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Malware catches up to the Mac

It used to be that one of the major benefits of owning a Mac was that you didn’t have to worry about malware – those viruses, trojan horses, worms, and other malicious programs that are designed to deceive and defraud unsuspecting users.

Sadly those days are over. With the Mac’s share of the personal computer market well over 15% and climbing, cyber criminals are increasingly turning their attention to a user group that was previously considered too small to bother with.

The latest malware to target Mac users is a fake antivirus program known as MacDefender (or sometimes MacProtector). The program is designed to scare people into thinking that their computers are infected and that they have to pay with a credit card to clean the machine up.

The malware is picked up from malicious web sites created solely to distribute the fake programs. The operators of the web sites, which are taken down and changed on a daily basis, use search optimization techniques to rank high in search results and therefore attract more click-throughs.

The appearance of the malware has caused widespread alarm among the Mac faithful, who are used to hearing about viruses and online scams but only when they happen to PC users. Tech commentators have reported that calls to Apple’s Mac support center have been running four or five times higher than normal, and that Mac discussion blogs were awash with stories of panicked Mac users who were tricked into installing the malware.

However, the appearance of malware targeting Mac users doesn’t mean that Macs have suddenly become less safe. In fact, it’s probably the rarity of a large-scale Mac attack that has attracted all the publicity. PCs are still far more vulnerable, a fact confirmed by Microsoft when it recently said that about one out of every 14 programs downloaded by Windows users turns out to be malicious.

But that’s no reason for Mac users to be complacent. The latest malware could signal the start of more frequent attacks on the Mac user base, and the success of the iPhone and iPad will inevitably increase the attention that the bad guys pay to all Apple’s operating systems.

Here are a few basic tips for steering clear of MacDefender and other malware:

  • Don’t visit unknown web sites, unless it’s through a link you trust.

  • Don’t install programs unless they come from a reputable source.

  • Don’t click on pop-ups or respond to random warnings about malware or security issues on your computer

  • Avoid giving your credit card details online, unless you are sure you are transacting with a secure and trusted web site.

  • Consider installing antivirus software.

The Online Mom recommends Kaspersky Anti-Virus for Mac.

Comment by geekbabe, posted 6/5/2011, 3:55 AM:

One of the strongest selling points of the Mac has always been it's almost protected status when it comes to computer virus & malware. It seems everybody is a target now, I shudder to think of the damage that could be done if wrong doer's target iphone.
Comment by monstergirlee, posted 5/25/2011, 10:13 AM:

Thank you for this article, we have a Mac and no security software. I need to show this to my husband so we can figure out what to do next. That was one of the reasons we wanted a Mac - such a lower risk of virus.
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