How to remove malware and viruses from Mac

9 min read

For those who still think that Mac’s systems are flawless, it’s time to face the truth - Macs can get infected with malware or other nasty viruses just like any other device. So for all Mac users, the best strategy is early Mac malware prevention instead of fixing the infected Mac.  

In 2020, Malwarebytes reported a 38% decrease in macOS malware. But over the last 12 months, despite Apple's best efforts, we're witnessing new malware threats finding their way into our Mac devices, even those with the new M1 Chips. 

Silver Sparrow - M1 compatible malware detected on over 30,000 devices last year.

ElectroRat - Remote Access Tool that steals data from cryptocurrency wallets.

XCode Spy - Software developer-focused malware that can steal files, passwords, folders, and location details. 

Knowing how to secure your Mac, spot the signs of a malware infection, and how to get rid of malware on a Mac is essential to keep your Mac as good as new. 

Malware or Virus?

Is there a difference between malware and viruses? Since we often hear these two terms used interchangeably, what is what becomes confusing. 

Essentially, malware is an umbrella term for any kind of malicious software that performs unauthorized tasks on your device. It can include stealing sensitive information, tracking keystrokes, unauthorized network access, or geo-locations. On the other hand, a virus is just one specific type of malware.

Although Macs aren't bulletproof, there have been many noticeable improvements when it comes to Mac malware removal. But before we get into more details, let’s determine telltale signs of Mac malware infection.

How to spot malware on your Mac?

As a rule, aggressive Malware comes in all shapes and sizes depending on the end goal it was created to attain. While some bring chaos and disruption, others silently steal information. There are also ones that are simply byproducts of a virus. 

So when it comes to detecting malware, it's not always that straightforward. Watch out! Any sudden unusual behavior is the first red flag. Here are the common signs of a malware attack:

  • Your Mac becomes very slow for no reason.

  • You’re missing or are not able to open files and folders.

  • Your device repeatedly restarts.

  • Your search engine homepage is different.

  • You notice new plugins installed in your browser.

  • You suddenly start losing RAM.

Another option is to uncover malware on your Mac is to use Activity Monitor. This Apple's built-in tool shows all Mac operations in real-time, including the background processes. Use it to detect suspicious software on your Mac.

Here's how to check:

  1. Open Finder, select Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor.

  2. Now select the CPU tab from the top and look for unrecognized high CPU programs.

  3. Chose those from the list, and press X.Activity monitor

  4. Repeat this process in the Memory tab.

Have you found something that looks like a virus in Activity Monitor? Then head to the next section to learn how to get rid of malware on your Mac. 

How to remove viruses and malware from your Mac?

Introducing my seven fail-proof Mac virus removal tips to help you safely remove malware from your device. 

1. Disconnect from the internet

If you suspect malware, the first step is to disconnect from the internet immediately. The majority of malware uses the internet connection to easily transfer data into a hacker's hands. Disconnecting from the internet will immediately stop malware from stealing data, giving you time to spot and remove suspicious software.

Select the Wi-Fi icon from the top menu bar and toggle your Wi-Fi off. Done! 

Wifi module

2. Scan for malware

Certainly the most efficient way to find and remove malware is using the Apple notarized app, CleanMyMac X

Its Malware Removal module offers real-time protection from malware and virus threats. CleanMyMac X has a powerful in-depth scan designed for macOS that locates and removes malware in just a few clicks.

Here's how to clean your Mac of viruses:

  1. Launch the application—download the free version here.

  2. From the sidebar, select Malware Removal, and press Scan.

  3. Once complete, follow the onscreen instructions if malware is found. Malware scan in process

Another reason why I recommend using this handy app is the frequent update of the malware database (once a week). So the chances of something sneaking into your Mac are pretty limited. 

And last but not least, I’m a huge fan of ClenMyMac X UI/UX design, particularly navigation and menu features. It allows you to get a quick visual overview of your Mac’s health to see what fixes have to be done immediately. Simply run a Smart Scan. 

If you're not a fan of third-party applications, no problem, there are plenty of other useful tips below to help you locate and eliminate malware.

3. Remove suspicious applications

Take a moment to check your Mac for any unrecognized or suspicious applications that you don't remember downloading. Often, these can be the culprit behind malware and viruses. Here's how to do it: 

  1. Open the Finder window and select Applications from the sidebar.

  2. Browse through your folders, choose any unwanted apps, and drag them to the Trash.

Remember, this method of uninstalling often leaves app traces behind. If you have CleanMyMac X installed, use Uninstaller Module to cleanup those traces once and for all. Follow these steps: 

  1. Open the application and select Uninstaller from the sidebar.

  2. Press View All Applications, then select Leftovers. Leftovers in the Uninstaller module of CMMX  

  3. Choose unneeded apps and press Uninstall.

4. Check your browser

The fourth option to get rid of viruses on your Mac is to audit your browser for any offbeat extensions and plugins.

