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Stay safe online and find all you need to know about Malware

For as long as we’ve had computers and the Internet, there have also been nasty people out there who try to exploit this technology to their own gain or amusement. For many years, Mac-users could feel safe that their devices were less vulnerable than Windows-based computers. But as Apple has become more popular and widespread, it has also become more lucrative to target its users. Virus programming has also become more sophisticated. Despite this, a belief persists that Macs are impervious to viruses. It’s beyond time to debunk this myth! All Mac-users should become malware-aware and be proactive to protect themselves and each other. Ready to get on board? Keep reading…

How am I being attacked?

Malicious software, known as malware, is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of intrusive and/or harmful programs that may infect your computer. Once installed, malware acts contrary to the your interests, without your consent and often even without your knowledge.

There are different ways for a computer to become infected. Often, it’s the user themselves who unwittingly downloads the malevolent software. This usually happens via a Trojan Horse, which is a file that disguises itself as something safe or innocuous but actually contains malware. Other times a programming flaw, or security bug, in a computer’s operating system or other software creates an opportunity for hackers to gain access.

Certain types of malware seek to propagate. Like medical viruses, computer viruses infect one unit then attempt to replicate and spread to others.  To infect, they require deliberate user action, such as opening a file or program.  Worms on the other hand, spread automatically from unit to unit, often through a network due to the latter’s security vulnerabilities.

What’s being done to my computer?

Once on your unit, malware can cause damage and inconvenience in many ways.  A Trojan, virus or worm’s payload might corrupt your files, crash your entire unit, steal your data, etc.  Other popular malware attacks have their own names based on their characteristics.

  • Spyware gathers information about you and your computer usage without your knowledge or consent.  It may also be able to download additional software to your unit, change your computer settings and/or direct your web searches.
  • Ransomware blocks your access to files or even the entire system by encrypting them.  The scammer then demands a ransom is paid in exchange for the decryption key.
  • Scareware convinces you your computer has been infected by a virus, even though in most cases no virus is present, so that you purchase fake anti-virus software.  The program purchased is useless or additional malware.
  • A Rootkit allows the coder to remotely access and/or control your computer without detection.  From there, they can gain access to your data and alter files, programs and configurations.
  • Adware generates unwanted advertisements, often in the form of pop-ups.  It is often bundled with spyware.
  • A Bot causes your computer to automatically execute certain actions without your knowledge at the behest of the malware coder.  When used with other similarly infected computers, your unit may help launch denial-of-service attacks, spread email spam, etc.

Example of Malware or Scare-ware. Programs like MacKepper will pop up like this to try get you to download them.

Example of Malware or Scare-ware. Programs like MacKepper will pop up like this to try get you to download them.

How can I protect myself?

Vulnerability due to bugs or backdoors in your operating system can’t be avoided.  You can only wait until Apple identifies them and releases OS security updates to resolve the issue.  Other viruses can be prevented as they require your help to overcome the computer’s automatic defences.

Apple helps you avoid malware by including Application Firewall, Gatekeeper and XProtect in the operating system itself. With the correct settings, file quarantine pops a warning when you attempt to download from an external source, doubling checking that you truly want to proceed. A flag will also appear if you attempt to download a widely known malware program. However, this built-in protection is not bulletproof and new threats seek to bypass them.

One way to enhance your computer’s existing protection is to beef it up with antivirus software.  Such software will scan your unit at regular intervals or on command to identify potential problems.  However, you must be very careful when choosing your antivirus solution.  Malware programs abound masquerading as antivirus tools.  MacDefender, Mac Protector and Mac Shield, for example, are trojans that have fooled thousands.  If you’re looking for a legitimate free option, security bloggers suggest Sophos Home for Mac or Malwarebytes for Mac. However, to be 100% certain, it is best to let the professionals take care of it. Bring your computer into you local Apple specialist and they will gladly clean that up for you.

At the end of the day however, vigilance is your best weapon.  Be sensitive to your changes in your computer’s behaviour.  Do not turn off or ignore your computer’s security flags. Most importantly, follow sensible precautions when downloading files, receiving emails and browsing the internet.  Avoid illegal sites, only open files from trusted sources and beware of suspicious emails.

How do I know if there’s malware on my computer?

Although malware assaults work differently, there are some shared warning signs that your computer may been infected.

  • You’re receiving annoying ads or pop-up messages
  • The unit is slow to boot up or applications are lagging.
  • You’re getting unusual error messages.
  • People on your email contact list are getting suspicious emails from you.
  • Your browser keeps redirecting or your homepage has been changed.
  • Strange items are being posted to your social media accounts.
  • Your internet usage has increased but your activity hasn’t changed.
  • The computer keeps crashing.
  • Your security settings or anti-virus software has been turned off.
  • There are unfamiliar icons on your desktop.
  • You receive a ransom demand or scare tactic message.

That said, even if your computer seems to be working fine, you may still be a victim of malware. That’s because some malware programs try very hard to work invisibly.  It’s also possible for a Mac to carry Windows virus that won’t affect it, but can be passed on to a Windows unit with harmful consequences.  It’s in cases like this that having anti-virus software running periodic scans is especially useful.

Simply Computing can Help

While Sophos and MalwareBytes are generally great tools, it’s sometimes not enough. The technicians at Simply Computing are pros when it comes to removing malware. They will do a thorough inspection of all files and hidden folders, as well as browsers and extensions to ensure no malware still exists on the machine. A malware cleanup service at Simply Computing is just $49 and offers priceless peace of mind.

Another pre-emptive security method is to backup the computer regularly to an external hard drive. In doing this, you ensure your data is safe if your machine does become the victim of a malware attack. Time Machine is an amazing and simple software built in to Apple’s operating system that makes backing up to an external hard drive easy and stress-free. A 1TB external hard drive at Simply Computing costs $99 and comes with a 3-year warranty. The staff at Simply Computing will gladly show you how to set it up also.



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