In the ongoing debate of Mac vs. PC, one point has remained constant; for years Apple has reassured its customers that Macs “don’t get viruses”. The iOS platform has been touted as the secure way to go, to remain immune from hostile attacks and intrusions that plague the Windows platform.
Although it is true that Macs are generally perceived as more secure than PCs, they are still open to viruses but have just been traditionally targeted less in the past as they make up a significantly smaller share of the total units out there.
This dynamic is showing signs of change. Just last year, cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes registered a 270% increase in Mac malware threats from 2016, and 2016 had a 230% increase from the previous year. When Apple introduced XProtect, Mac users rested easy knowing they had anti-malware protection far beyond Windows capability. However, XProtect doesn’t detect and block new adware or other unwanted programs—only malware that it has seen before. Because of Mac’s perception of invulnerability, too many Mac users fail to install a cybersecurity system on their machines or networks.
Is my Mac infected?
Here are five signs that can help identify a malware infection.
- Browser Pop Ups – One of the most common indications of a malware infection is the browser pop up. Browser pop ups get in your face, urgently recommending fake updates or other fake software. Look at browser pop ups carefully, and notify your IT support if it is not something you initiated.
- Banner Ads – after you land on a web page, the advertising banners start intruding on the content in an aggressive manner. If this is a page you visit repeatedly, and the banner ads weren’t this intrusive the last time, it’s a good sign your Mac has been compromised.
- New Hyperlinks – you notice that random text on a web page has a hyperlink. Hopefully by now you know not to click on those, right?
- New Adware Programs (PUP) – Potentially Unwanted Programs, or PUPs, are adware programs that start to appear as you browse, which you did not authorize, or which were installed without your knowledge.
- Increased/Erratic Activity – if your Mac repeatedly crashes, heats up, or the cooling fan is louder than normal for no apparent reason, your machine may be working overtime because of a cryptocurrency miner. These are most frequently installed by a Mac Trojan.
If you encounter any of these signs, or experience other unusual behavior on your Mac, then it is well past time to update your cybersecurity protection.
What’s the Solution?
To start, get rid of the assumption that Macs are safer than PCs. The only thing that seems safer is the rarity of threats compared to Windows. As the threat level for Macs continues to rise, most Mac users are still reliant on XProtect to keep out all malware, and this puts Mac users at a higher risk of infection.
Learn good browsing habits, and train all, users on your network to adopt them. If you see a new pop up, or a hyperlink appears odd, scroll over the link – without clicking! — to see the true URL in the status bar of the site the link will send you to. If the domain ends in a letter combination you don’t recognize, steer clear. In the United States, thousands of people have been duped by malware links to their banks, such as false Chase Bank domains. The real link is “chasebank.com”, and the false URL link will show “chase.bankcom” or a similar copy.
Keeping your software up to date is always the best policy, whether it’s your operating system, browser, or any other program that gets frequent use. If you use a planned maintenance program, add software updates to your recurring maintenance schedule. Keeping your software up to date reduces the threat of malware exploiting bugs or loopholes in the code.
Finally, install a Mac cybersecurity or anti-malware program from a reputable vendor. This will protect you from malware that makes it past your good cybersecurity habits. GCS installs and recommends Malwarebytes for our IT Support clients. Malwarebytes has comprehensive, layered protection, detects adware and PUPs, and provides remediation, which corrects system changes.
In the end, even on a Mac, the first line of defense is you and your vigilance. Develop good browsing habits and don’t rely on XProtect to block all unwanted adware or malware. Responsible computer usage will go a long way toward blocking most online threats, but not all of them. With the rise of malware on the iOS platform, a good Mac cybersecurity system is essential.
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