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Although 2020 will surely go down as “virus year,” viruses on Mac are not going anywhere. Just recently, a fake Adobe Flash Player updater named Shlayer has infected 10% of all Macs in the world (according to Kaspersky’s lab).
Even newer malware type, Tarmac, is increasingly sweeping the Mac world. All it takes to contract it is to open a pirated website or even click a link on Wikipedia. At least that’s been the case with Shlayer, which had its malicious links planted inside Wikipedia’s external resources.
In this Mac Malware removal guide, we’ll tell you how to get rid of malware on your Mac. We’ll also cover how to tell apart different viruses on Mac: adware, scareware, and others. We’ll be using the manual methods as well as some respected antivirus tools for Mac. Let’s go.
What is malware
First off, let’s point out that the term “malware” is a broad term for all unwanted intrusions. It’s also not synonymous with the term “virus” because the latter is only a model of distribution i.e. how an app self-replicates. Here are common types of malware you can encounter on Mac:
- Download managers — download unauthorized objects
- Spyware and keyloggers — steal users’ personal data
- Backdoor infections — apps that remotely seize control of your computer
- Rootkit — infiltrate admin privileges
- Botnet — turn your Mac into a shadow bot
- Trojan horses — apps disguised as legit software
- Ransomware — lock your Mac’s screen
- PUP — potentially unwanted programs
Among these, PUPs are the most numerous type. According to Malwarebytes, Windows platform is no longer a hotbed for viruses — the macOS is. The has been a 400% spike in macOS-specific malware infections with an average of 11 threats per number of Mac devices — the same figure for Windows is only 5.8.
Mac malware: The symptoms
Oftentimes a malware app would trick you into believing it’s perfectly harmless. Such apps are known to disguise themselves as antiviruses, extractors or video players. But how to check your Mac for viruses? Here are some of the tell-tale signs:
- A sudden drop in Mac’s performance or frequent freeze-ups.
- Pages that you visit get obscured with ads.
- Unexpected Mac reboots or apps starting for no reason.
- Your browser installs suspicious updates automatically.
How Mac can get infected with malware
By clicking on fake Flash Player updater. Or by installing a seemingly useful browser extension. As of 2020, a trojan browser extension NewTab infected 30 million Mac computers. This malware disguised itself as a parcel tracking helper but was in fact spreading ads. So how to protect your Mac from malware? You can start by studying typical infection gateways.
How to remove a virus from Mac
Just as with any disease, to doctor a virus you need to remove the infected part of your software — as simple as that.
1.Remove malware from Mac manually:
The Activity Monitor
If you know which app on your Mac is malicious, you’re half-way through the problem. First of all, you need to close the app and then root it out from the system processes.
- Open Activity Monitor (type its name in the Launchpad).
- Locate the problematic app in the Processes.
- Use [x] button to quit the process
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Now go back to your Applications and move the app to the Trash bin. Immediately empty the Trash.
This method is simple, but for the best malware removal results, you’d have to invest a bit more time. There are still parts and pieces of the virus app scattered around your system folders. It’s a bit like killing a dragon that re-grows its head after you’ve chopped it off. To remove malware from your Mac completely, it’s better to use a powerful uninstaller.
Do a quick search for virus-infected .DMG files within your Downloads. The potential culprits could be recently downloaded files, especially media-related ones. Delete them and empty the Trash bin.
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2. Get rid of malware using CleanMyMac X
CleanMyMac X has a 10-year reputation of guarding Macs around the world. The app will scan your Mac for any vulnerabilities and offer immediate removal if it finds something suspicious. CleanMyMac detects thousands of malware threats, including viruses, adware, spyware, ransomware, cryptocurrency miners, and more. The app’s database is regularly updated to keep all those “-wares” away from your Mac.
Here’s how to remove malware from your Mac:
- Download CleanMyMac X — it’s free to download.
- Click Malware Removal tab.
- Click Scan.
- Click Remove.
3. Remove Mac malware from your Login Items
Most adware or spyware will try to sneak inside the bootup process. Good news, you don’t have to be Kaspersky to prevent this.
- Go to the Apple menu > System Preferences.
- Choose Users & Groups section.
- Make sure if your username is highlighted.
- Open Login Items tab.
Now use the “—” sign to disable all the suspicious apps (like Mac Defenders) that you’ll find. Restart your Mac for the changes to take place.
