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Malware attacks increase with growing macOS adoption: Here’s what you need to do

Think Mac is still the world’s most secure widely-used operating system? That may no longer be the case. In a malware analysis report, Mac security specialist Patrick Wardle noted how malicious software targeting Mac devices has been increasing and is becoming more dangerous. Wardle indicated that the malware count in 2023 doubled the previous year’s number.

In an interview with Techopedia, noted cyber threat researcher Bogdan Botezatu affirmed the observation that macOS users are already being targeted by cybercriminals and that they have been quite successful at penetrating the operating system’s security controls. “Some cybercrime groups are now attempting to carve a niche for themselves in the Mac space to move into other ecosystems because of fierce competition in the Windows landscape,” Botezatu intimated.

The malicious software reportedly infecting macOS devices is no longer dominated by adware. The top threats are now ransomware, backdoor exploits, and trojans. Notorious cybercrime groups such as BlackBasta, BlackCat, and Lazarus Group are being linked to attacks that target Apple devices.

macOS users need to be more mindful of their security and ensure better protection. It would help to do the following best practices.

Greater vigilance over threat detection

Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility and every macOS user will have to adapt to this reality. They will have to play a role in detecting threats and not be too reliant on built-in security tools. Security solutions may have advanced significantly, but they are still not fully autonomous and capable of addressing threats without human involvement.

One term users need to become accustomed to is indicators of compromise or IOCs. These are traces left during cyberattacks or attempts to breach security controls, comparable to breadcrumbs that evidence the previously undetected presence of an intrusion. These can include unusual patterns in network activity, suspicious web addresses, and file names. Security professionals routinely scan for IOCs to determine the possibility of system compromises, particularly the presence of malware.

IOC detection involves the use of threat intelligence feeds and security tools that come with IOC management functions. These tools can detect indicators of threats and isolate potentially harmful files or activities. Some threat indicators can be manually detected through the macOS Activity Monitor like network activity and disk usage that do not correspond to known ongoing actions. Also, sudden changes in the device settings and the sudden appearance of pop-up browser windows can be signs of compromise. However, it is better to have the tools specifically designed to detect and manage indicators of compromise.

Prompt software updating

Software updates should be applied as soon as they become available. Delaying updates, especially security patches, can create opportunities for attacks. The Thunderstrike & Foreshadow vulnerabilities, for example, are notorious for the high level of risk they pose. Associated with Mac devices with Intel CPUs, these vulnerabilities enable attackers to bypass cyber protections. Apple has already released software updates to address this security issue, and those who refused to apply the update are expectedly putting themselves at risk.

Software updating is a common cybersecurity reminder but many continue to ignore it. This applies not only to the Mac operating system but to all apps installed to Mac devices. More than 35 percent of device users fail to update their software regularly, exposing themselves to security risks.

Addressing the human security weakness

Another concern macOS users should pay attention to is the tendency to engage in security-defeating practices and fall victim to social engineering tactics. As the cliche goes, people are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain. Phishing and other forms of attacks targeting people continue to work because many have not improved their security practices.

One crucial reminder is to ensure the legitimacy or security of links and downloads. It is advisable not to click on links or download files from unknown or dubious sources. Likewise, illegal or pirate websites should be avoided. It is also important to install apps exclusively from legitimate sources, preferably from the Apple app store. Many security incidents happen because of bad user decisions.

Moreover, it helps to be cautious when using public Wi-Fi. For security, always use a VPN when accessing the internet through public Wi-Fi or avoid accessing critical services like online banking via public Wi-Fi. Given the alarming increase of malware targeting macOS, it’s high time to emphasize cybersecurity awareness and best practices.

Enabling basic security features

There are fundamental security mechanisms that can be used or activated for free. Nominating strong and unique passwords, for example, does not cost anything but many settle with short and predictable passwords for the sake of convenience. Also, multi-factor authentication is available for free, so it does not make sense not to use it.

Additionally, the built-in security features of macOS should be put to good use. Take advantage of the download protection tool Gatekeeper, the native disk encryption solution FileVault, and macOS’s malware detection tool called XProtect. Also, the operating system’s internal firewall system and System Integrity Protection (SIP) feature should be active especially when accessing the internet.

Moreover, leverage the Privacy Preferences Policy Control (PPPC) feature to have granular control over apps’ access to sensitive data and system resources. There is no sensible reason to deactivate, suspend, or avoid using these security features. They are designed to operate efficiently and unobtrusively even as they run in the background.

Using additional security software

Lastly, it helps to install more security tools to protect macOS devices, especially in the enterprise setting. Cybersecurity solutions such as Extended Detection and Response (XDR) and Extended Prevention and Response (XPR) allow organizations to automatically monitor IOCs and respond in a timely and efficient manner.

XDR and XPR are particularly useful when overseeing the security of multiple interconnected IT environments. They provide a centralized threat management platform with an intuitive interface to ensure comprehensive and efficient security visibility and management. Other solutions such as Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) can also help control threats targeting endpoints in complex enterprise networks.

In summary

macOS has excellent built-in security features. It is important to take full advantage of them and implement security best practices along with adequate cybersecurity training. Also, there are palpable benefits in installing more security solutions especially to protect enterprise IT networks. As the volume and sophistication of cyberattacks aimed at Mac devices grows, it is only logical to be more security-conscious and put up all sensible cyber defenses to be ready to deal with rapidly evolving and highly aggressive cyberattacks.


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