up to 400% and almost doubled that of Windows machines.
Prevalence of Mac threats
Analyzing the number of threats detected based on detections per endpoint, the antivirus software maker detected 11 threats per Mac endpoint compared to 5.8 threats affecting Windows PC’s endpoint. The number of Mac detections almost doubled from 4.8 in 2018 to 11 threats per endpoint in 2019. These figures were from Macs running the Malwarebytes antivirus program.
Although adware and PuPs threats have become more prevalent on Macs, they are also common on PCs running the Windows operating system. The two types of threats affect about 24 million Windows PCs worldwide. The number of detections has also been on the rise with Windows users and businesses recording 13% and 463% increases respectively.
Types of malware threats
Unlike Windows machines that face traditional malware threats, Mac malware threats consist mostly of potentially unwanted programs (PuP) and adware. PuP consists mostly of cleaning utility tools such as junk cleaners, with the most common ones being MacKeeper and MacBooster. JDI and PCVARK were also among the PuPs threats affecting Mac computers. Adware affecting Mac computers include applications such as NewTab which redirects users to fake illicit affiliate revenue-earning sites. The number of detections for this adware exceeded 30 million times in 2019. Other types of threats affecting Mac computers include trojans and backdoors, crypto miners, and spyware. Common offenders on this list include OSX.Generic.Suspicious and FakeFileOpener. The total number of detections for these two threats exceeded 300,000 for the year 2019. Despite the increase in the number of Mac malware threats detection, only the Firefox zero-day vulnerability affecting cryptocurrency companies caused widespread problems. Of all the threats targeting Mac users, only a single threat did not involve tricking users into downloading and executing harmful software from the internet.
In comparison with Macs, traditional Windows malware threats include highly risky ransomware such as Ryuk, Sodinokibi, and Phobos. Similarly, Windows PCs suffer from botnet attacks such as Emotet and Trickbot. And 70% of all common Windows threats had an adware variant.
Mac malware threats are less dangerous compared to the traditional threats targeting the Windows operating system. However, the report indicates that the increase in such types of threats is causing a noticeable nuisance to Mac users. According to Malwarebytes’ CEO, Marcin Kleczynski, there is a rise in pre-installed malware, adware, and multi-vendor attacks on mac computers. The CEO notes that criminals are becoming more creative in and waging a more persistent campaign to penetrate computers running the Mac operating system. The soft nature of the threat posed by adware and PuPs tricks most Mac users into having a false sense of security despite the rising complexity of the attacks.
Reasons for the increase in malware threats against Macs
According to the report by Malwarebytes, the reason for the increase in malware threats against Macs was because of the increase in the market share of the devices and the increase in the number of Mac users. This has led to an increase in the size of the user base of Mac computers.
Another likely cause of the increase is Apple’s focus on protecting Macs from serious threats while allowing borderline adware and PUPs to penetrate the Apple ecosystem.
Similarly, Mac computers are a soft target because most Mac users still believe that Macs do not need any type of antivirus software. This makes Mac computers a soft target for criminals thus encouraging them to target the system more.
Regardless of the reason for the increase in the number of malware threats against Mac computers, the truth is that Mac computers are no longer immune to malware threats as most people believe. The number of threats will also keep rising as Mac use becomes more prevalent in the business environment.