Macs impervious to Malware? Think again.

Computers showing malware and virus warnings

In the past, before the rise of Apple that began at the turning of the Millennium, it was quite rare for Apple’s computers to be the targets of viruses, trojans, worms, and other types of malware. Those were usually reserved for the Microsoft Windows platform, more popular at the time and less controlled than the MacOS.

However, in today’s times of the internet and the popularity of Apple, there’s greater risk of being susceptible to attacks from malware. These attacks usually occur when accessing links or files, such as clicking on ad banners online, downloading software from crowd-sharing means such as through torrent files, and clicking on attachments in emails, even if those emails are from known sources.

One recent malware called “Searchmine.net” is an example of malware that infects the MacOS. It targets web browsers such as Chrome, Safari and Firefox. The malware has the ability to change the browser’s homepage, new tab page or default search and take measures to prevent users from changing those settings back. This can allow the malware designers to track users’ browsing habits, and target them with customized ads, or sell this information to 3rd parties.

Unfortunately, accessing the location where the application is installed and removing it will not cure the issue, as this malware is persistent. Scanning with an application like Malwarebytes, frequently used to assist in detection and removal of items such as this, will be fruitless as well, as Malwarebytes has difficulty detecting the application. With Malwarebytes being ineffective, the next step of researching online for other tools to remove Searchmine can reveal potential solutions. However, some of these “solutions” could actually be additional malware that cause additional problems. And they are not inexpensive to use, even if they don’t have bad intentions and actually solve the problem.

For users of the Chrome browser, a recent tool developed by a product expert appears to remove the malware through the running of a script in the MacOS Terminal application. The Terminal application is a way to run processes and navigate the Macintosh file structure through a text command line interface. This script method has been shown to work. Instructions on its use can be seen at this link. If you have questions on its use or need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us.

As for users of Safari and Firefox, the solutions don’t appear to be as clear. It is best to contact us to ask questions or have us address the issue . As a general tip for users, it is a smart move to not download files from sources that are not trustworthy. Also avoid clicking on banners on sketchy websites, and beware of clicking on email attachments, especially from untrustworthy sources.

For users with recent versions of the MacOS, you can read this site on how to take some steps to protect your Mac from malware. For Safari users, this page on Apple’s site explains how to block pop-ups in Safari, and gives tips on dealing with pop-ups in general to protect the user’s system from potential infections.

Tips on protecting your online personal data while using Facebook apps

Thumbprint providing access to online accounts

In today’s always-on connected world, most people know not to give away too many personal details of themselves on Social Media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc., as online details can be easily harvested by innocent actors as well as those who have more devious intentions. However, one area most people neglect to protect is when answering nostalgic questionnaires or playing games on sites such as Facebook. The information gained from these items is exactly what bad actors desire in pursuit of a user’s personal assets.

As this article describes, people that play games, answer questionnaires, or otherwise reminisce with people online about personal details may inadvertently give away answers to online accounts’ security questions. The purpose of these security questions is to assist in preventing unauthorized access to sites such as online bank accounts or credit card accounts. Unfortunately, it has been revealed over the years that security questions are a vulnerable method for secondary authorization.

An example of a type of game where a user might provide personal details would be when there’s a word game that gives them a chance to come up with a DJ (disc jockey) name by using their first pet’s name combined with the street that they grew up on. Or it combines the first name of their best friend from high school and the city they were born in. These answers would all be examples to popular security questions for online accounts. In addition, posting an answer to this online can also potentially cause a reaction from others to post their answers as well.

If a user does take part in these questionnaires or games, it’s a good tip to make the security questions for online accounts not truthful (and write down these fake answers for ease of remembering later on). Or better yet, make another password as the answer for the security questions, as in reality, the answer to security questions is just another password. Using another password for the answer to security questions navigates around the issue of having the same answers as provided with these questionnaires and games.

Other secondary authorization methods like text messages to a user’s mobile phone can present additional vulnerabilities, like being susceptible to mobile phone SIM swapping. A better way to secure an account versus using security questions or text messages is to use 2fa (Two factor authorization) through an app like Authy or Google Authenticator, both which are installed on the user’s mobile device. These 2fa apps provide a one-time-use key as a secondary authorization for online accounts. When a user logs in to an online account, they input the number generated by the 2fa app for the secondary authorization, thereby allowing access to their online accounts in a more secure manner. It’s best to setup the 2fa app for all online accounts (bank accounts, credit card accounts, Facebook, Gmail, etc.) where it’s an option.

Beware Applications requesting a plug-in be downloaded

Computer displaying directory computer code

As noted in this article, “a security researcher has disclosed a new flaw that undermines a core macOS security feature designed to prevent apps, or malware, from accessing a user’s private data, webcam or microphone without their explicit permission.” Recent privacy protections, expanded in the Mojave version of the Macintosh operating system, were meant to make it more difficult for malicious apps to get access to the user’s private information, unless the user allows access through a pop-up dialog.