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4. Get rid of pop-up ads on Mac
Advertising pop-ups are browser-related, so whatever browser you are using, be prepared for a thorough cleanup. First off, don’t buy into whatever the ad is telling you. Some scary alerts would mention 343 viruses found on your Mac forcing you to immediately install a “Mac Defender” or “Mac Security” tool. Just ignore it and don’t click anywhere on the pop-up. Use [x] button and if it doesn’t close the ad, Ctrl + click the browser icon to quit the browser completely.
Hold the Shift key when starting a new Safari session. This way all your previous tabs (including the ad pop-up) will not be reopened.
How to block pop-up ads in Safari
- Open Safari preferences (in the top menu).
- Go to the Security tab.
- Tick “Block pop-up windows”.
How to get rid of pop-ups in Chrome
- Open Chrome Settings (a three-dot icon)
- Click Privacy and security
- Go to Site settings > Pop-ups and redirects
- Locate the Popups tab and block them from appearing
Additionally, make sure your browser’s homepage is set to standard Google page or other trusted source.
5. Clean up extensions to remove adware from Mac
Apple lists several browser extensions as potentially malicious. The list includes:
- Amazon Shopping Assistant by Spigot Inc.
- Slick Savings by Spigot Inc.
This is just to give you an idea of how different these adware extensions could be. But if you’re looking at how to remove malware from the Mac Safari browser, follow this path.
Remove extensions in Safari
- Go to Safari Preferences
- Choose the Extensions tab
- Select an extension and click Uninstall
Disable browser extensions in Chrome
And here’s how to remove malware from Mac Chrome. Open Chrome and click Window in the top menu. In the bottom of the list choose Extensions. This opens up the list of all your installed extensions. Now use a trash bin icon to remove the ones you suspect are adware viruses. Right after that, your Chrome experience should get much less distracting.
Just to be doubly sure, we recommend you to remove all the extensions you'll find. Later you can re-install each one separately.
- Go to Safari Preferences > Security.
- Uncheck Enable JavaSript.
6. Launch Agents and Daemons: Where else to look
So far we’ve covered browser Extensions, Applications, and Login Items trying to remove malware from your Mac. But these are not the only locations where malicious agents may be hiding. Another type of system services that could be affected by malware are the so-called Launch Agents and Daemons — yes, the name does derive from the word demon. These are small helper programs that stealthily run in the background, like software updaters or automatic backups.
While Launch Agents and Daemons are two different entities, both can be infiltrated by malware. As it often happens, trojan apps would place their executable files within the Launch Agents folder. The result — the virus app launches automatically and potentially harms or steals your data.
7.How to remove daemons and agents from Mac startup
- Click Finder.
- Choose Go > Go to Folder.
- Type in:
For Launch Agents, repeat the steps above, but this time search in 2 more locations:
Inside you’ll find a bunch of PLIST files and if some of them look suspicious to you, delete them. Sure, the names of these files may not be very telling, but if you already know the problematic app that you are after, knowing this folder may help you fully extinguish it.
Don’t forget to reboot your Mac — until you do, all these files are still in memory.
One more way to remove daemons, agents, and plug-ins
If the manual path described here sounds too complicated, you can again be rescued by CleanMyMac X. This app has a special tool to remove malware Launch Agents.
- Download CleanMyMac X (it’s free to download).
- Install the app.
- Click Optimization tab > Launch Agents
- Click Perform.
By the way, this app has a real-time anti-malware monitor. It monitors for any problematic apps that try to get into your Launch Agents. If it finds such, it will notify you and offer to remove the intruder.
If all else fails
Below a few more ideas to help you remove malware from Mac.
- Switch to a different user account and do a full system cleanup.
- Restore your Mac using Time Machine (to the point before it got infected).
- Update all your software, including the macOS.
How to protect Mac from malware
As a conclusion, we’ve prepared a few basic tips to minimize your chance of catching malware in 2020 and beyond. They are just as relatable for a PC computer.
- Closely read those dialogue boxes
- Get a reliable password manager app
- Browse anonymously
- Cover your webcam when possible
- Use passphrases instead of passwords
- Create an “emergency” bootable SD card for your Mac
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OK, looks we’ve covered how to remove malware from Mac including both manual and software solutions. Hope your Mac stays virus-free and may you never click on those scary Mac alerts again.
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One of the best things about macOS is that it’s incredibly secure and gets far fewer viruses than other operating systems. However, that doesn’t mean it’s immune. There have been plenty of incidents of malware harming Macs in recent years. Thankfully, though, it’s still relatively rare for Macs to be infected with spyware and when it happens, it’s no too difficult to get rid of it.
