Friday, April 16, 2010

The Myth of Macintosh Invulnerability

Macs have long since been regarded as sort of the Volvos of the computer world: Safe, stylish and very popular in the SF Bay Area. Like Volvo drivers, Mac users are also thought to be somewhat smug and elitist with their latte drinking, faux-continental lifestyles.

Before I go any further I should confess to not only using a Mac, but also driving a Volvo (I prefer cappuccinos to lattes for the record).

Today however, the Internet security firm, Intego announced something that may put the myth of Macs being invulnerable to malware and viruses to the sword. It seems that a new strain of the deadly computer virus HellRTS has been spotted lurking in the dark alleys and backstreets of the information superhighway system we call the Internet.

HellRTS (love the name, don't you?) was first identified back in 2004. HellRTS is a difficult to detect malware program that can send email from your computer, contact remote servers and provide direct access to the infected computer. And what sets this latest strain apart from previous incarnations is that it has been modified to work not only on PCs but on Macs as well.

If it infects your Mac, HellRTS can open up a kind of "backdoor" by setting up it's own server on a private port and taking control of your computer. HellRTS is all the more nefarious as while it works it masquerades as another piece of legitimate Mac software like iPhoto or or iChat.

The good news about HellRTS is not the easiest virus for your computer to catch. You must download and install the rogue software in order to fall prey to it. And while it may be possible for your Mac to contract the virus from a "Trojan horse" style attack there have been no reports of such Trojans as of yet.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Macs are not nearly as immune to viruses as they are cracked up to be. The reason that Mac viruses don't make the headlines as much as PC viruses is simply because there are fewer of them. The reason for this? Macs command a very small share of the market. If you're the nefarious designer of malicious software programs, hell bent on wreaking havoc on the digital world, why create a virus that can only affect five percent of the world's computers when you can create one that could affect eighty-five percent? Apparently productivity and efficiency are valued in the malware industry.

So what's a Volvo driving, latte' sipping Mac user to do? Well as Intego would have it, you could buy and install their VirusBarrier X6. This is actually a good application for Mac users as it can find and scrub a variety of malware programs.

But just as it is with health care and auto maintenance, with computers an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you're a Mac user you can minimize the dangers of infection by turning off, "Open safe files after downloading" in Safari's preferences. And of course you should only download, install or launch applications that originate from trusted sources.

And when you drive your Volvo, wear your seat belt and be careful not to spill your latte!

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