Fear mongering is the latest online trend of the 21st century. You see it everywhere; from Fox News to CNN, from alt-right websites which feed on paranoia, to lame-stream media which needs eyeballs to survive. The latest trend in fear mongering is ransomware.
Ransomware? It’s a bit complicated but for many businesses that rely on their computer systems, it’s worthy of at least a little paranoia.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that blocks access to the victim’s data or threatens to publish or delete it until a ransom is paid. While some simple ransomware may lock the system in a way which is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion, in which it encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. In a properly implemented cryptoviral extortion attack, recovering the files without the decryption key is an intractable problem – and difficult to trace digital currencies such as Ukash and Bitcoin are used for the ransoms, making tracing and procescuting the perpetrators difficult.
How does ransomware happen?
Ransomware attacks are typically carried out using a Trojan that is disguised as a legitimate file that the user is tricked into downloading, or opening when it arrives as an email attachment. However, one high profile example, the “WannaCry worm”, traveled automatically between computers without user interaction.
Are Mac users affected by Mac ransomeware?
Is there anything to be worried about?
Not really. Just don’t open up email attachments that carry malicious code, and don’t download apps or files from websites that disseminate malicious code.
The BBC reported two new strains of Mac malware.
One is ransomware that encrypts data and demands payment before files are released. The other is spyware that watches what users do and scoops up valuable information. Experts said they represented a threat because their creators were letting anyone use them for free.
In other words, the bad guys who created the malware are willing to share it with others so they can create even more malware.
Statistics gathered by McAfee suggest that there are now about 450,000 malicious programs aimed at Macs – far fewer than the 23 million targeting Windows users.
Isn’t it nice to know that Windows PC users have it much worse than Mac users? Yet, with numbers like that is anybody safe online? No. Even if you use only the certified apps from the Mac App Store, you could download and install malware that can encrypt your Mac and hold it for ransom.
The BBC says the Mac ransomware isn’t very good, doesn’t work all the time, and yet it can spread the old fashioned way. To Mac users who don’t understand how such malicious software works, how they’re involved in getting the infection to their Macs in the first place, and what to do about it should it happen. Fortunately, we’re not seeing many reports of such infections, and it’s still not comforting to know they’re out there in the wild.
Should we Mac users be afraid? Just remember, ‘if everyone is out to get you, paranoia is a good attitude to have.’ That means Mac users should not open email attachments or download files or visit unknown websites without a measure of caution.