New Mac Malware – Is Mac no longer safer?

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]Update: 5/25/2011 – Updates to this posting from Computerworld and USAToday and Apple themselves in the form of a Support document to help users to remove the malware, and promise to provide a tool that will remove it and notify users if they attempt to download the malware. See details below.

With the equivalent of “Security Center 2011” now having a counterpart for the Mac called “MAC Defender, Mac Security, Mac Protector, or any number of knockoff names“, there is a lot of discussion as to how safe the Mac still is compared with Windows.

I have not seen any Windows variant of this type of malware that is as easy to remove from Windows as it is from the Mac.

Sure, Malwarebytes Antimalware will take care of it easily on Windows, even if you somehow are tricked through social engineering to click on it (it can get a little dicier depending on how far you let it get), but with the Mac, you just go to Applications, find Mac Defender and throw it in the trash and flush. What’s easier than that? Here‘s the full instructions in Bleeping Computer’s full removal instructions.

EDIT 5/25/2011 – IMPORTANT REMOVAL INFO: Apple has also now posted removal instructions including killing the process, removing the program, and stopping it from starting on boot, here. This was noted in Computerworld: Apple admits Mac scareware infections, promises cleaning tool and USAToday: Apple to issue Mac update to halt malware attacks, and Arstechnica: Apple acknowledges Mac Defender malware, promises software update, as well as likely other places on the web today.

The Computerworld article above notes:

Andrew Storms, director of security operations with nCircle Security, was surprised that Apple said it would embed a malware cleaning tool in Mac OS X.

“That’s new ground for Apple,” Storms said, pointing out that the move is a first for the company, which until now has only offered a bare-bones malware detection mechanism in Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, and then only populated it with a handful of signatures.

“Not only is Apple going to help customers remove [Mac Defender], but by doing so, they’re also admitting that there are security problems with Mac OS,” Storms said.

Even though it is very easy to remove, with Mac Defender out there, it does mean that malware, particularly on compromised websites, have begun to include other platforms. And you can bet others will follow. And they may not be as easy to remove.

So, does it mean Mac users should be installing Antivirus and/or Antimalware programs? I have, but according to the Wired.com article below:

Charlie Miller, a security researcher who has repeatedly won the annual Pwn2Own hacking contest by hacking Macs and iPhones, told Wired.com he doesn’t think so.

Ultimately, it’s up to the customer because there’s a trade-off involved. Anti-virus software will help protect your system from being infected, but it’s expensive, uses system memory and reduces battery life.

“Mac malware is still relatively rare, but is getting worse,” Miller said. “At some point soon, the scales will tip to installing antivirus, but at this point, I don’t think it’s worth it yet for most people.”

So how is this happening?

Browser choice and settings The first problem I see for Mac users is Safari and it’s settings. First for the same reason I rarely ever use Internet Explorer in Windows, I rarely use Safari on the Mac. Safari by default allows opening of files automatically after download. Bad move. This caused problems in the past with some ‘rogue’ Widgets a few years ago, but folks realized it was easy to fix this and turned it off under Safari preferences. With Safari open, Click Safari on the Menu bar, then click Preferences, on the first tab (General), at the bottom, untick Open ‘safe’ files after downloading. Personally, I prefer to use a variety of browsers, such as Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera for various things. Firefox and Chrome have some some great addons to help protect you. Opera has some as well.

Keeping programs up to date – Keeping Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and other addons/plugins, web browsers, and other software that touch the Internet up to date, as well as the operating system itself.

Paying attention The next biggest problem I see are people not paying close enough attention (regardless of their OS), and not familiarizing themselves with their OS as well as they could. This type of malware tries to replicate some sort of a security area on the OS to some degree and scare you into thinking they are finding malware on your system.

This type of malware requires you allow the installation.

On Windows computers, by clicking through the Administrator authentication box, and on the Mac by authenticating with your Admin password.

On Windows, way too many things ask for this kind of authentication (although it is better than it used to be), but on the Mac, which is more like UNIX/Linux in that regard, you are only asked when it could be a potential threat to the system like installing software that wants access to the system, or needs access to system areas. We should always be sure we know what is being installed and why before authenticating with our Admin password. Don’t have a password? Set one up under Accounts in the System Preferences today!

Search results People need to be able to tell the legitimate search results from the bogus ones that have managed to get into the top searches through Black Hat SEO technicques. If you don’t have a way to at least tell whether a site is good, bad or indifferent, it makes it so easy to click on the wrong one. There are programs that can help with this. They are not foolproof, use common sense as well. A free community based one is MyWOT and it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. There are others that work on Windows as well from antivirus/firewall companies.

Keeping things cleaned up Having and using a temporary files cleaner. I run it after every single browser session, but every day or at worst case once a week would work as long as you don’t notice any issues or weirdness with your OS.

There is a good one for Windows called CCleaner (free and paid versions). For the Mac there are several available. I like MainMenu. It is not free, priced at $15 and a bit more for the Pro version. Main Menu is also available in the MacApp Store. Another favorite is free, OnyX.

You can find out more information about this “Mac Defender” malware in the following articles:

An AppleCare support rep talks: Mac malware is “getting worse” (at Ed Bott Microsoft Report on ZDNet (first article on it)

New Mac Malware Fools Customers, But Threat Still Relatively Small (Wired.com’s Gadget Labs)

Malware on the Mac: is there cause for concern? Ars investigates (Arstechnica)

Modern Mac owners need to ignore the dinosaurs and get protection (Hardware 2.0 at ZDNet)

Microsoft links fake Mac AV to Windows scareware gang (Computerworld)

Don’t Panic Over the Latest Mac Malware Story (SecurityWeek):

Now that we’ve established who benefits from Mac malware predictions — security companies and a certain type of IT professional — the second question is, do we care about the prediction that “serious” malware is coming to Macs? Only a little. It is true that Macs aren’t dusted with some sort of magic unicorn Unix-y pixie powder that makes it less vulnerable to security flaws than Windows. But it is equally true that the Mac remains a less risky platform than Windows because of the fewer strains of malware written for OS X. By “fewer” I mean 99% fewer: a hundred malware samples versus 50 million. The Mac also has a much less evolved malware supply chain. By “less evolved” I mean “nonexistent,” this one example notwithstanding.

And with that, I will close this topic for the time being…

EDIT added Bleeping Computer article on removal of Mac Defender and the last article from Hardware 2.0 at ZDNet and Microsoft links face Mac AV to Windows Scareware Gang at Computerworld and Don’t Panic Over the Latest Mac Malware Story at SecurityWeek.

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  1. Pingback: Nice to see Apple doing the right thing! « LilBambi’s Blog – BambisMusings

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