The news has been abuzz lately with stories of “ransomware” infecting thousands of Windows PCs throughout the world. While the Mac operating system is generally more secure and less prone to these type of attacks, it is still nonetheless important to follow a few simple rules to make sure to keep your Mac running smoothly and to keep your data safe and secure.
Backup your data
This is the most basic and simple recommendation, but it’s astonishing how many people don’t follow it. Exactly how to back up your data would be a whole separate article in itself, but the simplest would be using an external hard drive to create a Time Machine backup. Those that are a little more Mac savvy can use a program like Carbon Copy Cloner by Bombich Software (bombich.com) to have more control over exactly what data gets backed up and how frequently. Having an off site backup service such as BackBlaze is also a valuable backup method. In a worst case scenario, computers can typically be wiped back to their original factory settings and having a current backup can save you thousands of dollars and/or hours of valuable time.
Keep your Mac OS up to data
Another simple practice is to ensure that you are running all of the security updates for your Mac operating system. Malware and viruses typically take advantage of flaws in the OS. When these flaws are discovered, Apple is extremely efficient at closing these security loopholes quickly, but that will only protect you if those security updates are installed. In fact, your Mac will ask you if you want to install these updates automatically and you should definitely say yes. Any Windows PC whose OS was up to date was not affected by the recent ransomware attack.
Don’t trust any Internet pop-ups
We’ve all gotten these. You’re navigating your way through the Internet when a window pops up warning you that something on your computer is out of date. Most commonly the target is Adobe Flash, as Adobe does tend to update their web based media player quite frequently. However, because of this, this is a common way nefarious programmers will try to trick you into installing malicious software on to your computer. You should ignore this warning and close the window. To check if Flash needs to be updated, you can navigate directly to Adobe’s web site (http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/about/) to confirm if there is a new version of Adobe Flash available.
Beware of malware mascarading as virus protection
Another popular pop up warning you’ll often receive is a message that your computer is vulnerable to attack. This warning will be followed with a link to some kind of “protect your Mac” software. One of the more popular ones is called MacKeeper. These messages can often seem very legitimate, but don’t trust them. In my 15+ years of experience using and servicing Macs, I have yet to come across any of these protection software that have any real value. While most aren’t malicious and won’t much harm to your computer, they won’t offer any benefit either. At best they’ll just try to convince you to pay for upgrades to unlock even more useless features you don’t need and at worst it will be a virus in disguise.
The exception to the above rule
There is one piece of software that’s good to have in your Applications folder and launched on a regular basis. The software is called MalwareBytes (www.malwarebytes.com). Unlike MacKeeper-type applications, MalwareBytes does not constantly run in the background. It will only run when you launch it. This software is updated frequently, so if it tells you there’s an update when you launch it be sure to install the update to make sure MalwareBytes finds the most current threats. When it runs, it will scan your computer for any currently known malware and remove it.