What's all this talk about a Mac virus?

You've probably had a friend that owns a Window's computer giving you a hard time recently saying "Macintoshes have got viruses now."

The virus* being talked about at the moment is called the "Flashback" virus (you can read more about it here). You are at risk from this virus if you're running OSX 10.7 (Lion) and you've installed Java on your Mac, or you're running OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or older (they come with Java already installed) and you've visited some dodgy websites. (Note: Don't confuse Javascript with Java. They're not the same)

Well, it's true that a virus has recently infected many hundreds of thousands of Macintosh computers. It's also true that Macintosh computers have suffered from viruses and other "malware" for many years. This time is different in 3 significant ways:

  1. A lot more people own Macs now.
  2. The popular media have started talking about it (see point 1).
  3. In the words of Macworld, "Flashback is the first widespread drive-by malware to attack Macs. This is one of the most pernicious attack techniques, which has long troubled Windows users, and it does represent a major advance."

So, do you need to rush out and buy a virus checking program for your Mac now? I don't think so, but that's your call. What you definitely need to do is to run "Software Update..." from the Apple menu on your Mac to update your Apple software. Then you need to make sure your Mac has the latest versions of all the other programs that you use.

(In fact, running Software Update will actually remove the "Flashback" virus if your Mac is infected).

After you do that my advice is to use common sense:

  • If your computer is asking for your password and you don't know why, don't enter your password.
  • If an email that looks like it comes from your bank or other institution asks you to click on a link, don't click on the link (Legitimate emails from banks and super' funds won't ask you to click a link).
  • If a stranger asks you to give them the keys to your house, don't give them the keys to your house.

If you really, really need to install a virus checker (you don't) then try a few of the free ones here or here. They are legitimate virus checkers and will work as well as the "paid" ones.

There are viruses out there that will infect your Mac but if you keep your software up to date and use common sense your chance of infection is very low.

If you find your Mac running slow or losing files its most likely because:

  • you've got a lot of programs running at once,
  • you're trying to work on a really big file (or big photo library) or
  • you put a file in a different place accidently. (Use Spotlight to find files you've lost)

If you think you've got a virus, call Apple if you've bought Applecare or you've bought your Mac in the last 90 days. Otherwise, contact me.

  • I'm using the word "virus" to describe all the many and varied types of malicious computer software. If you're technically savvy enough to know the difference between viruses and other malware then this blog entry is probably not for you.