Mac Security – Truth or Dare
Illusions of Safety
We used to be a Mac house. In fact, I was the only IT professional I knew who had a Mac as his primary machine. I prided myself on running circles around my PC-toting counterparts as they struggled with stability issues and security problems on their clients’ machines as well as their own! My Mac never had a single issue, ran Windows 7 in Parallels (faster than a lot of native Windows 7 computers ) and was practically bullet-proof against viruses by default (or so I thought). This false sense of safety has never been less true than today and it puts Mac users at greater risk than ever before.
The Rising Tide
Years later, I’m toting a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and there’s not a Mac in the house (ok, my wife still longs to go back to a Mac, but I – unfortunately – bought her what turned out to be a real lemon of a Windows machine). Do I have anything against Macs? Not at all, in fact, I still believe they are some of the finest computers you can buy. They are stable, fast and secure, but they are not as bullet-proof as I used to (and many people still do) believe. Last year, a security hole was found in OS X that allowed a hacker to bypass the security privilege controls and execute malicious code. Also last year, researchers developed a worm that can affect both Macs and PCs at the firmware level, even bypassing the OS itself. Then, early last month, the first Mac ransomware was discovered “in the wild.” While it’s not a torrent, the rising tide of Mac viruses is only indicative of things to come. This is made worse by the attitude of complacency to which a lot of Mac users still subscribe. The naysayers will talk about how the KeRanger ransomware didn’t affect that many Macs (only about 7,000 were hit before the infection was discovered), but if you were one of those 7,000 whose hard drive got encrypted and you had to pay $400 to decrypt it, I’d bet you’d think it’s a big deal.
So, if you have a Mac, what do you do?
- Make sure your Mac is up-to-date. Lots of security vulnerabilities get patched up before they’re able to do a lot of damage, but if you don’t have the patch, it’s like running with a hole in your shoe.
- Get a good antivirus solution. There are excellent Mac antivirus solutions out there from companies like Sophos and Webroot that will defend your Mac from viruses designed for your Mac as well as quarantine PC viruses you may be inadvertently passing on to your PC-wielding friends and coworkers.
- Have a good offsite backup. Ah, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve recommended this. I’m still amazed at how many people don’t back up their Mac or PC. Local backups are great, and lots of Mac users will rely on a TimeMachine backup, which is good, but as ransomeware gets more sophisticated, it’s only a matter of time until local backups attached to your infected machine are infected as well. Offsite backup is so inexpensive, there’s really no reason to not do it, and then you’re protected not only from ransomeware, but also from fire or natural disaster.
The worst time to start planning for how to deal with a virus is after you’ve been infected. I’ve been sitting at more than one person’s computer in the past, trying to get everything back in order after a virus infection while the owner paces nervously across the room asking me, “How did this happen?” There are plenty of ways to avoid it, just by taking the steps outlined above. For less than $10 per month, you can get virus protection and offsite backup for your Mac – you can barely drive through and get lunch for less than that. Doesn’t that seem worth it? It does to me, which is why I recommend antivirus and backup to all of my clients, PC and Mac.
Spread the Word
The more people that take these threats seriously, the less effective the infections will be. Will the hackers go away? No, but they’ll at least be stymied for a while. The biggest security vulnerability in the Mac world are Mac users – no offense, but it’s true. By operating as if their Macs are invulnerable, they create a culture of complacency that leaves the doors open to attackers.