Weather in Northeast Ohio is, at best, unpredictable. For the second straight year, our winter in this (northern) Buckeye State has by most accounts been mild. In fact, our February was the hottest (ever!) on record, where we had five or six days topping 70 decrees. That’s crazy! However, mid-March saw more total snow accumulation than November through February combined. And while April brought some warmth, but mostly its usual rainy/wet days-- on April 7th we got hit with a crippling eight inches of snow. The problem with that snow storm was that with the milder winter (and Florida-like February!), our daffodils had already sprouted and our fruit tree’s had begun getting their blossoms. Mother Nature was fooled!
This was very problematic for me, as our yard is full of various fruit trees and bushes. We have a gorgeous cherry tree and cherry bushes; we have a plum and peach tree and all kinds of sweet and delicious berry plants (raspberry, elderberries, goji, strawberries, gooseberry, black currants and probably more). With my weather app blatantly warning me with winter warning alerts and the imminent snow storm approaching, my family (yes, it was a group effort!), raced outside, and stationed ladders to drape our blankets, tarps and sheets around each and every blossoming fruit tree in order to help protect it from damage. Even in the midst of the activity, we figured our neighbors were chuckling as they (if they) peered out their windows at us. You would have been tickled at the sight of some of our homemade tree covering contraptions.
The reason I share this story with you is to give God props on His direction in our lives-and to possibly tie fruit protection into your life. I hadn’t narrowed down my specific Security Topic for the month, until that night when we secured our fruit trees for the coming snowstorm. When I closed my Apple Macbook Pro Air laptop, and saw the iconic Apple symbol and remembered the effort spent protecting my fruit trees—I realized I had my topic! It is an ideal time to discuss securing an “Apple” system.
As a recognized security expert, I enjoy the privilege of speaking to organizations, students, the media, etc. almost on a weekly basis on the latest security dangers lurking in the cyber world. Without fail, if the topic of Mac protection surfaces, I can guarantee that one of the first question or comments I always field is: “I thought Mac’s don’t get viruses.” While the likelihood of a virus infection on a system running Microsoft Windows is still considerably higher than a Mac, Mac viruses not only exist and are real; they are actively infecting tens of thousands of Mac users on a daily basis. Our Virus Lab is updating for Mac-based malware every day. The most important point I can make with regard to Mac systems is that the major reason malware authors overlook the MAC OSX to exploit and develop (and the reason why we see less MAC OSX malware in general), is not because this OS is inheritably so much more secure, it is because the market share for the Apple‘s Mac OS is minuscule compared to Microsoft's Windows OS. In other words, all the versions of the Mac OS (combined) only account for less than 7% of the world market share- in contrast with the Windows OS that holds more than 90% of the market share.
The bottom line is that the hypothesis that MAC OSX systems are 100% malware free is completely inaccurate, and if investigated by The Washington Post fact checker, this falsehood would receive its worst 4 Pinocchio rating. Even Apple had to retract its bold statement that "a Mac cannot be infected" after the "Flashback" wave of infection. Back in 2014, the Flashback Trojan hijacked some 600,000 Mac computers through a Java exploit within the Mac OS X, previously believed to be impenetrable, forcing them into a botnet as computer slaves. More recently Wikileaks has released articles stating that the C.I.A exploited MAC OS vulnerabilities to gain root access of multiple systems. Scary times to say the least!
Now that we know that Mac malware exists, what does Mac malware look like? Retrieving statistics directly from my Thirtyseven4 Virus Team, our analysis is currently showing that over 97% of malware observed affecting the MAC OSX platform is related to PUA/Adware. PUA = Potentially Unwanted Applications.
Some in the Windows community and have recently argued that the Windows platform may be more secure than the MAC OSX. As a software vendor and thinking through this statement, the speed with which a manufacturer responds to problems can play a major role in the user’s overall experience. For example, Apple's patch for the vulnerabilities exploited by the noted Flashback infection took almost 50 days to be ready for distribution to Mac OS X users. In many cases, MAC OS fixes/patches are released only within updated MAC OSX upgrades, leaving older versions still vulnerable to the threats (as was observed in the case of the Flashback Trojan). However, in Windows, Microsoft and other third party AV developers (ie Thirtyseven4), try to release updates for new malware in less than 24 hours. Also, according to the data from the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), the MAC OS was said to be the most vulnerable OS for 2015.
With regards to keeping a user safe, Apple uses a hidden component called Xprotect to automatically block certain apps or remove malware should any arise. When you open a downloaded application, Xprotect checks if it matches any of the malware definitions in the XProtect file (similar to the SmartScreen feature on Windows). This approach is purely “reactive” as it offers no heuristic or proactive detection strategy to combat any malware strain or variation that is brand new. It would be like running out and covering our fruit trees after the major snow storm has concluded.
Protecting your Macs is essential and vital to the safety of the system and your confidential work. And while the current demand is not as great as on the Windows side of things, I would argue this is largely due to out-dated opinions/understandings about Macs being “safe”. This is why Thirtyseven4 invests heavily into the development of its industry-leading Thirtyseven4 Total Security for Mac solutions.
We can all have opinions, but the fact remains that Mac malware has risen over 70% in the past 15 months. In my line of Security, I do not want even one machine to be compromised, whether Mac or Window, and so we do our Thirtyseven4 due diligence to proactively protect both OS varieties. The threat is real.
So was the snow storm. We had 6 heavy, wet inches dumped on our yards, streets and my fruit trees and blossoms. Our proactive protection definitely helped. We think our trees were spared (for the most part). There were a few blossoms that fell to the ground, but the majority are still alive and performing their assigned function on the tree. Hopefully time will produce healthy fruit—isn’t that our prayer in all areas of life?
Just like my fruit trees, I encourage you to take care of your Apple, and apply the proactive (virus) protection that will keep your machine healthy and productive. No one wants an apple with a worm in it!