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The State of Scamware on the Mac

Last week there was a hubbub regarding a report from antivirus software vendor Malwarebytes that claimed “Mac threats increased exponentially in comparison to those against Windows PCs” in 2020. That line got a lot of headlines.

Michael Tsai:

This sounds really bad at first, like the number of Mac threats is growing in proportion to the (larger) number of Windows threats. But I guess they are just using the non-technical meaning of “exponential,” so the whole thing boils down to “more than.” […]

This sounds unnecessarily alarmist compared with the contents of the report, and I remain convinced that for most users Apple’s built-in security measures are sufficient. I’ve seen far more Mac problems caused by anti-virus software than actual viruses.

Computer viruses are called viruses because like biological viruses, they spread by themselves. What Malwarebytes is talking about are scam apps — things that trick or otherwise convince the user to install voluntarily. Dan Goodin had a piece at Ars Technica last month about the scourge of fake Adobe Flash installers — which work because unsophisticated Mac users had been truthfully told they needed to upgrade their version of Flash for a decade. It’s a real problem — but third-party antivirus software is not the answer. As usual, Tsai has a wonderful compilation of links to commentary on the matter.

Be sure to read Jason Snell’s excellent take, which convincingly makes the point that Apple has been working to protect Mac users from these sort of apps for years, exemplified by this technical note Apple published back in November, expanding their definition of “suspicious software” that MacOS defends against.

Friday, 21 February 2020