Ransomware, or malicious software that keeps files or a computer in hostage until the owner pays a ransom for decryption, is unfortunately becoming a fact of life. It doesn’t really matter if you are using a Windows or Mac device. Users of different operating systems share the worry and can be prone to ransomware and its risks.
Let this quick article help you protect your Mac from ransomware and properly remedy any situation involving this threat.
A Brief Glimpse into Ransomware
Most viruses are written for the Windows operating system because of its sheer popularity. This is why Windows users need to make regular backups of their files, install powerful antivirus, or use browsers or email with enhanced security.
Ransomware usually integrates into your OS on a low level for it to fully access the files on your hard drive. Note, however, that paying the ransom won’t guarantee decryption. Attackers can fool you or ask for more money in order to get your files unencrypted, sometimes without the intention of doing their part.
In case the fee remains unpaid, ransomware can automatically corrupt and delete the locked files. This leaves most users with little time and clear thinking to pursue alternate means of fixing the problem.
How Is Ransomware Transmitted?
This form of virus can infect your computer through one of several ways:
- You open an attachment coming from an infected email.
- Your machine reads a USB stick or another external media device that comes from an external or untrusted source.
- You accidentally download an infected file after visiting a compromised site.
- The ransomware gets help from malware to get downloaded onto a specific computer.
- You visit a compromised website and the virus breaches the security protection of your OS, installing itself even without user interaction!
Part of the surging popularity of ransomware is the lack of awareness and knowledge to deal with it. According to a CloudBerry survey in the United States, 85 percent won’t pay ransom no matter how much it costs, while $300 is the maximum sum that survey respondents might pay.
Another uncommonly known ability that ransomware has: penetrate Mac computers.
What Ransomware Can Do to Your Mac
Back in March 2016, Apple customers became the target of the first Mac-focused ransomware. Prior to this time, there had been reports of the so-called “proof of concept,” meaning researchers already learned how to execute malware on Macs. Cybercriminals, however, finally seemed to have executed real-life ransomware attacks.
In this specific instance, affected users downloaded a program known as “Transmission for BitTorrent.” This was used for P2P file sharing via BitTorrent files, or illegally downloaded media files such as music, movies, and TV shows.
In the ransomware for Mac situation, users unluckily downloaded a tainted version of the installer for the software. The installer contained OSX.Keranger, a Trojan horse or malware that can delete, modify, hold hostage, copy, or steal data. OSX.Keranger encrypted affected files and demanded a fee, which was one Bitcoin or around $400 at that time.
To better understand how Mac computers become at risk, here’s a look at how Mac is used:
- Installing the Windows system on a bare metal, which means using a personal computer with Mac hardware wrap. Using Windows on a bare metal is akin to using a regular Windows machine, so you’d need to keep your OS updated, install an antivirus system, and be careful in your actions.
- Using OS X natively and then launching Windows from inside a virtual station occasionally. Usually, Windows is installed inside a virtual machine (VM) and launched from that special container if needed. The VM is typically linked to the internal Mac network to access the internet. Note, however, that if the VM does not involve important data, cybercriminals have nothing important to encrypt.
Yes, Mac might not be as popular a target for ransomware as Windows. But this does not translate to full protection. According to McAfee, Mac malware actually grew a whopping 744 percent by the end of 2016. The potential reason for this, however, is adware bundling, where adware sticks banner ads to a given computer but doesn’t affect user’s data.
Another specific case of ransomware for Mac is OSX/Filecoder, developed for OS X 10.11.x/10.12.x and can infect a Mac when looking for Adobe Premiere or Microsoft Office patches in torrent networks. It appears like a harmless patch archive with the “Start” button.
But once you press the button, ransomware will penetrated your Mac and encrypt lots of files. With its built-in tools and commands, Filecoder gets to run from user context and won’t even need to have your permissions regarding those changes!
Existing research tells us that while OS X has a relatively high level of security, it does not fully protect you from ransomware and related malware threats. Add this to the fact that Mac is already in the radar of cybercriminals, stronger and more persistent than ever.
Steps to Protect Your Mac from Ransomware
Ransomware can infiltrate even macOS. There shouldn’t be room for complacency among Mac users, and they should take active steps to keep their systems up to date and their security levels high.
There are several steps you can take to protect your Mac from criminal software, including the following:
- Back Up Your Files Regularly. Think about it: if you already have your files safe and sound, criminals no longer have any leverage. Your own uninfected copy will save you. Store these backups on an external drive, an iCloud, or a hybrid backup structure where you combine external storage and cloud storage.
- Avoid Installing Dodgy Software. This will flood the application you want to download with suspicious tools. As a preventive measure, read user reviews on apps you want to get, too.
- Keep All Your Software Up to Date. These security updates comprise patches that mend security holes criminals can use against you. Update all software programs and apps on your Mac as soon as the latest updates are available.
- Be Smart About Passwords. Avoid using empty passwords for your user login. Blank passwords have the power to disable most of the built-in protection tools on Mac. Setting the password will prompt OS X to confirm system-level changes, hence reducing the chances of ransomware getting integrated into your computer.
- Pay Attention to Security. Always install system security updates as prompted by your operating system. These updates carry the protections you need as soon as new threats are uncovered. In addition, pair your powerful security tools with an effective Mac optimizer tool to get rid of junk and unnecessary files that are interfering with your Mac’s stable operations.
- Be on Alert When It Comes to Emails. Delete any suspicious email, particularly if it contains attachments or links. Watch out for Microsoft Office email attachment saying you should enable macros to view content. If you don’t know or trust the email source, simply trash it.
Mac is often lauded for its sophisticated security systems and protection. Its users, though, are not 100 percent spared from ransomware attacks.
This is a real risk, for example, if you run Windows as the main OS on your Mac and keep all crucial data there. The risk isn’t as high if you are running Mac natively with OS X and occasionally use Windows to work with specific software, but it is not entirely eliminated either.
Take note of the tips we outlined above to protect your Mac from ransomware in 2019 and beyond.