More Mac malware was detected last year than ever before

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There has been a significant increase in the amount of malware targeting macOS devices over the past 12 months, new research has claimed.

A report from Atlas VPN found that the development of macOS malware surged by 1,092% in 2020 as hackers increasingly targeting Apple's computing devices, including the all-new M1 Macs

Overall, 674,273 new malware samples were detected in 2020 - a huge rise from the previous year, when there were only 56,556 samples detected.

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Mac vs Windows

The numbers show that 2020 was unfortuately a bumper year for macOS malware, with the number of new strains taking off like never before. Atlas VPN noted that if all the new malware detected since it began tracking in 2012 until 2019 was combined, this would result in 219,257 samples - far below the number seen in 2020. 

From 2012 until 2019, the highest number of new malware strains ever detected was 92,570 samples in 2018, showing what a bumper year 2020 was for wannabe hackers.

“Contributing to this record surge in threats is the fact that new malicious software is now easier to engineer than ever before," noted Rachel Welch, COO of Atlas VPN.

"Nowadays, hackers don’t even need advanced programming skills since they can purchase a ready-made malware code, tailor it to their needs with a little bit of coding, and establish a completely new threat."

Alarms were raised earlier this year when the first malware native to M1-powered MacBooks was discovered in the wild, just months after the arrival of the first Apple Silicon devices., an M1-native version of the longstanding Pirrit virus, generates revenue by spamming users with pop-ups and adverts.

Despite the rise in macOS malware, Atlas VPN highlighted that the number of attacks targeting Windows users remained much higher. The company found a record-high of 91.05 million new Windows malware samples were discovered in 2020 - an average of 249,452 threats per day, meaning that there were over 135 times more Windows threats than there was macOS in 2020. 

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.