The Mac malware question

by admin on February 8, 2013

The Mac malware question

Do Macs get viruses? A common perception, encouraged by Apple, is that they don’t. And to a very large extent it’s true – but that’s not quite the same as saying it’s not something you should ever think about.

Mac OS X enjoys a privileged position: compared to Windows, it’s been subjected to only a tiny amount of malware (malicious software). Many people have used Macs for years, without ever installing virus protection, and have never had an infection or any kind of malware-related problem. That would be highly unlikely in the Windows PC world.

It’s not that the files containing viruses can’t be downloaded to Macs, but the code that does the damage, the ‘payload’, will only execute on the operating system it’s designed for – and almost invariably that isn’t OS X. The Mac’s built-in defences are not easy to get around, and malware creators no doubt find their time is better spent targeting an OS that accounts for more than 90% of the world’s computers rather than a minority product.

But viruses aren’t the only kind of malware. In 2011, tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of Macs were affected by a Trojan known as MAC Defender. Rather than executing its payload automatically, for example when the user accessed an infected website, MAC Defender would pop up a message inviting the user to respond to malware threats by installing an anti-virus app. If the user took this at face value, they would then permit the software to install – and, as usual when installing software on a Mac, would enter their administrator password to bypass OS X’s protections.

It’s easy to dismiss this kind of ‘social engineering’ attack as something you’d never fall for, but many people do – and until you encounter the next form of attack, you don’t know what you should be looking out for. Phishing attacks, where users are tricked into entering passwords or personal details via the web and email, are also commonplace. While Apple has increased its security since MAC Defender, new kinds of malware are a constant possibility.

For anti-virus specialists Kaspersky, Mac securityis important because of these ongoing threats. By finding the right software from malware experts, Mac users can be protected from Trojans, spyware and phishing attempts, and cloud-based scanning helps to ensure no malware is passed via the Mac to any of the user’s contacts who may be running PCs that would be affected.

As technology advances, so too do hacking networks. What started as an activity being conducted by a few technically adept individuals has grown into an increasingly mature marketplace. As this marketplace continues to evolve, it becomes harder to detect where and when these hackers are operating.

In mid-January, a major cyber-attack that has been in operation since 2007 was discovered by Russian researchers. Investigators have found that, after five years of operation, the so-called ‘Red October’ hackers have created more than 60 domain names to run their attacks and are targeting government and diplomatic institutions in mainly eastern European countries. Besides the traditional approach of targeting workstation computers, Red October is able to extract private data from mobile devices , including address books, the call history, SMS messages and browsing history.

Considering Red October, a large-scale global hacking attack, managed to remain undetected for years, many people may not even realise that they have become a victim to cybercrime. Rather than wait until you find out, it makes sense to invest in software that can catch malware before it strikes.

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