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Switcher Hangout The place for switchers to discuss their new machines, and how to work with OS X. General support can be had here for newbie stuff, like "How do I restart my new iMac?" :)

Macs and Malware 101


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capital2

 
Member Since: Jan 07, 2010
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I am a recent switcher to macs and just got a macbook pro. So far I"m impressed. I know OSx has the reputation of being less prone to malware, but I haven't read a full explanation for this.

I just want a 411 regarding macs and malware. what should I be concerned about? How realistic are the threat of viruses and spyware/malware? Does anyone have any experiences with malware on macs in the past year or so?

Also, What type of browser should I use?
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Raz0rEdge

 
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There are no viruses that specifically attack the Mac, there are, I believe, trojans, that would cause you issues. As far as malware/spyware goes, these are mostly through applications that you download, so as long as you are careful with that, you should be OK.

Using the default Safari browser on Mac is perfectly fine, you can also use Firefox, Chrome or others if you wish.

Any system level installation of an application will prompt you for your password which should raise an alarm to confirm that you REALLY wanted that to happen.

Regards
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cwa107

 
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Old, but still relevant:

The Official Mac AntiVirus and Firewall FAQ

To date, there are no true viruses for Mac OS X. There was a worm back in 2007, but it's long since been patched. There are also 2 trojans, but 10.6 will identify and keep them from being run.

What makes them resilient is strong user account control. On a Mac, a user is never a true admin and can not modify OS directories or files without escalating privileges. Long story made short, be judicious when you're prompted to enter your admin password and you'll likely never run into a nasty on OS X.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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capital2

 
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Okay, so basically no type of malware would be on my computer without me knowing about it, right?

I know vaguely the differences in how malware works in the windows os compared to Osx. Internet explorer is integerated in the os, and spyware programs get in easier. But I don't really understand why macs are better security wise. Is the OsX really that much more dependable, or are all the malware/spyware/viruses havent caught up to macs yet?

I've been trying to find the most update explanation for this. Is it really true that malware programmers are targeting more to macs these days? Should I use an anti-virus program like Avast! anyway?

Either way, I'm under the impression that macs are better security wise, but not flawless. But I'm not really a computer guy. I'm just looking for the straight dope on this issue. I also really don't want to destroy my macbook pro.
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cwa107

 
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This is a user comment on Digg, which I think explains it extremely well, so I'll let it speak for itself:

Quote:
Originally Posted by lead2thehead
I was at DefCon this weekend and there were actually several talks about OS X vulnerabilities. And yes, they are real threats, but media tends to exaggerate them because:

1) Reporters are not engineers and thus, do not fully understand the problem.
2) Their articles get more circulation if they over-hype the problem.

Nobody is saying that OS X is malware-proof. But OSX, BSD, Linux and Unix all have inherent design features which make them more secure than Windows. The biggest and most important is a concept called Discretionary Access Control. Allow me to explain...

Alll *nix-based systems have a user called "root". This is a super user that can control the entire computer. In order to install software, you must first become root. In order to read or change configuration files, you must become root. If you want to modify an executable, add a shared library, modify a device driver, or change anything meaningful, you must first become root. This makes it next to impossible for a regular user to unwittingly install a virus or any piece of malware on his computer because, in order to do so, he would need root permission. This is called "Discretionary Access Control", or DAC for short.

Most Windows users will tell you that this is akin to the "Administrator" account on your PC, but that is not exactly the case. Microsoft has attempted to emulate this technique many times, but always fails miserably in its implementation. On a typical Windows PC, THE DEFAULT USER ACCOUNT has Administrator access! This makes it very easy for users to unwittingly install all kinds of malware on their computer without realizing it. Think about that for a second... why would you ever need to run a word processor or a web browser as a super user? That would mean that Internet Explorer, for example, would have permission to write to your system32 directory! Why would IE ever need to do that? And what person in their right mind would ever allow it to? It's a virus writer's dream come true.

Now let's talk about software vulnerabilities. Try to stay with me here, because this gets complicated. The vast majority of software vulnerabilities (greater than 90%) involve buffer overflow attacks. This is an attack, where by a malicious user takes control of a running program and shoe-horns its own malicious code onto the instruction stack. When this happens, the malicious instructions have the same permissions as the program it just took over. And what permissions would those be?... it depends on which user is executing the program. When you run everything as Administrator, as is the default behavior in Windows, EVERY vulnerability becomes a critical vulnerability and EVERY piece of malware can run as a super user.

Let's back up... I'm sure that by now, the Microsoft crowd is saying "Wait a second! You don't have to run everything as Administrator! You can create regular user accounts and restrict their permissions too." And they would be correct. I have never met anyone who does this on their home PC, but the option is certainly there. But even if you do that, you're still screwed because EVERY SINGLE BACKGROUND SERVICE runs as Administrator. Oh, you forgot about the background services, didn't you? Don't feel bad... Microsoft forgot about them too. Right click on "My Computer", select "Manage", and click "Services" if you want to see I'm talking about. There you can see nearly a hundred services, all running as Administrator! Break any one of them and you have Administrator access to the entire computer. Nice, huh?

