Become a MacRumors Supporter for $25/year with no ads, private forums, and more!

MacRumors

macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
54,475
16,531


Antivirus software developer Malwarebytes today shared its 2021 State of Malware Report, which found that malware threat detections on Macs fell a total of 38 percent in 2020.

In 2019 Malwarebytes detected a total of 120,855,305 threats, which dropped to 75,285,427 threats in 2020. Consumer threats were down 40 percent, but as businesses operated remotely and shifted to online work, threat detections for business users grew 31 percent.

mac-malware-2020.jpg

There was a drop in detections of Adware and potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), but Malwarebytes says that malware, which includes backdoors, data stealers, and cryptocurrency stealers/miners, increased by more than 61 percent.

That number sounds high, but malware still only accounted for 1.5 percent of all threat detections on the Mac, with the rest still coming from Adware and PUPs.

Potentially unwanted software represented more than 76 percent of detection in 2020, while Adware represented approximately 22 percent. These are overall numbers, and the breakdowns varied somewhat by country, but most Malwarebytes users are in the United States. Business machines saw a bit more malware and adware, with less unwanted software.

Of malware found on Macs, the top 10 malware families accounted for more than 99 percent of the total, with more than 80 percent detected due to suspicious behaviors. OSX.FakeFileOpener, malicious apps designed to open files, accounted for the second highest number of detections.

top-mac-malware-2020.jpg

Malwarebytes says that the most unusual Malware detected on Macs in 2020 was ThiefQuest, which spread through installers found on torrent sites. When infected, Macs would start to have files encrypted, with the malware providing ransom instructions.

These instructions went nowhere, though, and didn't provide a legitimate contact for removing the encryption. Instead, the ransomware was a cover for something more malicious.
Upon further investigation, we learned that the ransomware activity was really a cover for massive data exfiltration, including MS Office and Apple iWork documents, PDF files, images, cryptocurrency wallets, and more. This kind of malware, known in the Windows world as a "wiper," had never before been seen on Macs.

Even more interesting, the malware would inject malicious code into executable files found in the Users folder, such as components of Google Software Update, in a virus- like manner, another rarity in the Mac world. The combination of these features made ThiefQuest not only the most unusual Mac malware in 2020, but perhaps the most unusual Mac malware ever.
Sophisticated adware techniques were also spotted on Macs in 2020, including phishing for admin passwords, using synthetic clicks to automate browser extension installations, modifying the sudoers file to maintain root permissions indefinitely, and manually editing the TCC database to give the adware more system access.

On Macs, Malwarebytes says that the "business model of choice for most criminals" remains Adware, with trojans, worms, spyware, and RiskWareTools being more common on Windows machines. Still, malware is an increasing Mac problem and it's something that Mac users should be aware of.

Malwarebytes' full report can be read on the Malwarebytes website.

Article Link: Mac Malware Detections Dropped 38% in 2020, Most Still Adware
 
Last edited:

steve09090

macrumors 6502
Aug 12, 2008
288
702
From the report.

Windows detections - 111,014,261 (down 12%)
Mac detections - 75,285,427 (down 38%)
Android detections show it getting much "nastier" and detections are increasing exponentially. (No overall numbers)
iOS detections - nothing reported Other than "it’s possible as some vulnerabilities exist"

That walled garden is looking quite lush...
 

ian87w

macrumors 601
Feb 22, 2020
4,385
6,303
Indonesia
Sometimes I have to wonder people who have enough money to buy a Mac, but cheapen out on the software or content that they have to rely on pirate torrents.

I mean it’s understandable for a person who can barely afford $400 Windows laptop to take the piracy route. But I have a hard time feeling any sympathy for someone capable of affording $1k-$2k Mac yet being a cheapskate on software and content. With so many free apps available, and many apps being more affordable on mobile, piracy imo is more of personal choice nowadays.
 

steve09090

macrumors 6502
Aug 12, 2008
288
702
Sometimes I have to wonder people who have enough money to buy a Mac, but cheapen out on the software or content that they have to rely on pirate torrents.

I mean it’s understandable for a person who can barely afford $400 Windows laptop to take the piracy route. But I have a hard time feeling any sympathy for someone capable of affording $1k-$2k Mac yet being a cheapskate on software and content. With so many free apps available, and many apps being more affordable on mobile, piracy imo is more of personal choice nowadays.
I more or less agree, but I cannot understand why anyone (windows inclusive) would download an app via torrent. There are many free apps around for all systems. The only use I have had for torrents in the past 10 years is for media content that I cannot get locally. But with VPN's that’s not a problem now anyway.

But where there is 'free' available, people will always take that opportunity I guess.
 

vikky2426

macrumors newbie
Oct 24, 2013
28
11
what's the best solution to tackle malware or other harmful thinks on Mac? Any ideas? Any software I need to buy?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Tofupunch

wanha

macrumors 6502
Oct 30, 2020
252
600
Sometimes I have to wonder people who have enough money to buy a Mac, but cheapen out on the software or content that they have to rely on pirate torrents.

