Mac threats surpass Windows for first time after 400% spike

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Macs are generally considered to be more secure than Windows PC, but an alarming new report suggests that's no longer the case. 

After a 400% year-over-year increase, there are now more Mac threats than PC threats, according to Malwarebytes' "2020 State of Malware Report" [PDF]. Some of the increase in threats can be attributed to more Mac owners using Malwarebytes' software, but there are other, more complicated reasons for the spike. 

As Malwarebytes notes, the number of threats per endpoints (or Mac system) increased from 4.8 in 2018 to 11 in 2019, or double the change discovered in Windows systems. 

That's bad news for Apple and Mac users. It means the average number of threats detected on a Mac now eclipses that of Windows machines. 

Why are Macs being targeted?

As previously mentioned, these staggering statistics can be partly explained by an increase in the number of Macs using Malwarebytes' antivirus software. Another reason is that the increase in market share macOS saw in 2019 makes Apple devices more attractive targets for attackers. 

The report also states that macOS' built-in security systems are more worried about traditional malware threats and don't do enough against lesser threats, like adware and PUPs (potentially unwanted programs). 

Malwarebytes notes that most Mac threats are "families of adware" and PUPs, not the traditional malware that more often attacks Windows PCs. Of the top 10 threats against Macs, a majority are PUPs and adware, with most of the unwanted programs being cleaning apps, like MacKeeper and MacBooster. 

Topping the list of most pervasive Mac threats is NewTab, an adware family that redirects searches in the web browser to earn illicit affiliate revenue. This particular threat was detected more than 30 million times in 2019, significantly more than any other threat. 

What about Windows?

Windows PCs don't get a pass, either. While consumer threats are down 2% year-over-year, threats to business or enterprise systems spiked by 13%. Combine those two segments and the total number of threats increased by 1% this year. 

Adware remains the most frequent threat to Windows systems, and that isn't expected to change in 2020. Fortunately, Trojan attacks are on the decline, as is Riskware, or legitimate programs that can cause damage if they are taken over by a bad actor. On the other hand, hack tools are becoming more frequent. These tools aren't malicious themselves but they are capable of "additional intrusion, data collection, and dropping other malware payloads."

What can you do to protect your Mac or PC?

Our best advice for protecting your system and, in turn, your personal data, is to download antivirus software. Our sister site Tom's Guide ranked the best antivirus software for your Windows PC and the best Mac antivirus software

You could also create and use a limited user account so if you do get attacked, the bad actor won't have admin privileges. 

These simple steps should protect you from the increasing number of threats affecting Mac and Windows laptops. 

Phillip Tracy

Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.