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Defensive Action

June 13, 2011
By Dave Hecei ( , The Post-Journal

The day has finally come. The day when Macintosh computers join the ranks of the millions of Windows PCs under attack from Malware - malicious software that infects your computers to either take over your system or to try and force money and/or personal information out of you. The first real 'in-the-wild' Malware threat has hit the Mac. This first threat calls itself MacDefender.

MacDefender is in the category of Trojan Horse. It is a malicious program that through different means, you must install it for it to infect your Mac. Those who created this Trojan Horse must try to convince you to install it. When you go to a MacDefender infected web site, which has either been hacked or compromised somehow, will cause a window to pop up proclaiming that it is MacDefender and will look like it is scanning your computer. It will then tell you that it has detected viruses and will offer to remove them. Do not believe it. It is the Trojan trying to get you to install it.

The best thing to do, if you see the MacDefender window, is to force quit your web browser. This is done by going to the Apple icon in the very top left corner of your screen. Click to pull down the menu and select 'Force Quit ...' (or you can use they keyboard - Option, Command, ESC). A window will appear that lists all the currently running programs. Select your browser from this list by clicking on it and then click on the Force Quit button. It will ask if you really want to do this, click the Force Quit button. This should close you out of your browser and with all luck should drop you out of installing the Trojan program.

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While having security software running on your Mac is a good idea, it will not completely protect you. You are the weakest link. It's very easy to get fooled into installing something you shouldn't. Worse yet, if you happen to install MacDefender it will ask you for your credit card and try to charge you $79.99 for the so-called fix, which is actually the virus. The latest I've heard about MacDefender is that it will ask for a credit card number and after entering the number, it will say that it didn't work and ask you for a different card. The idea is to get as much information from you as possible. Remember, this is a scam - they are stealing your credit cards.

Apple took a few days, but they have responded to this first threat. If you are running the latest Mac OS, OS X Snow Leopard version 10.6, then you are in luck. The latest security update deals with the MacDefender Trojan, plus Apple should keep updating this security fix as new variants of this Trojan appear in the wild. The other thing you should do, if you haven't already, is to turn off the auto-run feature in Safari. If you use Safari as your web browser, go to the Preferences and in the General tab uncheck the box at the very bottom where it says "Open 'safe' files after downloading". Having this checked is a big security risk. Running Safari with this unchecked is less convenient, but it's better to have to work a little harder than to get infected by Malware.

If you are running an older OS, like 10.5 or 10.4, Apple does not seem to be working on any fix. This is not to say that you are left out in the cold. The first place to start is from Sophos Sophos Anti-Virus For Mac Home Edition. The best part is that right now it is a free program.

Sophos can be downloaded from their site ( It works with both Intel and PowerPC based Macs running 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard), and 10.6 (Snow Leopard). It's easy to install and shouldn't slow down your computer too much. The problem with some security software is the overhead they require and can slow your system. It will scan your Mac for both Mac and PC virus attacks. While the PC ones won't hurt you, unless you are running Boot Camp, they can hurt your Windows PC friends. This can help stop the spread of PC based viruses.

There are retail virus and security packages available for the Mac. PC Anti-Virus companies like Panda Security, Symantec, E-set, McAffee, and Trend Micro also makes software for the Mac. A company that specializes in Mac security is Intego. They are the makers of VirusBarrier X6 and Internet Security Barrier X6 for the Mac. Requirements vary so if you are interested in any of these make sure you check that it works with your system.

Most retail security packages are subscription based. When you purchase a retail box package it typically includes one year of protection. When that year is up you will be offered to purchase another subscription. You can either buy another year or purchase another retail box, which will get you a newer program and another year of service. An example is ESET Cybersecurity for the Mac (, they also make one of the best Windows security packages. It costs $39.99 for one year, or $59.99 for two years.

The day is here - Don't Panic. It is not the end of days. We all knew that the Mac would eventually succumb to the evils of worms, viruses, and trojans. I still think that the Mac OS is far safer to run than Windows. I myself do not plan on running any security software on my Mac, but that may change in the near future. Now more than ever, it is important to backup your data on a regular basis. If you want to play it safe, then ESET would be my best bet for a retail package. If you don't want the expense of a yearly subscription, then the free Sophos for the Mac looks like a winner.



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