Most of us remember those iconic commercials where young, hip Justin Long drolly personified Macs while stodgy John Hodgman represented dull, outdated PCs. One of the most lasting messages from those ads was the idea that Macs don’t get viruses. Most consumers didn’t understand why — and most don’t to this day — but it seemed to be true: PC users succumbed to cyber attack much more frequently than Mac users.
Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The number of Mac-specific malware has been climbing, and these days, Mac users must focus on security as intently as PC users, lest their devices slow and their data disappear.
Many Mac users are disconcerted by this swift change. Why isn’t Justin Long still correct? Did Macs lose critical security features? Shouldn’t Macs become better at fighting viruses, not worse? If you feel this way about your beloved Mac products, you need to learn a little more about how Macs and malware function.
Why There Is More Malware for Macs
In truth, there are dozens of reasons that Macs face more malware than they once did. In general, the cyber threat landscape is more varied and complex than it was, so viruses and other forms of malware are smarter and better at getting into a variety of devices. All types of computers, not just Macs, are in greater danger of a serious cyber attack that was true several years ago.
However, Macs specifically have caught cybercriminals’ attention. Due potentially to Justin Long’s memorable commercials as well as Apple’s increased market share after the release of the iPod and iPhone — plus the dramatically increasing security savvy of PC users — hackers and the like turned their eye toward enormous opportunity and the relative vulnerability of Macs. Few Mac users have any semblance of cyber hygiene, and few equip their devices with additional security tools, like antivirus protection and firewalls, making them sitting ducks for cybercriminals. Because Macs make up a sizeable percentage of all computers, they continue to be prime targets for malware.
The Latest and Greatest Mac Malware
The first Mac malware emerged in the ‘80s, but like other malware at the time, it did little but annoy users with flashing text and graphics. These days, all malware is more severe; it is designed to generate income for its creators, and thus, it digs deep into devices to find valuable data or otherwise catastrophically disrupt processes.
There is a long list of Mac-specific malware floating around the web, but most of it has been resolved by updates to macOS and other software patches. Still, a handful of bad programs remain major threats, such as:
• Safari-get. A denial-of-service attack that cripples your computer so you will call a fake tech support line and willingly hand over your payment card information.
• OSX/Pirrit. A virus that gains root privileges to download spammy software.
• OSX/MaMi. Malware that changes DNS server settings to route traffic through malicious servers, stealing sensitive data. It can also take screenshots, download and upload files, execute commands and even generate mouse events.
• OSX/Dok. Malware that intercepts traffic (like OSX/MaMi) but that is signed by an Apple-authenticated developer certificate, allowing it to bypass Mac’s meager security features like Gatekeeper and XProtect.
• Fruitfly. One of the oldest, malware that steals user images, tax records, and communications by capturing screenshots and webcam images.
• OSX.Dummy. Perhaps the newest, malware that targets cryptocurrency investors — but one that is relatively easy to guard against.
What Mac Users Can Do to Stay Safe
Fortunately, as is the case with malware on most devices, avoiding infection on a Mac is quite simple. Of course, you should equip your computer with appropriate antivirus tools, but for the most part, security comes down to proper behavior online — i.e. not clicking on suspicious links or opening unknown attachments or downloads.
If your precious Mac does succumb to a malware attack, there is no need to panic. First, you should try to reboot your Mac using any backups of your device. If you lack these, then you should run your antivirus program or download a trustworthy one immediately. Try to avoid following any instructions given by the malware; this will only lead you toward further data and financial loss. If all else fails, you should contact Apple customer support, who will walk you through proper treatment or set an appointment with a Mac Genius who can.