Here at Computer World, we get lots of customers that come in convinced that they have malware or a virus on their Mac computer. While malware for OS X does exist, it’s not as easy to come across as Windows malware is, and usually tends to be more of a nuisance than something dangerous. That said, it is still something you’ll want to get taken care of as soon as it’s discovered.
What is malware?
Malware is malicious software that often requires user input. This means that it typically accompanies a bad download of Adobe Flash Player, or in the form of applications that promise to speed up your Mac or clean it out. This is also referred to as adware, which is designed to display advertisements that often redirect you to a different website, prompting you to download antivirus software or a Flash Player update that isn’t from Adobe’s official site. This is the most common reason our customers come in. Another common approach adware uses is displaying a popup through Safari or another browser which typically says something like, “Your computer has [x number of] viruses, call [phone number] to clean your computer.” NEVER call this number. It’s a scam. Apple will never contact you directly about alleged threats to your computer.
Should I download antivirus software?
The short answer is no. Typically, Mac users don’t need to install antivirus software because OS X has security measures in place to prevent you from unwittingly opening a third-party application that could be harmful. These measures are common, and you’ve probably seen them before:
- XProtect — scans downloads in the background for known malware.
- Gatekeeper — a security protocol used for allowing the opening of downloaded apps from the App Store, App Store and Identified Developers, or Anywhere.
- File Quarantine — a “Quarantine-aware” application such as Mail or Safari will identify a potentially dangerous file you’ve downloaded through said application and quarantine it. When you try to open it, an OS X popup will ask, “Are you sure you want to open ‘[application name]’?” If the application is from a trusted source, such as Google, Microsoft, Adobe, etc., it typically should be safe to open it, though an appropriate amount of discretion is always advised.
An example of the File Quarantine OS X popup. This one found that a file that this user downloaded was infected with malware.
Mac users will come across antivirus applications, or ones that otherwise promise to improve the speed of your computer. In reality, though, these applications slow your computer down significantly because they’re constantly running in the background, hogging up your memory, and taking up unnecessary space on your hard drive. Most antivirus applications will report what are called false-positives, identifying files as malware that aren’t really malware, which can reduce the functionality of your machine and cause it to misbehave.
What our customers tend to run into on the Internet most often is malware in the form of “Flash Player updates”, “Java updates”, or “Plugins required”. If you ever get a popup that says Flash Player is out of date, do the following:
Go to System Preferences > Flash Player, then click the Updates tab and “Check Now”. If an update is available, you will be directed to Adobe’s official website, where you can download the update safely and securely.
This process will be similar with any Java updates, though most people don’t need to use Java anymore since so few websites require its plugins.
An example of the fake Flash Player popup. Notice how the Adobe logo is nowhere to be seen. They come in many different forms. Always update Adobe Flash the proper way, as detailed above.
How can I protect myself?
1: Be conscious of the sites you visit and obtain software updates from legitimate sources. You should always go to the App Store first. If the application is not available on the App Store, like the Firefox web browser, go to Google or Bing and search for Firefox. You’ll see a link to the official Mozilla (developer) site and a few links to various adware sites with unsafe downloads.
2: Limit the extensions you use with your browser. Avoid unnecessary search engine plugins/toolbars–they slow down your browsing experience, can crash the app, and often link you to unsafe sites.
3: Verify that you’re using a safe search engine and home page. You can check your default search engine from Safari > Preferences > Search. Avoid using SafeSearch or the like, which are anything but safe.
4: Back up your computer. Because if all goes wrong, in the worst case scenario you lose some important files or your system’s integrity is compromised, you always will have that backup to restore from. You can find a backup drive that suits your needs; Computer World stocks a variety, with some as low as $99.
If you feel that your computer has been compromised, bring it in for a Tune-Up: $99 gets your computer cleaned up and running smoother than ever, while restoring your security and the machine’s performance. For $149 you can do a Tune-Up Pro, which does everything the standard Tune-Up does, plus upgrades your operating system to the current version, or whichever version your Mac can support. So come on in and let us take care of your computer!