Simple Mac Security in the Age of Malware

A few weeks ago, Dwight Silverman reported in The Houston Chronicle that the total count of known malware for Mac OS X had reached 3.

While some may be worried that the number of malicious programs aimed at the Mac is rising, I’m not concerned. Coming from years on Windows, I can assure you that I don’t take a cavalier attitude towards security. Rather, I simply realized that all three viruses could infect a system only if the user willingly downloaded and opened them.

On Windows, a computer is vulnerable to a virus simply by being connected to the Internet.

I’m Sorry, I Have a What?

Dell OptiPlex GX270I still remember my first virus. I don’t recall it’s name, but I remember exactly how I got it. I had just unpacked my brand new crash-factory from Dell and was inputting my dial-up information. Then I proceeded to make one big mistake: I connected to the Internet. After I was sure the connection worked, I established a connection to my email account and retrieved my emails. After reading through my new messages for 5 minutes, I was startled by an angry looking dialog box informing me that, “RPC service has unexpectedly quit” accompanied by a 30-second countdown. When the time expired, my computer shut down.

What? I thought I left this Windows 98-esque garbage behind when I upgraded to the wonderful new Windows XP. So I started up again to continue what I was doing.

Five minutes later, same story. Needless to say, I was irritated. I called tech support. After a few minutes on hold, I was able to give the representative my symptoms. She calmly informed me, “You have a virus.”

“I’m sorry, I have a what?” I replied.

“A virus,” she calmly answered.

My jaw dropped. I just didn’t get how I could get a virus after only being online for 10 minutes. The representative walked me through removing the virus and securing my computer; this whole process took an hour and a half. That day I found out that Windows can be infected by simply being connected to the Internet, even on dial-up. Since then I have been so paranoid about security that I have never had another virus problem – but the Dell is still molasses slow.

Basic Security

To help Mac users keep their computers safe, here are a few simple steps:

  1. Turn on your built-in firewall. A firewall provides the first layer of protection against malware and hacks. The firewall’s location varies by system version, check your help menu. (In OS X 10.4, it’s in the Sharing system preference.)
  2. Use a good password, and don’t reuse passwords. If you use an easy password over and over, not only could a hacker guess it and paw through your data, but he may try it in other locations, such as online banking sites. A good password is composed of numbers, letters, and symbols and is not related to you personally (i.e., names of pets, friends, or family, birthdays, etc.)
  3. Be careful what you download/open. Make sure you know what you are downloading before you click the link. Any site is a potential viral source. Also, never open a program if you don’t know exactly where it came from. If in doubt, delete it.
  4. When you’re on a site which deals with sensitive information, such as monetary account info or identity info, make sure the link is encrypted. The URL will start with https:// (note the s), and your browser will usually display a notification somewhere. Check your browser’s help or website if you don’t know where it is.
  5. Be careful what you connect your Mac to. Be sure that the public networks you connect to are maintained and secured properly by trusted authorities. Just because there is free WiFi doesn’t mean it’s safe or provided by a reliable source. Some hackers set up open WiFi near public spots to lure people in and steal data. In the same vein, never conduct sensitive communication, including checking email, on a public network because anyone could be intercepting your data.

If you follow these tips, you will have made considerable progress towards securing your Mac. However, it is always good to get further advice from a more comprehensive source, such as Macworld. In fact, consider that Step # 6.

Keywords: #macsecurity #macmalware #osxsecurity

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