Defending Your MacJuly 2, 2011
By now, most of you have heard of this “MAC Defender” malware that’s out on the internet this month. Some of you may have already panicked, rushed out and slathered your beautiful Macs with legitimate anti-virus software. Sooner or later you’ll be calling and wondering why your speedy Mac has gotten so slow and certain things just don’t work like they used to. I could say something pithy like, “Well, it’s not as young as it used to be. Just a natural part of the aging process that one has to accept…,” but I’d just be going for smarmy points there. Actually, there is no such thing as smarmy points. They usually count against you. No, I’d likely say, “Bring it in, we’ll have a look.” Once on the bench, chances are we’d see that you’d been driving your Mac with the parking brake on. That’s the burning aroma you’ve been smelling from time to time.
That’s what anti-virus software does to any computer.
Now if you have a PC running Windows, you don’t have a choice. Running a PC without protection is like sleeping next to the Amazon without mosquito netting. You’re just asking for trouble. The last statistic I saw estimated that 10-15% of everything you download on the internet has PC malware in it. Did you get that? That’s over 1 in 10 downloads can potentially harm your PC!
But not your Mac.
So should you be panicking now that there is now one piece of Mac malware out there that can trick a gullible person into giving up their credit card data to a website? Aware, yes. Panicking, no.
So what is malware, anyway?
Malware is any piece of “malicious software” written for the sole purpose of bringing something bad into your computer, and by association, your life. Malware can be a virus, a worm, a phish, a trojan, spyware, adware, tupperware and a lot of things you’d probably like to avoid.
But that’s why we love Macs, right?
Marginally relevant sidebar story:
A dear friend was having us do some work on her MacBook Pro and had come to pick it up. I was showing her what we’d done and talking about it as simply as possible so she’d know what we’d repaired along with some minor changes to her system. After I’d been talking about a minute or two, she stopped me and said,
“Oh my gosh! I just did that thing!”
“What thing?,” I replied
“That thing where someone is talking technical and I just tune it out and wait for it to be over so I can smile and nod my head?”
“Oh, that bad?”
“No, just a force of habit. I actually understand most of what you say, most of the time. Would you mind repeating that part again about how I can change my password?”
My point here (in case you’re glazed over and smiling blankly now) is that at this stage in MacLand, you don’t need anti-virus software.
There really are no viruses for Macs anyway. The only people telling you, you need them, are usually the same companies that make their living selling anti-virus software for the PC. All too often the latest “study” that seems to indicate the need for this software on the Mac is usually funded by the same companies that would like to sell you the software. Hmm…
MAC Defender was a trojan (as in Troy, not birth control or USC) which required user intervention to get what they ultimately wanted: credit card data. As such, it was also a “phish,” trying to hook you into giving up information it could not find or gather on it’s own. Trojan’s make up about 70% of the malware on the internet these days. Viruses only about 17%. Malware creators used to be motivated simply by their devotion to the dark lord and bad food. Just doing evil for evil’s sake was enough to delight their twisted, Twinkie sucking souls. Now they’re all about profit.
Your bottom line should be this: Never give information of any kind to a website or email that you don’t know or trust. You might also want to have a fake birth date that you use to register for certain legitimate things and a different credit card and/or email address for internet shopping. Less is more on the internet.
As far as Macs one day needing some type of anti-malware protection other than the Mac OS, it’s possible. My best estimate at the rate things are going is that Apple is eventually going to be the number one platform for home users in the U.S. and possibly the world. So it will be a bigger target for thieves and evil doers, who generally like to go where the money is.
But we’re not there yet.
Anti-virus software on the Mac right now is like driving your car with a helmet on. Is it safer? Probably. Is it necessary if you’re already a safe driver and wear seat belts? Probably not.
Keep your data backed up with Time Machine and go about your business knowing that the internet is still pretty safe for Macs.
Here’s Apple’s note on how to uninstall MAC Defender:
We’re always here to help if you need us.
Hope your Memorial Day Weekend is full of friends and family and not too much traffic. Our hearts and gratitude go out to all of the men and women who have selflessly served this country.
All the best,