Thousands of Apple devices recently suffered a virus infection. We explain how software patches, antivirus scanning tools and more can keep your computer safe
Few people will have failed to notice that Apple has been on the up and up for the past few years. Its iPhone and iPad products dominate large parts of the mobile world, while its Mac-branded range of desktop and laptop computers have been making significant inroads into territory previously considered to belong to PCs running Microsoft Windows.
Throughout this period – and for many years prior – a regular refrain of Apple fans has been that Apple products are all essentially immune from the kinds of viruses and malicious software infections that blight Windows computers.
The essential argument is that, because Apple controls every last element of its products – from the hardware components to the operating systems that drive them – there’s simply no way for viruses to find a way in.
Yet recent events have shown this received wisdom to be hokum. Recently hundreds of thousands of Apple Mac computers were infected with a nasty virus capable of monitoring those unfortunate users’ activities. In short, if you believe that your Apple Mac, iPhone or iPad is invulnerable, you need to think again.
With computer security, the weakest link is most often us – the user. This is one area where Apple desktop and laptop computers have an identifiable advantage over Windows-powered alternatives.
Apple’s desktop operating system, Mac OS X, may look and feel much like Windows but under the hood there is a complex system of passwords and ‘permissions’ – checks on who and what can access a Mac computer’s most important files – that has indeed kept it largely threat-free for years. Mac advocates champion this as one of the reasons they believe Windows users should switch.
In simple terms, the core parts of Mac OS X are better protected than the equivalent areas of the various versions of Windows; it’s much harder for virus authors to gain access to the most important aspects of the operating system.
However, the other inescapable truth is that, for a long period, Apple’s products were not sufficiently popular to interest virus-writers. If you’re trying to gain attention or steal data from users, it makes sense to target the biggest number of users, and even today that means owners of Windows PCs.
Fixing the flaw
History might look back on 2012 as the year the Apple Mac was cracked. Early in the year, a Trojan – a seemingly useful application containing some hidden, malevolent code – had installed itself on more than half-a-million Macs.
Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure, estimated that one per cent of all Apple computers could be infected. Elsewhere, Russian anti-virus outfit Dr Web put the number at more than 600,000, including 12 per cent of all Macs in use in the UK.
Called Backdoor.Flashback, the Trojan logged every key press on any infected machine and sent back reports to the people who made it. Overstating the value of that kind of data is impossible, as a single day’s logging could easily capture your credit card number, bank account login details and even your mother’s maiden name.
To the Trojan’s creators, this information is digital gold dust and they have the software to pick out the most valuable nuggets of data.
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