How to Remove Malware and Adware From Your Mac

Yes, Macs can get malware. Beyond traditional viruses, worms, and Trojans, there’s now a thriving ecosystem of adware and spyware programs that bombard you with ads and spy on your web browsing, just like on Windows.

Macs do have some integrated protection against malware, but it isn’t perfect. Crucially, that protection against malware doesn’t block all the adware and spyware bundled with application downloads.

Use Malwarebytes for Mac

Malwarebytes makes well-regarded security utilities for Windows. Malwarebytes originally expanded into the Mac security software arena by purchasing and rebranding a popular application named “Adware Medic” that we and others have used successfully in the past.

There are now two versions of Malwarebytes for Mac, a free version and a premium version. The standard scanner that checks for malware on your system and removes it is free. Anyone can manually initiate a scan and remove malware with Malwarebytes for Mac without spending a penny. The Malwarebytes Premium features that will monitor your Mac for malware and spyware, prevent infections before they occur, and automatically download updates do cost money, but Malwarebytes does provide a 30-day free trial.

If you want to remove malware, spyware, and other garbage software from your Mac, we recommend you download and run Malwarebyes. The free version is fine if you just want to check for and remove malware. If you want something that runs in the background, automatically scans your downloads, and monitors your system, you’ll want the paid version.

We’ve been happy with Malwarebytes on Windows for years and recommend it, and the Mac version also seems solid. We recommended it back when it was just an “Adware Medic” tool that could only manually scan your system for malware, and we’re happy the automatic protection features are now available for people who want them.

How to Avoid Malware on a Mac

Yes, obnoxious junk software is still a problem on a Mac. Macs do have an anti-malware feature known as “XProtect” or “File quarantine”, but it only blocks a handful of the most nasty pieces of malware after they’ve become widespread. It won’t necessarily block anything new, and it won’t stand in the way of all the adware and spyware out there. You need to follow good online safety practices to avoid malware on a Mac, just like you do on a Windows PC.

Much of the nastiest adware arrives the same way it does on Windows, via junkware-packed installers from application-downloading sites like download.com or via shady advertisements that push you to an unofficial, tainted installer. Get your applications from the Mac App Store or the developer’s website. Avoid running unsigned software—that means only allowing apps downloaded from the “App Store and identified developers”.

Unlike on Windows, there’s no Add/Remove programs window where you can go to see what’s installed and quickly uninstall it on a Mac. On Windows, most of the “legal” crapware allows you to uninstall it from here. On a Mac, it can be tough to know how to uninstall this junk. Malwarebytes should be able to find and uninstall this junkware automatically, which is why it’s so useful.

What About Full Mac Antivirus Programs?

Quite a few antivirus companies are now also creating (and selling) full antivirus programs for macOS. These applications are similar to their Windows equivalents, featuring full background-scanning of all the applications you run and files you access as well as other features. Malwarebytes Premium for Mac now functions in this way, too.

We’ll be honest here—we’re not completely sure what to recommend if you’re looking for a more traditional antivirus program. There haven’t been as many tests that compare Mac antivirus software as there have for Windows antivirus software. Malwarebytes for Mac is a great quick removal tool and now offers automatic scanning features if you want them. It will remove most of the obnoxious software out there, which makes it our main pick. On Windows, most of the antivirus programs won’t even remove this obnoxious adware and spyware (called “potentially unwanted programs” or “PUPs”), so we’re not even sure a full antivirus would even be as good as Malwarebytes at battling the most entry points.

If you do stick to the Mac App Store and keep your software updated, you’re probably fine. On the other hand, if you download a lot of software from the web and potentially even bypass your Mac’s protections to install unsigned applications from unknown developers, an antivirus with full background scanning might be a better idea. However, like on a Windows PC, an antivirus that’s always scanning in the background can make your Mac a bit slower and drain battery life.

We recommend Sophos Home for Mac as the top free antivirus for Mac. AV-TEST gave it good grades and it doesn’t try to install any additional software on your PC. It just requires you create a free Sophos account before you can download it. Give it a try if you’re looking for a free, full-featured antivirus with on-demand scanning. If your Mac is already infected, this application can perform a full system-scan for malware, just as they can on Windows.


“Macs don’t get malware” and “you don’t need antivirus on a Mac” are old pieces of advice that aren’t necessarily true anymore. Macs are vulnerable to malware. For example, the Flashback Trojan at one point infected over 600,000 Macs around the world. Macs also now have a problem with adware and other junkware provided in software installers, just as Windows does.

Malwarebytes for Mac is a solid tool in any Mac user’s toolkit. Full antivirus applications aren’t necessarily as mandatory as they are on Windows yet, but you might want them if you download a lot of applications from the web and are particularly worried.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

RECOMMENDED POSTS