I recently talked to a colleague in Spain about the cybersecurity landscape over there. He made a good point about the fact that Macs are believed to be a lot more secure than they actually are. A lot of this is due to misinformation that originated in the United States, which led to Mac users in other countries making bad decisions about securing their computer.
The Myth that Macs are Secure from Malware
It was due to a commercial broadcast in the United States and other English-speaking countries between 2002 and 2006, that people started to believe the myth that Mac computers were immune to infection by malware (viruses) or other types of malicious software.
In that ad, a man in his forties, dressed in a jacket and tie, stands in front of a young man wearing jeans, tennis shoes and a T-shirt. The man has a cold and sneezes three times, while the youngster asks him if he is all right. “No, I was infected with that virus that’s out there,” he replies and warns: “Don’t go near it, it could infect you, last year there were 114,000 PC viruses. As he reaches for a handkerchief, the young man confidently answers: “for PC, not Mac”.
But recent studies by major cybersecurity firms show the opposite. According to a September Kaspersky report this year, “the number of attacks on macOS users through malicious and potentially unwanted programs has increased annually since 2012, and by 2018 exceeded 4 million. During the first half of 2019, 1.8 million cyberthreats of this type were recorded.”
According to Gustavo Cols, the company’s sales director for Latin America, “the idea that a Mac is invulnerable is absolutely a myth. The reality is that there are fewer of these computers in the market than computers with Windows operating system, so the picture of effectiveness that a cybercriminal can achieve by designing a malware for a Mac can be much smaller and also more expensive. (See graph).
It’s not that Macs are immune, but the attack rate is much lower. This is what Camilo Gutiérrez, head of ESET Latin America’s lab, says. He also points out that this year ten new malware families were detected in this workspace, aimed specifically at Apple’s operating systems. “The number of such threats continues to rise, indicating that, in reality, no operating system is 100 percent secure. That’s why it’s necessary to have a high quality antivirus, which adds layers of security that decrease exposure to potential threats,” he says.
The most common attacks
The vast majority of threats in 2019 are in the AdWare category, according to Kaspersky’s report for MacOS users. You will be able to recognize this type of malicious software by excessive misleading or unwanted advertising on your computer. According to Kaspersky, “the Trojan (virus that camouflages itself as legitimate software) Shlayer, which passes itself off as Adobe Flash Player or an update, has been the most frequent”.
The firm also detected that during the first half of 2019, almost 6 million phishing attacks (mechanism to obtain passwords) were presented in macOS. Of these, 11.8 percent targeted corporate users.
Fredy Romero, professor of the Software Engineering program at the Manuela Beltrán University, explains that this attack consists of supplanting a page and making the user enter to install a malware (infiltrated) that can access all the activity on the computer. Cyber-criminals design a page that is identical to that of their bank, for example, and from there they execute the entire attack.
Apple emphasizes that its internal development is sufficient to protect users; in fact, its security policy for macOS says that all computers have “an integrated antivirus software in charge of blocking and eliminating harmful software”. However, Romero comments that hackers update themselves to design new ways of violating systems, and recommends always protecting themselves with an antivirus, even if at the time of purchase they tell you that it is not necessary.
How do you protect your Mac?
In the digital security market, more and more firms are designing specialized antivirus for macOS, such as Norton, Panda, Kaspersky, or even MacKeeper, which only works on Apple computers.
Although you can find many options, Axel Diaz, specialist in information security and computing Adalid, recommends buying an original and combine it with good habits of protection. “The Mac has its own firewall and internal file monitoring system, but it has already been proven that these have been violated,” he says. However, according to this expert, we should not rely entirely on antivirus, but users should be careful with the programs they install and their provenance.
As an option to support good habits and a certified antivirus, Diaz suggests installing a cleaning tool. Among those recommended by the expert are CleanMyMac, MacShiny and CCleaner.
These options have free 30-day trials and offer constant monitoring cleaning, where you can avoid unwanted advertising.