How to scan your Mac for spyware, malware and tracking cookies

by Ross McKillop on June 15, 2008

Mac Security

One of the benefits of being a Mac user is that generally you don’t have to worry about spyware, malware and viruses quite as much as a Windows user. In fact, until I ran across MacScan, I honestly didn’t even know there was a spyware scanner for OS X. Well it turns out there is – so I gave a run. The following tutorial will guide you through using MacScan to check your Mac for spyware, malware, tracking cookies etc.

To expand a bit on my introduction – first, and most importantly – there are benefits to being an OS X/Mac user. There are benefits to being a Windows user, and benefits to being a Linux user. I’m a firm believer that the “best” operating system is the one that works best for you. That Macs are generally less of a target when it comes to spyware and malware is one of their benefits. So – do you really even need a spyware scanner if you’re using a Mac? I guess that depends on your situation. If your Mac is used in a business production environment, you have incredibly private files, or you just want to rest knowing that your Mac is as secure as you can make it – then sure, it’s worth laying down $29.99 (USD) for MacScan. The big bonus is that there’s an (almost) fully functional demo available, so you can give it a try before you buy. With all of that said – here’s how to check your Mac for potential baddies using MacScan.

  1. Download MacScan, the demo. Installing MacScan is a breeze – you’ll click next a few times, and that’s it. After it’s installed, locate it in your Applications folder. Double-click the MacScan application to launch it.
  2. macscan in your applications folder
    click to enlarge

  3. Right away you’ll be asked if you want MacScan to run in authenticated mode. Click Yes.
  4. confirm running macscan in authenticated mode

  5. And enter your password when prompted.
  6. os x password confirmation

  7. If you’re using the demo, now’s the time it’ll remind you of that fact. Note the limitations of demo-mode (no custom scans, no scanning CDs, DVDs or external hard drives). Click Demo to continue.
  8. macscan demo message
    click to enlarge

  9. Finally, the main MacScan interface.
  10. main macscan interface
    click to enlarge

  11. Click the Scan button. The screen offering different types of scans will open. Review the info on the Quick Scan page. Essentially, it will scan your home folder, and that’s it. Select the Full Scan tab.
  12. quickscan macscan interface
    click to enlarge

  13. As its name indicates, full scan will scan your entire hard drive. And now click Custom Scan. Click the Info button on the top menu.
  14. full scan macscan interface
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  15. Custom scan allows you to specify which folders are scanned. Since we’re using the Demo version of MacScan, this feature is disabled.
  16. custom scan macscan interface
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  17. From here you can review and get some basic info on the various types of spyware that MacScan will detect. Select an item from the drop down list, and its description will appear in the main menu. When you’re done reviewing, click the Prefs button in the upper-right corner of the top menu.
  18. info section of macscan
    click to enlarge

  19. Place a check in the box labeled Detect remote administration programs. Note: this is disabled by default, because there are a number of legitimate applications that MacScan might pick up on and notify you of. You won’t necessarily want to delete or disable these, as they may in fact be running intentionally. Click OK to continue.
  20. macscan prefs
    click to enlarge

  21. Again click the Scan button, and select Full Scan. Click Scan

    Now sit back and wait. And wait. In fact, go grab a coffee, cause this will take a while. My MacBook Pro has 850,000 files (give or take) and it took about 20 minutes for a full scan to complete.

  22. macscan scanning
    click to enlarge

  23. In the end, it found 21 tracking cookies. As I mentioned earlier, Macs have a great history of being relatively spyware free (certainly vs. Windows). I’ve downloaded freeware, shareware, software in development etc – from all across the Internet. I’ve jailbroken my iPod Touch using every possible method. And MacScan returned nothing but tracking cookies (which are certainly annoying, but far less harmful than a trojan horse or resource hogging spyware/malware).
  24. macscan results page
    click to enlarge

  25. Select an item from the list, and its description will be displayed in the lower window. Click the Isolate button to remove the items MacScan finds. Note: again – be sure that MacScan didn’t find a legitimate remote administration program – if it did, unselect it before you click Isolate so it’s not accidentally deleted.
  26. items found in a macscan scan
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  27. MacScan will now confirm that you really do in fact want to delete the items it found. Click Yes to do so.
  28. confirm deletion of macscan found items

  29. Now click Done to return to the main menu.
  30. macscan finished scanning
    click to enlarge

  31. MacScan provides a nice little report of its history (last time a scan was run, number of items found etc). That’s it – you’re done! Now you may want to scan your Mac for viruses.
  32. macscan scanning history
    click to enlarge

  • http://thomasmurphy.tumblr.com/ Thomas Murphy

    Knowing security is important. Most people are blinded by the word ‘security + mac’ your current security program probably is not secure the way it should be.