But wait, you say, doesn't Mac OS have that same problem? Of course not. Only an idiot would run everything as super user. Mac OS comes from the factory with FORTY different user accounts, one for every background service that it runs. (Most flavors of Linux do this as well.) So if you happen to exploit one of them, you can only do what that small, very restricted user account can do... and it isn't much. In fact, when you buy a computer from Apple, they don't even give you the root password! You only have access to your user account... your own little world. And if you mess it up, you're not going to take down the entire computer. You'll only screw up your own account because you don't have the required permissions to screw up the rest of the OS. So the underlying architecture of Mac OS is inherently more secure.

Keep in mind that this *DARN*-poor excuse for a DAC is one of a thousand flaws with Windows. I could go on for days about the absolutely retarded design decisions made by Microsoft. Remember the outbreak of email viruses about 5 years ago? Know why those were such a big problem? Because some genius at Microsoft said, "Hey! Let's invent a scripting language that allows user to embed executable code into email messages and then execute that code automatically when you open the message!" Brilliant, huh? It's like they put that hole there on purpose so that every script kiddie with a copy of Microsoft Word could write CRIPPLING email viruses that took down servers and cost billions of dollars to fix.

The issue is much more fundamental than people think. People who use the "security through obscurity" line clearly do not comprehend the issue.
Link to the story he/she was commenting on.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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McBie

 
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Let's put things in perspective here ...`
The article above references *nix design features that indeed make them more secure than windows, absolutely true.

Now .... how many layers have been build on top of *nix to make it OS X ?

The OP was concerned with ' malware ', which is so much more than viruses and the likes.

A maliciously crafted .pdf or .jpg will be opened without requiring any password.
If the malicious code destroys the data on your Mac, nobody cares if it is called a virus, a worm, or a trojan, or whatever.... the damage is done.

Technology ( tricks ) are not going to solve the issues with malware, as things stand right know, people behavior is the first line of defense and it looks like it may be the only line of defense for some time to come.

Cheers ... McBie

A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila.
The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude towards the problem. You understand ?
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capital2

 
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Well, I said 'malware' because I thought it encompasses all the bad stuff- ie viruses, spyware, trojans, etc. I am no computer expert, but I've been trying figure this stuff out as I get used to using a mac. I think all average users should get an idea of why computers work the way they do. I can't tell you how many times my old hp pavilion had to brought to geek squad and I had it serviced for things I didn't even understand myself.

I used to be big on P2P programs like Soulseek, which probably played a role in that. Is it a bad idea to use P2P programs and torrents on macs as well? I used soulseek before on my HP pavilion and I don't think it helped how the computer functioned. But then again, I really don't know what I'm doing when I use programs like that. So now, I want to at least try to understand.
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cwa107

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by capital2 View Post

I used to be big on P2P programs like Soulseek, which probably played a role in that. Is it a bad idea to use P2P programs and torrents on macs as well? I used soulseek before on my HP pavilion and I don't think it helped how the computer functioned. But then again, I really don't know what I'm doing when I use programs like that. So now, I want to at least try to understand.
Most likely because you were inadvertently fetching trojans. A trojan is simply a seemingly desirable program or file that actually hides an undesirable file or component.

Is it more safe to do this on a Mac? No, it's inherently risky behavior - both from a legal standpoint and from a security standpoint. One of the two trojans that effects OS X comes packaged with a pirated copy of iWork '09, primarily distributed through - you guessed it - P2P networks.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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cwa107

 
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Member Since: Dec 20, 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by McBie View Post
Let's put things in perspective here ...`
The article above references *nix design features that indeed make them more secure than windows, absolutely true.

Now .... how many layers have been build on top of *nix to make it OS X ?

The OP was concerned with ' malware ', which is so much more than viruses and the likes.

A maliciously crafted .pdf or .jpg will be opened without requiring any password.
If the malicious code destroys the data on your Mac, nobody cares if it is called a virus, a worm, or a trojan, or whatever.... the damage is done.

Technology ( tricks ) are not going to solve the issues with malware, as things stand right know, people behavior is the first line of defense and it looks like it may be the only line of defense for some time to come.

Cheers ... McBie
I think the OP's question was "Either way, I'm under the impression that macs are better security wise, but not flawless. But I'm not really a computer guy. I'm just looking for the straight dope on this issue. I also really don't want to destroy my macbook pro.". And the primary answer for that is the underlying structure.

You are correct, no systematic approach can fix the ignorance of a user. But an OS can clearly be built that is at its core less susceptible to malware.

I also agree that one can easily package something malicious with executable code that will not require an administrator password. But as a virus writer, which would you rather develop for? An OS that can be easily modified and repurposed as a bot? Or an OS that limits the user's sphere of influence to their own user account? That, I think, goes a long way toward explaining why there isn't the flurry of malware designed for OS X that you see with Windows.

Liquid and computers don't mix. It might seem simple, but we see an incredible amount of people post here about spills. Keep drinks and other liquids away from your expensive electronics!
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