Last month, Mac users suffered their first widespread malware attack, shattering the misperception that computer viruses were an exclusively PC problem. Malware no longer discriminates between Mac and PC users. Consequently, it's time for Mac users to adopt the same safety habits as their PC cousins.
Waiting for "corporate" -- whether that's Apple or Microsoft -- to issue a security patch or other type of operating system update may prove too late to protect your computer. More than three weeks passed until Apple issued a statement acknowledging the attack, along with do-it-yourself instructions for removing the virus.
The company has released a Mac OS X v10.6.7 (Snow Leopard) software update that promises to automatically find and remove Mac Defender malware and its known variants. The update also provides an explicit warning if it detects the incoming malware.
But viruses are known to change, and subsequent variants can be even more dangerous than the original.
If you're a Mac owner and an offer appears on your computer screen for MacDefender, MacProtector or MacSecurity, consider your computer infected.
Security firms such as Sophos have been tracking the virus and have concluded that it's advancing fast and taking many cues from the Windows malware scene.
Avoid searching for "hot" keywords. The Mac attack began by exploiting searches related to the death of Osama bin Laden. Within 24 hours, poisoned search results that linked to malicious sites were activated.
Just last week, another variant of the Mac virus was discovered on Facebook. The bait appears in your Facebook timeline as a message apparently posted by one of your friends. In this case, it claims to be a link to a video of IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Instead of the promised video, the link takes unsuspecting visitors to a fake antivirus site.
It is common for the bad guys to keep up with hot, trending items. When you're looking for news, stick to sites you know and trust. Don't be fooled by Facebook links or plain old email links, both can be devised to look as if they come from a trusted friend.
If you get an alert on your screen while browsing that warns you that your computer has been infected with a virus, be wary. Do not follow a link to a promised antivirus solution or download any program stemming from the alert. Do not even click on the alert.
If the alert seems to be a system alert as opposed to being part of a web page, it's very appearance means your computer is most likely already infected. This type of message is known in the security world as ransomware, an attempt to hold your computer hostage until you purchase the bogus antivirus software. Now the thieves have your credit card information. Cancel the card. It could be months until it is used without authorization.
If the malware has slipped through your system security, consider returning your computer to an earlier state. Mac users can activate Time Machine, a utility included with OS X, to revert their machines to a pre-infected state. PC users can choose a safe restore point in Backup & Restore for a similar result.
Check your browser security settings. In particular, Mac users should consider changing the default setting for download alerts in Apple's Safari browser. The default setting for Safari allows so-called "safe" files to be automatically opened after downloading, which could be exploited by malware makers.
Go into Safari General settings and uncheck the box that reads "Open "safe" files after downloading."
Install and run Internet security software that you trust. Microsoft offers its Microsoft Security Essentials free of charge to PC users. You can also consider any of the reputable security software products including BitDefender, Avast, AVG, Norton, Trend Micro and others. Most of these companies offer antivirus software for Macs as well as PCs.
It's a constant struggle between the bad guys finding vulnerabilities to exploit and the good guys making repairs, so keep your system, your browsers and your software up to date.
Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? E-mail Leslie Meredith at firstname.lastname@example.org.