I mean it’s understandable for a person who can barely afford $400 Windows laptop to take the piracy route. But I have a hard time feeling any sympathy for someone capable of affording $1k-$2k Mac yet being a cheapskate on software and content. With so many free apps available, and many apps being more affordable on mobile, piracy imo is more of personal choice nowadays.
I've asked this of several friends with good incomes who choose Androids or PCs. The usual answer I get back is either:

1. "Every platform has these problems."
2. "I just didn't want to go all in on the Apple ecosystem." (This, I suspect, is code for "I don't really identify with Apple")

To me, both replies speak to a naiveté around privacy and security. All platforms are not created equal.
 

vmistery

Contributor
Apr 6, 2010
840
590
UK
From the report.

Windows detections - 111,014,261 (down 12%)
Mac detections - 75,285,427 (down 38%)
Android detections show it getting much "nastier" and detections are increasing exponentially. (No overall numbers)
iOS detections - nothing reported Other than "it’s possible as some vulnerabilities exist"

That walled garden is looking quite lush...
Presumably though there was no data available as Apple doesn't allow these kind of apps onto iOS devices. No date does not mean no problem...

EDIT:
Just to say I have both a Mac and an iPhone and I chose them partly for security reasons, sometimes I just think we walk around with blinkers on, much like there was no real malware for macs 10 years ago.
 

ArPe

Suspended
May 31, 2020
1,282
3,304
what's the best solution to tackle malware or other harmful thinks on Mac? Any ideas? Any software I need to buy?

Stay away from torrent sites 👏

Don’t install pirate apps 👏

Stay away from illegal streaming sites 👏

Stay away from crypto sites 👏

Don’t click on shortened URLs sent or posted by anon accounts on social media 👏

Don’t install more apps than you really need 👏

Only use signed apps from well known developers 👏
 

LV426

macrumors 65816
Jan 22, 2013
1,266
1,109
what's the best solution to tackle malware or other harmful thinks on Mac? Any ideas? Any software I need to buy?

The best solution is to install software from the App Store. If you do this, it is very unlikely you will have problems in the first place.

If you don't, be very careful indeed where you get your software. Don't go to torrent sites or such to get software. You're just asking for trouble if you do that. There are reputable software vendors who don't use the App Store, but you will need to take special measures on your machine to allow such programs to be installed. The default is to only allow App Store programs to be installed.

There are, of course, plenty of dodgy websites that will drop, or try to drop, installers onto your computer. A classic ruse is "Your Flash player is out of date. Click here to update". If you happen to get one of those installers, and try to run it, you'll get a system popup asking for your Mac login details before it allows the installation to proceed. You should, therefore, be very wary indeed if you ever see something like that, and cancel the installation.
 

peneaux

macrumors regular
Nov 17, 2020
146
264
what's the best solution to tackle malware or other harmful thinks on Mac? Any ideas? Any software I need to buy?

Malwarebytes is the best. Run every now and then just to make sure you don't have any malware installed. I never had problems but some friends who install those nasty apps ("cleaner", "Antivirus", etc) end up having some. The problem usually is when they use the browser and a bunch of pop-ups appear (with ads). Malwarebytes recognize the malware and remove it. The Mac work just like new after.
 

szw-mapple fan

macrumors 68020
Jul 28, 2012
2,382
2,427
Sometimes I have to wonder people who have enough money to buy a Mac, but cheapen out on the software or content that they have to rely on pirate torrents.

I mean it’s understandable for a person who can barely afford $400 Windows laptop to take the piracy route. But I have a hard time feeling any sympathy for someone capable of affording $1k-$2k Mac yet being a cheapskate on software and content. With so many free apps available, and many apps being more affordable on mobile, piracy imo is more of personal choice nowadays.

Often the person buying the computer is not the same person buying software. For example, children being issued Macs from school or given one by parents will sometimes have no way of obtaining some content or software so they resort to piracy. Additionally, some subscriptions are quite expensive. Adobe can charge hundred of dollars yearly, which is not a small amount even if you could afford Mac hardware.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bernuli

lkrupp

macrumors 65816
Jul 24, 2004
1,227
2,095
From the report.

Windows detections - 111,014,261 (down 12%)
Mac detections - 75,285,427 (down 38%)
Android detections show it getting much "nastier" and detections are increasing exponentially. (No overall numbers)
iOS detections - nothing reported Other than "it’s possible as some vulnerabilities exist"

That walled garden is looking quite lush...

