Mac OS is more susceptible to malware today than ever before, and Apple may not have prepared it enough to handle the situation. Windows still holds the highest count of malicious cases, but with more and more threats coming to Mac, the gap between the two platforms is steadily closing.
Analysts attribute the increased vulnerability of Mac OS to a few primary factors, among them being a weakening defense system. For instance, anyone with a credit card and some cash can get an Apple developer certificate and be able to “sign” software. Suspicious or not, any signed program can get through Gatekeeper, Mac’s default application screener.
XProject, the built-in antivirus, is also far from effective in detecting new malware and, to make things worse, researchers have found several bypasses to System Integrity Protection, which is designed to restrict an unauthorized program from accessing root memory. None of these protections can stand a chance against modern-day social-engineering attacks.
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Remedying the situation
As a Mac user, you can no longer rely solely on Mac OS to offer dependable protection against malware. It’s, therefore, time to take up matters into your own hands.
Here are three key steps to dealing with Mac malware:
1. Security settings
Mac OS comes with a host of settings in system and browser preferences that you can tweak around for maximum security. When checking your settings, keep in mind that there are fundamentally two places that malware could come from, i.e. over a network, or direct access to your Mac.
Start by paying a visit to the Security and Privacy pane in System Preferences, from where you can control various aspects of security, such as account preferences, app permissions and passwords. You’ll also find FileVault, a feature that allows you to encrypt all files on your boot disk.
Next, check Network and Sharing settings, to ensure all the relevant passwords are set, your firewall is active, and your Mac connects to only authorized devices. If your antivirus has an online security system, have it turned on and configured appropriately. Also, launch your browser and install an ad-blocker plugin to make sure malware doesn’t get in through bad pop-ups.
Other security settings you may want to consider are enabling the Guest account and creating a firmware password. In addition to restricting a guest user access to sensitive files, a malicious person that logs into your Mac with a guest account and connects to the Internet automatically activates iCloud’s Find My Mac feature. A firmware password, on the other hand, inhibits someone from directly booting up your Mac with a USB stick and accessing your data without the need to log in to any user account.
Keeping all your security settings in check is essential in preventing malware infections in your Mac.
2. Software solutions
However tight your settings are, some harmful programs may still find a way. Your next line of defense should, therefore, be an antivirus program. Diehard Apple fans may not want to hear it, but with the amount of malware around today, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Bitdefender is often regarded as the best Mac antivirus because, in addition to reliable real-time protection, it offers fast scans and has a minimum effect on system performance. Other excellent packages are Sophos, Kaspersky, Norton, Avast, and Avira.
However, there’s more to antivirus programs than just installing the software. Remember to run scans frequently, and always keep the definition database updated.
In addition to antivirus software, third-party developers are constantly coming up with security tools, which collectively make up for the security deficiencies in Mac OS. These include system firewalls, which filter the data that goes in and out of your computer and inhibit malicious files that your default firewall may miss, and utilities that inspect installer packages before you open them.
Both antivirus and security tools help to uphold the safety of your data by complementing the already existing standards in Mac OS.
3. Precautionary measures
MacOS developers and software designers are always racing against cyber-criminals, in a never-ending effort to avert the havoc that malware wreaks. However, software is still not enough to ensure maximum protection. The practices you adopt can significantly augment the effectiveness of security programs and settings.
Nowadays, nobody uses brute hacking anymore. In contrast, malware gets into a computer by deceiving the user to install it. This is why computer experts identify humans as the weak link in a system’s security. Dangerous programs often disguise themselves as harmless apps, with requests designed to appear simple and relatively meaningless.
You, therefore, need to exercise caution when using your Mac. Be especially careful about plugging in suspicious peripherals. Moreover, avoid pirated or “cracked” software, and if a free online tool is flagged down by your antivirus, do not try to install it until you have enough information to prove its legitimacy.
Additionally, pay extra attention to popup messages that may suddenly appear on your screen after opening a file or landing on a web page. In what researchers are calling “the first real-world attack to infect Macs,” a malicious Microsoft Word document was recently found to contain a macro virus designed to gain entry through a Word application that has been configured to allow embedded macros and ignore a warning.
Such malware could have a broad range of capabilities, including stealing passwords, monitoring webcams and accessing browser histories. It’s, therefore, paramount to always read and understand the various warnings, alerts and prompts that may pop up before clicking on any buttons.
Security is one of the factors that have earned MacBooks a place among the best laptops on the market. But the notebooks, along with their desktop counterparts, are now just as vulnerable to malware as other computing devices.
As technologists predict a further increase in Mac malware this year, it’s essentially up to you to ensure you keep your data secure at all times.
Article by Jo-Ann Coetzee