Yes, Mac users, you can get malware and it's on the rise

An Apple Store genius bar employee works on a laptop at an Apple Store. The Flashback Trojan has infected over 600,000 Mac computers around the world, most of them in the United States, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Maybe you know a friend who has a Mac and is kind of smug about security issues. “Oh sure,” they might say, “anyone with a PC can get infected really badly but that will never happen to me because I have a Mac.” And then they gaily skip through a field of daisies, confident that nothing bad can ever happen to them and their delightfully serene world.

Well, pull out a pin because it’s time to pop that bubble. The Flashback Trojan has infected over 600,000 Mac computers around the world, most of them in the United States, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It is unusual for bad guys to target Mac computers and while the incidents of big Mac attacks are still very slim compared to those on PCs, it’s happening more and more. A Trojan like Flashback finds a way into a computer and once inside it can try to download more malware, kind of kicks the door open for its friends to come in.

But the Mac angle isn’t the only unusual thing going on here. “What's most significant about this particular event is that it didn't require any user interaction to infect the machine,” says Alex Cox of Netwitness.  “You just hit the wrong site and you get infected.”

So all it takes, really, is somehow going to the wrong website. “In the past,” says Cox, “it was more along the lines of I’m going to go try to watch a video and the bad guys would make a little pop up that would say you need this software update to watch this video, so it kind of forces or tricks the user into running the update. In this case, they might send an email with a link and simply clicking on that link would take your machine to a place that would infect it.”

As for Apple’s reputation for being immune from viruses, Cox says, “That's been a big selling point for Macintoshes for many years, but cybercriminals are opportunistic and as Macs get more market share and are more prevalent in the environment, they kind of go, ‘hey, here's this untapped resource that we haven't really looked at,’ and some of the software and antivirus and that sort of thing is less mature on Macintosh machines than it is on Windows.”

Now, if your friend the Mac owner is freaking out, tell him or her to calm down just a little. There isn’t anything horrible going on. Yet. “This is potentially one of the biggest Mac outbreaks that we've seen, and so far, there isn't additional harmful software being installed on systems,” says Kurt Baumgartner of Kaspersky Lab. “It looks like here and there, these Trojans are hijacking search traffic, and a lot of the time, that can result in ad revenue, but it's really sort of an odd thing. Because we would expect to see a lot more financially motivated cybercrime with a botnet of this size. We're not totally sure where this is going.”

So is Flashback just a weird, harmless thing?

“I wouldn't say that,” says Baumgartner. ”I mean, any Trojan that gets installed via an exploit without the owner's knowledge is going to be something dangerous.”

Also in this program, a new game lets you be the road instead of a car on the road. It’s called You Are The Road, which is very descriptive. There aren’t really any rules or specific ways to win, although it does force you to think about it whether you want to try to keep cars on you or destroy them in a fireball.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...