The recent controversy over Cambridge Analytica accessing the Facebook profiles of tens of millions of users has made the importance of our private data headline news. However, while Facebook providing access to your data to third parties may be undesirable and possibly unethical, it’s not illegal. On the other hand, using spyware to access information about you is illegal in many countries.
What is spyware?
Spyware is malicious code that finds its way onto your computer and then sucks up personal data — that could be personal information about you, financial details, keystrokes, web browsing habits, or even images from your webcam.
There are four main types of spyware:
Adware is probably the most common type of spyware. It’s also the most obvious, because the information gathered by the spyware is used to display adverts or pop-up windows. It’s very frustrating and hugely inconvenient, though it’s unlikely to do real damage to you or your Mac.
This is what adware actually looks like
As you can see it executes commands to 'download offers' that a user will see on their computer.
Trojans are files that look legitimate, like software updates or movies and they’re designed to fool users into downloading them. Once you’ve done that, they will access your personal data and could do serious harm to your Mac.
3. Cookie trackers
Cookie trackers are similar to adware in that they are used to track your browsing habits and web searches. That information can then be used to display adware or for any other reason the hacker chooses.
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A keylogger is a piece of code, installed usually without the user’s knowledge or permission, that tracks what keys are pressed. By doing that, the keylogger can gain access to personal data such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information.
How to remove spyware from Mac
Thankfully, while spyware is very annoying, and potentially damaging, it’s usually not too difficult to remove.
1. Scan your Mac with CleanMyMac X
Use a dedicated tool like CleanMyMac X to find and neutralize spyware on your Mac. CleanMyMac removes not only spyware but all other malware threats, such as ransomware, worms, and cryptocurrency miners. Therefore, when you scan your system with CleanMyMac X, you may be sure that all vulnerabilities will be identified.
Here’s how to use it:
- Download the free version of CleanMyMac and launch the app.
- Choose Malware Removal tab.
- Click Scan.
- Click Remove.
Talking about CleanMyMac X, I can't recommend its Malware Monitor feature enough. Checking your Mac in real-time, it notifies you when there is a risk of spyware infecting your machine. What it does exactly is monitor Launch Agents and other places on your Mac for any unauthorized presence. That's a bit like gatekeeper.
2. Update your Mac to the latest version
macOS has built-in tools to remove known malware, including spyware.
- Go to the Apple menu and click About this Mac.
- Click Software Update. You’ll be taken to the App Store. If you’re not running the latest version of macOS, you’ll see a software update waiting to be installed. Click Update and follow the instructions.
- If you are running the latest version of macOS and no update is available, restart your Mac. When it restarts, it will scan for known malware and remove it.
3. Check your Applications folder
Go to the Applications folder on your Mac and look for applications you don’t recognise. If you see any, you should uninstall them. However, don’t just drag them to the Trash, that won’t uninstall them properly and will leave potentially harmful files behind. Instead, use an app like CleanMyMac X to uninstall them.
CleanMyMac uninstalls applications completely, removing all traces of it from your Mac. You can download it free here. Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, do the following:
- Launch it from your Applications folder.
- Click on Uninstaller in the Utilities section.
- Scroll through the list of applications until you find the one you want to get rid of.
- Check the box next to it.
- Click Uninstall.
3. Get rid of browser extensions you don’t need
Some spyware is installed in the form of browser extensions. These are mini-programs that run alongside web browsers like Safari and Chrome and provide additional features. They can be very useful, but they can also be troublesome if they’re installed without your knowledge or permission.
Here’s how to get rid of Safari extensions you didn’t install or don’t need:
- Launch Safari.
- Click on the Safari menu and choose Preferences.
- Click on the Extensions tab and look through the list of extensions. If you see one you didn’t install or don’t want, click on it and press the Uninstall button.
- Repeat for every extension you want to uninstall.
The process is similar for Chrome.
Along with browser extensions, it’s also worth getting rid of cookies you don’t want as well. And the app we’ve mentioned above, CleanMyMac X, can help you with that:
- Click on the Privacy tool.
- Click Scan.
- Click on the name of the browser whose cookies you want to delete.
- Click the drop down arrow next to Cookies.
- Check the box next to the cookies you want to get rid of.
- Click Remove.
The last resort is to restore from a backup, either Time Machine or a third party backup tool. Assuming you’ve been running a regular backup schedule, you can just choose a snapshot from just before you noticed the spyware and restore from that. You should copy any documents you created or updated since the snapshot to another storage drive or online service first.
Spyware sounds scary and it can potentially damage both you and your Mac. However, in most cases, getting rid of it is not too difficult. And with the help of CleanMyMac X it could actually be very easy.