The Secret Life of Mac Security

• in categories: advice • by: Michelle Balestrat

It’s been a selling point for Apple’s operating system since the dawn of time, peaking in Justin Long’s appearance in the famous ‘Get A Mac’ campaign: Macs don’t get viruses!

Image: A Macbook Pro sits on a bed in a darkened room. The screen shines in the dark.

Unfortunately, since ‘Get a Mac’ hit the air in 2006, the security landscape has changed dramatically. Macs have also surged in popularity, making them a much more desirable target for attackers.

Admittedly, your risk of malware as a Mac user is much lower than your Windows counterparts, given the comparative lack of OS X malware ‘in the wild’. However, the threat is often treated as non-existent by many Mac users, and that’s just not true. The fact is, it’s real – and it’s continuing to grow.

In 2007, a Mac version of a common Windows trojan was unleashed,purporting to be a video codec required to view particular web pages. These days, there are quite a few variants of OS X trojan - a notorious strain being Flashback, with its many variants.

Indeed, Mac-specific malware of all types continue to gain traction, with variants of the FBI ransomware for the Safari and Chrome browsers, keyloggers, adware, junkware and numerous Java browser exploits.

Rogue security utilities are now also targeting the Mac, with phony AntiVirus utilities such as ‘MacKeeper’ and ‘iAntivirus’ now common (and difficult to remove) annoyances for many Mac users.

So, what can you do to secure your Mac? ##1) Don’t skip security updates.## It might be a little disruptive to your workflow, but staying up to date with the latest security patches is a must on your Mac.

Most trojans for OSX rely on unpatched security gaps to cause havoc, so ensure your machine isn’t vulnerable. (Don’t forget to update your browser, too!)

##2) Enable the Firewall## By default, your Mac’s firewall is turned off. This suits average, casual users, but if you regularly use file sharing, run software like Apache Web Server, or use other software that communicates over the internet, you should definitely enable your Mac’s firewall.

##3) Use an anti-virus utility## For the reasons we’ve discussed above, you really do need an antivirus utility for your Mac for decent security. Makers of popular security software, such as AVG,Avira, Bitdefender, Avast!, Sophos and Malwarebytes, have seen fit to release their own Mac security utilities (most of them are even free!)

##4) Keep an eye on Java and Flash## Flash hasn’t quite died (yet), but its gaping security holes are a concern for many users. If you must use Flash, be sure to keep it updated.

However, please seriously consider ditching it, particularly in your browser where it can do the most damage. You needn’t worry about losing the ability to watch videos on Youtube: the service now uses HTML5 rather than Flash for most content. Other major video and streaming services are also following suit. Chrome now disables Flash by default, but Firefox, Safari and IE users will need to do it manually.

Java can be a tricky one – if you’re a developer, you’ll of course want the Java SDK installed. The potentially harmful Java you hear about, however, is the browser plugin.

Like Flash, if you really must have the plugin, you should keep it up to date to prevent unnecessary exploit vulnerabilities as you browse the web. Otherwise? Just disable it – there’ll rarely be an inconvenience.

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