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Malware Explodes on Mac OS X

Success breeds contempt, and if you need proof, look no further than the recent proliferation of malware on Mac OS X. In 2015, there has been five times as much malware discovered for Apple's desktop operating system as there was between 2010 and 2014 combined — and this year's not even over yet.

The research is clear: Mac malware is on the rise, and the old "Macs don't get viruses" chestnut just doesn't hold up anymore.

MORE: Best Mac Antivirus Software

This information comes from a research paper by Bit9 + Carbon Black released on Oct. 14. The company, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based security firm, also distilled its findings down into a blog post, which made the cause of the growing danger very obvious. Apple computers have grown in popularity over the last five years, with market share in North America approaching 20 percent, and more customers means more cybercriminals eager to take advantage of them. It's the same reason why Windows and Android generally have the most malware targeted at them.

Bit9 + Carbon Black's research took place over the course of 10 weeks, and observed more than 1,400 distinct varieties of OS X malware. The project was more of a metastudy than an experiment, collecting data from internal resources, open source databases, user experiences, similar studies and, of course, malware distributors themselves.

The results were not encouraging for Mac owners. Between 2010 and 2014, there were a paltry 180 strains of malware targeting Mac OS X systems specifically. In 2015, there have been 948 so far, and it's not inconceivable that the number could reach 1,000 by year's end.

As a result of its study, Bit9 + Carbon Black has some sensible recommendations for both home and corporate users with Apple machines. The company recommends that enterprise customers make use of its security solutions (naturally), but also points out that "consumers should ensure they have an antivirus software program installed and that it is running with the latest update."

We here at Tom's Guide have been saying the same thing for years. Many Mac users neglect antivirus software on OS X machines due to an outdated belief in the system's unimpeachable security, but that simply isn't an option anymore. Others don't want to have to buy antivirus software for what's already an expensive machine, but our Editor's Choice for Mac antivirus software is absolutely free.

The Bit9 paper also recommends using Synack researcher Patrick Wardle's free Dynamic Hijack Scanner and KnockKnock scanner to discover whether a Mac might already been infected. If so, a good antivirus program should kick the malware off the system.

Antivirus programs are both widespread and no longer a terrible drain on system resources or wallets. If Windows users have gotten used to having an antivirus program running in the background, so can Mac aficionados.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is an editor for Tom's Guide, covering gaming hardware, security and streaming video. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.