Mac Defender first appeared in May 2011 as a browser pop-up screen, stating that the computer is infected – and that Mac Defender can remove the infections. The truth? It’s actually a false antivirus application with a built-in malware payload. It demands payment to work, so once users enter their credit card number… BAM! (They’ve got you.)
Malware like this is nothing new. Malware is constantly evolving, as hackers find new ways to wreak havoc on your computer, or to obtain your confidential information. And once you’ve been infected, removal can be complicated – often requiring Geek Squad Agents (or other experts) to get it cleaned up.
To protect yourself from malware, all computer users should follow these tips to help them stay safe:
- Update your operating system often. People avoid updates because they seem like a hassle. System updates include fixes to vulnerabilities often exploited by malware. Updates are your first line of defense against infections.
- Don’t download suspicious-looking programs. If it looks suspicious, it probably is so avoid it! Only download programs and updates that you are familiar with, and then only from official (safe) resources.
- Email attachments and links: be cautious. Most people know better than to open attachments or links in email from unidentified sources. It’s common for many malware applications to harvest email address books on infected computers and send out copies of the infection on your behalf to your family and friends. Got an attachment from a friend or family member? Give them a call to verify whether they actually sent anything. When in doubt, toss it out – no matter how tempting it is to open.
- Beware of pop-ups. Like Mac Defender, these pop-ups may look like legitimate warning messages from your operating system. They try to trick you into purchasing, downloading or installing some sort of application that can infect your computer. Clicking on them often loads malware onto your computer, and can lead to all sorts of headaches. Get to know what to look for to close pop-ups (tiny “X” or red dot for closing the window in the upper corner), and NEVER click anywhere else within it.
- Avoid giving out personal or financial information. If you are prompted to provide credit card information and you are uncomfortable with where you are submitting it, walk away. (Only provide credit card information to authorized sources that you trust.)
- Install protection software. To reduce threats to your computer, purchase and install protection software. Anti-virus software is a good start, and there are programs with internet security available that can help prevent hackers from getting into your computer and stealing your personal information.
- Scan your computer for viruses or malware – especially if your computer is sluggish. Quite often, Internet slowdowns and general slow operation of the entire computer can be one of the symptoms of an infection. When in doubt, scan the computer for a malware infection to determine if this is the cause.
Malware – regardless of who’s behind it or what operating system it runs on – is a fact of life for computer users. Yesterday, it was only Windows-based PCs. Today, it’s fruit-labeled ones. Tomorrow? (Hey Linux, I’m looking at you.) By following these simple tips and making sure your operating system is up to date, you can avoid most of the headaches that come with a malware infection.