Enjoy it while it lasts. If the politicians and anti-business crowd gets their way Apple will be forced to allow third party app stores and all bets will be off.
 

lkrupp

macrumors 65816
Jul 24, 2004
1,227
2,095
Often the person buying the computer is not the same person buying software. For example, children being issued Macs from school or given one by parents will sometimes have no way of obtaining some content or software so they resort to piracy. Additionally, some subscriptions are quite expensive. Adobe can charge hundred of dollars yearly, which is not a small amount even if you could afford Mac hardware.
Sounds to me like you are condoning piracy. If you can’t afford it it’s okay to steal it? Unfortunately that is the mentality that has been instilled in the culture over the years.
 

ian87w

macrumors 601
Feb 22, 2020
4,385
6,303
Indonesia
Often the person buying the computer is not the same person buying software. For example, children being issued Macs from school or given one by parents will sometimes have no way of obtaining some content or software so they resort to piracy. Additionally, some subscriptions are quite expensive. Adobe can charge hundred of dollars yearly, which is not a small amount even if you could afford Mac hardware.
Kids can ask their parents for the software.
Most software provides educational discounts, including Adobe. Some schools even provide a volume license for their students. And there are other software than Adobe. You don’t need photoshop to rotate some photos (I’m serious as I’ve seen people asking for photoshop when they only want to crop or rotate their photos).

And the idea of subscription can actually save you money, in that you only pay for the software on the months you actually need it. Plenty of people in my country only purchase MS Office 365 for a month or two for their needs at the moment.

Forgive me, but I still cannot tolerate stealing software. Even plenty of people in my country now resort to mobile (cheaper) apps, open source, or free alternatives like Google Docs. The excuse of pirating a software because Adobe is expensive is kinda hard to justify nowadays. In the end, it’s a choice to pirate.
 
  • Like
Reactions: alfonsog

star-affinity

macrumors 68000
Nov 14, 2007
1,515
771
An Apple engineer who was helping me with an unusual issue last year recommended Malwarebytes.

He said it is Apple support's go-to malware app in instances where one is needed (which, fortunately, is quite rare).
Fully agreed on that!

Over the years malware on OS X/macOS has been relatively easy to manually remove the few times I've bumped into it (not me personally, but people I've helped), but the last time it happened (a couple of months ago) there was an AdWare that I had trouble getting rid of manually since the stuff was hidden in som many different places.

Malwarebyte to the rescue!
It was able to find a lot of stuff I didn't find when looking in the usually suspected places.
 
  • Like
Reactions: wanha

star-affinity

macrumors 68000
Nov 14, 2007
1,515
771
Enjoy it while it lasts. If the politicians and anti-business crowd gets their way Apple will be forced to allow third party app stores and all bets will be off.
But only for those who use the third party app store, which isn't something most people would do. Or? 🤔
 

sdeds

macrumors newbie
Oct 13, 2014
1
0
Last I knew, Sophos was free for Macs. Detection is one thing but quarantine and removal are another. I cant comment on those functions.
 

Shirasaki

macrumors G4
May 16, 2015
11,964
6,008
Cue apple deleting all power user favoured features in a future macOS upgrade. Gone the terminal, virtual machine support. Gone the external device support. Gone the ability to reinstall macOS without losing data. Gone the ability to downgrade. Admin account can only be accessed by authorised Apple engineer. Root access is a thing of the past. People can only use macOS like a glorified iOS, with keyboard and mouse. App would only be installed through App Store and ONLY App Store. If Apple does not allow you to use your software in a certain way, you can’t use it that way unless you crack, which risks criminal charges and legal actions.

Prove me wrong, Apple. Malwarebytes says tons of malware found on macOS. I can’t wait to see Apple lock down macOS just like iOS after apple silicon transition.
 

willzyx

macrumors regular
Dec 21, 2016
126
266
what's the best solution to tackle malware or other harmful thinks on Mac? Any ideas? Any software I need to buy?
Malwarebytes. This report was done by them and they were the first ones to discover the first MacOS malware.
 

Confused-User

macrumors newbie
Oct 14, 2014
19
6
Article title: "Mac Malware Detections Dropped 38% in 2020..."
Third paragraph: "...malware, which includes backdoors, data stealers, and cryptocurrency stealers/miners, increased by more than 61 percent."
Article close: "...malware is an increasing Mac problem..."

The term "malware" is being used two different ways here (the meaning in the title encompassing much more than the meaning in the other two quoted parts). That makes this needlessly confusing to casual readers, and in particular makes the headline tell the opposite of the story as written.

On a separate note, Shirasaki, you made my eyes hurt from rolling them so much as I read your comment.
 

BeefCake 15

macrumors 68000
May 15, 2015
1,807
2,585
near Boston, MA
I more or less agree, but I cannot understand why anyone (windows inclusive) would download an app via torrent. There are many free apps around for all systems. The only use I have had for torrents in the past 10 years is for media content that I cannot get locally. But with VPN's that’s not a problem now anyway.

But where there is 'free' available, people will always take that opportunity I guess.

There was a time when malware was bundled with FOSS apps from shady places unfortunately, don't know if it's still happening.
 
Register on MacRumors! This sidebar will go away, and you'll see fewer ads.