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Lifestyles

June 4, 2011

Mac users beware "“ malware coming soon to a computer near you

So, what's the latest, biggest technology news, since my last column?

I'll tell you I could see this one coming. It's malware on Mac computers.

Mac users have for years considered themselves above all the fray about malware to which Windows users have become accustomed.

Lots of times I've heard Mac proponents come out with something like "Macs don't get malware like Windows computers do," when what would have been much more accurate would have been "Macs haven't gotten malware like Windows computers have."

The idea that Macs were somehow immune to malware is a completely wrong idea. The true fact is that Macs are indeed vulnerable, but have up until recently been such a small part of the computing market share that they have not been a target for malware.

The malware bad guys didn't think it was worthwhile to make Mac versions of malware. That is beginning to change.

Apple's operating systems have been increasing in market share the last couple years, and when I say Apple, I'm including both Mac computers and Apple's phones and tablets. Phones and tablets are vulnerable, too.

Another factor in malware writers' thinking is that Microsoft, who owns the lion's share of operating systems, has gradually been increasing the proportion of Windows 7 as compared to Windows XP, and Windows 7 is better secured against malware. It would also probably be safe to say that Windows users have been exposed to the threat of malware much longer than Mac users have, and are somewhat more informed of the pitfalls.

So, the malware landscape is undergoing a change.

Apple customers would do well to take note of this, and begin learning about it. Apple is beginning to look like the new "low-hanging fruit," to malware writers.

Here's how the story goes.

In the beginning of May, it was noted by security outfits Kaspersky Labs and CSIS Security Group that a crimeware kit had been released and was being advertised, on the underground, for the Mac OS. A "crimeware kit" is software that makes it trivial for someone to create malware.

It didn't take long for it to be put into use. Within a couple weeks, support calls to Apple were reported to amount to four or five times the usual number, and the overwhelming majority were about "Mac Defender," the first of the big malware programs to hit Apple.

And guess what? Apple wouldn't help users get rid of the problem. In fact, Apple specifically told their support reps not to acknowledge that it was a malware problem, or to assist in removal of the malware. By the third week of May it was clear to Apple support reps that to help a customer, in any way, to remove the malware, would cost them their job. They could only recommend the customer look for a third-party program to remove the threat.

I find it hard to believe that Apple could have come up with a worse way to handle it. Amazing how dumb a giant corporation can be.

At least Microsoft, to its credit, distributes anti-malware programs for free. How they compare to third-party solutions is anybody's guess, but it's better than sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the problem.

Apple should be ashamed of itself.

There are anti-malware programs out there for the Mac. Symantec and Norton (really the same company) have been making it for years. Other names are Sophos, ClamXav, McAfee, and BitDefender. There are others too, and some are free. I am not going to recommend any particular company. You will have to take the time and make the effort to inform and protect yourself.

At any rate, the upshot of all this, is: Mac users, welcome to the real world. Get your act together _ or else be prepared to suffer the consequences.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by email at techgp@thedailystar.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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