Browser hijacking is a popular type of malware. Once downloaded or installed, it can take complete control of your browser changing your homepage or bombarding you with unwanted ads (also known as Adware). Hijackers can also try downloading files on your device to track your activities or steal data.

So keep an eye on your browser extensions!

Chrome extensions checkup:

  1. Open Chrome, from the top menu select Window > Extensions.

  2. Here you will find all your extensions. Choose the ones you don't recognize, and press Remove to uninstall them.Chrome extensions

Safari extensions checkup:

  1. Open Safari, select the Safari main menu > Preferences > Extensions.

  2. All your Safari extensions are listed here. To remove those you don't recognize, press Uninstall.Safari extensions

Firefox extensions checkup:

  1. Open Firefox, then press the main Firefox menu > Preferences > Extensions & Themes.

  2. Your installed extensions will be listed under Enabled. To remove, select the three dots and press Remove.Firefox extensions

5. Locate login malware

And here comes tip number five on how to get rid of malware on a Mac - check your login items for any unrecognized applications.

Login items are applications that launch when we start our devices. Sometimes, malware like cryptocurrency miners can disguise themselves as a login item and launch each time you reboot your Mac.

Here's how you can check login items for malware:Login items

  1. Go to the main Apple menu > System Preferences > Users & Groups.

  2. To make changes here, press the lock icon bottom left.

  3. From the list, select your user account, then press Login items. To remove an item, select it, then press the "-" button.

6. Check your Downloads folder

Often malware comes bundled with files downloaded from unreliable sources. Watch out for .dmg files! These are well-known sources of malware. Follow the instruction below to clear out your Downloads folder.

Downloads folder

  1. Open Finder and select Downloads from the sidebar.

  2. Select all files, then right-click and press Move To Bin.

Don't forget to empty your Trash afterward.

7. Restore from a backup

If the above tips didn’t help to solve your Mac malware issues, try my last tip: restoring Mac from a TimeMachine backup. Here's how:

  1. Make sure you've connected your external TimeMachine backup drive.

  2. Go to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Migration Assistant. 

  3. Select the "from a Mac, Time Machine backup, or startup disk" option and click Continue.

  4. Now select the TimeMachine backup you want to use, and press Continue.

  5. Select the items to transfer and press “Continue to start the transfer” (This could take several hours).Migration assistant

Once the transfer is completed, install legit anti-virus software if you still don’t have one. 

How to prevent Mac from malware infection? 

Prevention is the ultimate cure for fighting the malware war. So, what can we do to prevent infections? 

1. Keep your Mac updated

Don't skip this step, it can really help you to fight malware. Keeping your macOS updated means  that your Mac gets the latest improvements, bug fixes, and upgraded Apple's malware database. Software update

  1. Select the main Apple menu > About This Mac > Software Update.

  2. If you have an update waiting, follow the onscreen instructions to install it.

2. Download software from trusted sources

In an ideal world, if you only download software from the Apple App store, you will probably never encounter malware. But if you have to download software from someplace else, make sure it’s a trusted source. Think before you hit the download button. Try to avoid random links, junk emails, pop-up ads, and strange requests on social media. 

3. Ignore fake technical help

If you ever receive a phone call from a company the Apple company or any other well-known service provider telling you your Mac is infected - hang up! Apple never makes such calls concerning the malware.

5. Install anti-virus software

Although our Macs come preloaded with Xprotect (Apple's built-in anti-virus tool), it doesn't provide on-demand scans and is limited in terms of its malware database. Why? Because Apple isn't a security company after all. Listen, it's worth investing in some additional protection, especially since there are so many options to choose from. Just take your time and research first to find the software that works for you. 

Just in case, here are my top three anti-virus tools recommendations:


An award-winning tool that offers powerful protection strengthens your privacy, and secures your Wi-Fi network. The good news is - this anti-virus tool is free. The bad news is - it certainly doesn't cut corners. 


Norton 360 Standard is another well-known anti-virus tool that comes with an array of pricing tears and features. You're guaranteed to find one that works for you.


First-in-class anti-virus software that promises powerful protection that doesn’t slow down your device. 

I hope you’ve found these tips useful and your life now is free from Mac malware. And if you haven’t caught one yet, you still shouldn’t forget about the prevention techniques described in this article.

The general rule is this: when it comes to browsing and downloading, get reliable anti-virus software  and think twice before you click. Stay safe out there!

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