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  • Alwyn

    What I would like to see for Mac is some ‘free’ scanners. Granted MacScan is the only scanner (apparently) for Mac and as such they are in a unique market position, but why do I need to pay for something which I can get free on another OS? The whole “oh its on mac so therefor worth the money” argument is in getting old.

  • Carl

    I just downloaded the latest demo of Macscan and noticed that they don’t offer to clear your history or cookies (web files) anymore. Any word on that?

  • Andrew

    Yeah, I saw that MacScan doesn’t permit actual *removal* of the offending “spyware” – not even allowed to *see* what that is – not very helpful in terms of a demo then is it? I’ve read in a few places now that while MacScan is the only software available to scan your mac it really does jack**** – I’m not about to shell out 30.00 to prevent cookies being present on my machine.

    Grade B-, needs improvement

  • Exx

    Very nice write up. Thanks for the guide! When I saw MacScan I wasn’t too sure about it but thanks to your blog in combination with other blogs that I have read about MacScan, I decided to give it a try.

    Cheers :)
    Exx

  • Dave

    I’ve been searching for any documented accounts of macintosh spyware infestations. Can’t seem to find any, nor any virus accounts either. All I can find is Macro viruses, courtesy of Microsoft, which only impact files created by Microsoft products. I think we all need to go worry about something else now.

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  • Bullie

    Thanks heaps for your tutorial again. I’ve been using your tutorial for so many times now. Each and every tutorial is so clear and helpful. I’m not a comp expert so all the screenshots you have in your tutorial was a GREAT help.
    Now I’m going to scan my Mac for virus! :)
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  • tj

    You wrote: …be sure that MacScan didn’t find a legitimate remote administration program…

    How do those who don’t what is legit, or would be guessing at best, figure this out? I certainly don’t want to remove legitimate programs.

  • Ryan

    I don’t know about this…..I think I may have picked something up, but it’s not really doing my mac that bad. Ummm….Why would it pick up files that are good ones? I don’t get that…Mac’s rule anyway against spyware!!!!

  • M. Frederick

    There are viruses for mac. There have been for a year. I’ve caught and manually removed the same virus from my mac twice. They’re out there, and there’s soon to be more, so something better than the pathetic excuse that is mac scan and a few others better come on the market soon.

  • Bilal

    I am running SpectorSoft on my Mac. I downloaded MacScan demo to see if it can catch detect SpectorSoft running. I was disappointed to see it was unable to detect that SpectorSoft is actuallu running on my machine. The most dangerous spyware one can possibly have….. They really need to improve their software.

  • http://www.billyking.com bill k

    Help. I have a duplicating virus that is eating up my imac, mainly with jpegs. Now i wan to transfer photo files to a person media player PMP and don’t know if the virus will follow? How do i rid myself of the virus. If i put to disk will the virus follow?

  • SSp

    Hi, I think my dad put eBlast on my computer, and I was wondering if this detected that software. I want to get rid of it.
    If it does not, is there any other software that does?

  • fussy

    I just d/l th latest version (August 09) and noticed the definitions were May 09. So, I clicked MacScan > Check for updates and it d/l the latest definition files. You might want to add that step to your guide. Thanks for the guide.

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  • cee

    I bought macscan and while it used to find tracking cookies it’s not found anything for months. I’ve done all the updates as well. When I emailed support they did get back to me once then they ignored me. Either it doesn’t work anymore or there are no spyware for the macs??

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  • Beblack

    Very nice tutorial. Simple and direct nice. Bump on it while seeking a cleaner software like ccleaner on PC world. I come to the conculsion that software marketers are still considering mac users as people that have too much money. It is not because we buy a mac that it is more expensive than PC that we are not able to compare price and quality between PC and Mac softwares.

    From a user point of view, how can you justify 20$ for MacScan compare to the free ccleaner ?

  • DL

    Great tutorial!! Have used a couple of times now; everything is so clearly laid out and explained. Thanks heaps!

  • Rosemary

    Thanks for posting this tutorial and the one about scanning for viruses on your Web site. The instructions were very easy to follow (plus I learned more about how my Mac works) and put my mind at ease. I am very grateful.

  • http://deannacastro.com Deanna

    Thank you so much! I was having so much trouble I lost all my bookmarks and couldn’t use the back button, can you say ANNOYING!!! It’s all fixed now yay.

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