It’s been a running theme, or joke depending on who you ask, that Macs just don’t get viruses. Even going back to the classic “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads. Some of this has been due to Mac’s relatively low market share in the desktop market, others say it’s because of Mac’s stronger security compared to Windows (in reality it’s a bit of both). Even with all that said, there are some bad actors that are wanting to put their malicious software on your machine.
Even in my line of work, I don’t run into Mac malware often. But every once in a while you find someone that has downloaded something they didn’t actually need, like a fake “Flash update” or some sort of “clean my Mac” pop up that scares them into downloading these things. The problem you then run into is you’re not sure if it’s one bad app or several ones that have been let in by the first, not to mention how deep their hooks can sink into your system.
More often then not, I ended up turning to a little app called AdwareMedic, but that was later bought up by MalwareBytes, arguably one of the best known anti-malware apps on Windows. Since then MalwareBytes has been gradually adding and simplifying the app into a sleek app that only detects adware (the most common form of Mac malware) to even some malicious apps like password stealers. Unlike the AdwareMedic, this app has a free version and a paid version, which adds things like running in the background, performing automated scans, and more. They also have an enterprise version for Mac and Windows. As far as this review is concerned, we’re only looking at the free version.
To start, once you download the app, you will run through the installer. It will then offer you the premium trial or the free, noting that the free version only scans and quarantines malicious software already on your machine, with no preventative features. Click through this, and you can register the app with them and get on their newsletter by providing your email address, though this is optional. Lastly, you’ll need to give the app full disk access for it to be able to scan your hard drive for malware, which the installer kindly walks you through with text and pictures. Once you’ve gone through all that, you’re ready to use MalwareBytes.
On the home screen, you’ll see several different options. The top shows the option to upgrade to Premium or to start your 14-day free trial. Toward the bottom you’ll see a your detection history and how many items have previously or are currently in quarantine by MalwareBytes. This is the default behavior of the app when it finds malware: it will remove the app from it’s location and throw it into a quarantine folder, where it will not be able to run until you prompt MBAM to release or delete the offending items.
The app maintains a fairly small footprint and performance hit on your machine, even when scanning. It takes up less than a megabyte of hard drive space, and during a scan only uses about 200 MB of ram, and only 2% of CPU. Scans also took less than 5 minutes to complete. Your results will likely change based on the age of your machine, its specs, and whatever malware it finds and has to remove (hopefully none). You’ll see whether it is scanning by looking in the menu bar if you’ve got it running in the background, which is also where you can trigger another scan and check for updated malware definitions.
In the event that it does find any malware during the scan, you’ll see the numbers in the scan tick up as tallies the total number of items and throws them into quarantine. You’ll then be presented with the list of items found and quarantined for you decide what to do with it, mainly to remove them from your machine or to keep them (in the event that it incorrectly identifies something as malware).
As far as a free tool, it’s pretty solid to go with the name that backs it, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. For one, the scan screen doesn’t tell you where it’s looking while it’s scanning. While a minor thing, it’s nice to see where it’s looking while it’s scanning for my own sake.
On a more serious note, MBAM is a Mac-specific anti-malware app. What this means is that it won’t detect any Windows malware on your machine. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. After all, Windows malware won’t run on a Mac anyway, and it means the scanner can go a lot quicker. But it means you could be a contributor to the down river effect, meaning if you were to get a malicious Windows file on your machine, you not only wouldn’t know it but could potentially pass it onto a Windows-using colleague, friend, or family member. And no matter how much you disdain Windows, nobody needs to be passing on a virus to anybody else (real or digital). I’ve also occasionally found a couple of adware Chrome or Firefox extensions that it won’t pick up from time to time, though usually these are extensions only. Extensions that get installed via another app on your Mac typically are caught.
Even with all this said, I still would recommend the free version of the app for anyway suspicious or aware of malware on their machine. It’s light, quick, very reputable, and it deserves praise for being focused on doing one thing and doing that thing well.
MalwareBytes is free for finding and removing malware from your Mac, and can be found at https://www.malwarebytes.com/mac/