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Protecting Your Mac from Ransomware

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This has not been a good week for Mac users who thought OS X was immune to malware attacks. With the revelation that Apple users are at risk for being held hostage by a particularly nasty form of malware known as ransomware, we thought it would be a good idea to give everyone a rundown of the latest developments and what you can do to protect yourself going forward.

At some point over the past weekend, a Mac torrenting app called Transmission became infected with ransomware. As we’ve discussed before, ransomware is malware that, once it’s downloaded, sits quietly on your hard drive, looking for the internet and waiting to strike. Once it does, the ransomware lives up to its name by locking the user out of their own files until they pay the hackers.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that while this may expose weaknesses in Apple’s operating system, few people were affected in the attack. Fortunately Apple quickly disabled the app’s certificate, and with Transmission’s creator claiming only 6,500 people downloaded it, there were probably very few instances of the malware becoming active. That said, there are some common sense steps you can take to protect yourself in the future.

Probably the most important thing you can do is know where your apps come from. In your security settings, you can choose the level of scrutiny programs go through before you download. By selecting “Mac App Store,” the apps available for you to run have been checked and released by Apple. If you choose “Mac App Store and identified developers,” this will allow apps to run that are distributed by Apple approved developers. This can be a little riskier, because while the people making the apps have been checked out, the apps themselves have not been screened. If you had selected this as your security level, you would have been at risk for the Transmission ransomware, because its developers had been approved, but unbeknownst to them, their program had been infected with malware. The final setting option is “Anywhere.” Selecting this basically leaves you open to whatever nasty bits of programming are lurking out there on the web. If security is a priority for you, don’t choose this option.

In order to keep your computer safe, make sure you download all updates to your Mac’s operating system. Apple’s built it anti-malware protection, Xprotect, depends on these updates. Sometimes, however, older types of malware blockers aren’t completely effective, so you may want to step it up a level by downloading and running a program like Malwarebytes.

If you downloaded Transmission or think you might be at risk of being taken advantage of by ransomware, download the free Ransom Protection Checklist or sign up to receive it by mail. You can also schedule a free 10 minute Ransomware Safety Review.