However, these protections weren’t as good as Apple previously believed. This bug is the result of a whitelist of approved applications that are allowed to create “synthetic clicks” to prevent them from breaking. This includes the popular video playing application VLC, which the researcher showed could access a user’s camera, microphone, and other Macintosh computer services, through a plug-in that performed malicious actions.

This is a reminder that users should be aware anytime an application asks for permission to download and/or load additional software. In this case, any application that requires a download and installation of a plug-in would require closer scrutiny. This is especially true for anyone who attempts to access files through something like torrent services, which could potentially request to download a plug-in to view the downloaded file (or else the file that is downloaded through the torrent file could also be a payload with malicious intent, even if not requiring a plug-in).

If you’d like to discuss further, please let us know!

New Apple update against Intel CPU attacks imposes 40% performance penalty

Intel CPU chip shown on computer's internal motherboard

As mentioned in this article, Apple has posted a new article on its website that details how a user can implement Full Mitigation for a “theoretical” speculative attack that targets Intel CPUs (central processing units). Full Mitigation is mostly for users that are at heightened risk for an attack, such as government workers or high-ranking business executives.

Enabling this mitigation results in an approximate 40% drop in performance. However, as previously mentioned, most users won’t need to enable this level of mitigation, as the attack is theoretical at this point and there are no known attacks in the wild for this.

macOS 10.14.5 includes the most relevant patches for users, although there have been reported issues from Mac users with some methods of file sharing over macOS. As always, it is the best practice to only download trusted software from the Apple App Store.

If you have further questions or would like to discuss, let us know!

Outlook breach reportedly targeted Crypto users

Laptop, iPhone and Mouse locked inside heavy duty metal chain

We previously notified our readers of a breach involving Microsoft Outlook email. Users of Cryptocurrency are now coming forward to indicate that this Outlook breach led to a theft by hackers of their Cryptocurrency from various Cryptocurrency Exchanges, as detailed in this follow-up article.

Keeping anything online, whether it be email or items like Cryptocurrency, leaves a user open to potential hacks. It is wise to copy email to a folder on the user’s computer vs. leaving it online in an inbox or the like for hackers to gain access to. When stored in a folder on a personal computer, it’s much harder to access.

Also, enabling verification items like 2fa (Two-factor authorization), where a user is required to verify log-ins and other procedures using an application on their phone, are wise to use to prevent access to user accounts. As one user indicated in the article, they did not have 2fa enabled on their account, so it allowed the hackers easier access.

If you’d like to discuss further on ways you can protect yourself online, please let us know!

Beware mobile VPN services promoted by scam ads

Mobile phone user holding iPhone with VPN application in use

It is becoming more and more popular for a user to be on a mobile device and receive pop-up windows or be otherwise directed to a site to indicate that you’ve been hacked or are being tracked, and the solutions is to install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) application. A VPN allows the user to connect to another public IP in order to mask their current IP, and encrypt data sent.

With these pop-up redirect ads, what is occurring is that various VPN providers provide affiliate programs, where individuals are compensated for driving traffic to the VPN provider. These individuals create scare-tactic ads that promote users install the VPN application, and in return, the affiliate marketer receives compensation in exchange.

As the article states, if you receive one of these warnings, just close the page. If you are having issues closing the page, close your web browser. Upon re-opening the browser, attempt to close the page if it still exists. Also, closing the page that prompted the redirection is also advised, to prevent further issues. Also, NEVER install any applications being promoted on these sites, as they could install any variety of malware onto your device.

Please let us know if you have questions or would like to discuss setting up a more secure VPN into your computing environment!

Microsoft admits hackers had access to online email

Computer with new email notification displayed

For the first three months of 2019, Microsoft has admitted that hackers had access to some details of certain Outlook.com email accounts. As this article states, Outlook.com is the web version of Microsoft’s email service, and this online service was previously known as Hotmail. Per Microsoft, “this unauthorized access could have allowed unauthorized parties to access and/or view information related to your email account …but not the content of any emails or attachments.”

While it appears no actual emails were read or attachments were accessed, this is an important reminder that being online brings its share of risks to user data. It’s a smart idea to use an actual email application to view email, in companion with a web browser, and to store as much email off-line as possible. This will help in prevention of potential data access in the event your email account gets hacked.

In relation to this, and as has been mentioned before, it is important to ensure the safeguarding of passwords, for email and other sites. It is good practice to change passwords periodically throughout the year. By doing so, there’s less of a chance that the current password is in the hands of hackers if it is changed more often, in the event an account is compromised. Also, never send password or login information via email, as this just opens user’s data to easily being compromised.

As always, please contact us if you have questions or would like to discuss further!

Mar-a-Lago intruder sneaks surveillance Hardware into Club

Wood-grain USB thumb drive laying on tree stump

An intruder into Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club had, amongst several other pieces of technology such as cell phones, a thumb drive that could apparently immediately begin installing files onto a computer when plugged in, per the U.S. Secret Service. They indicated that this is very out of the ordinary, as detailed in this story.

A few interesting aspects of this story, in relation to thumb drives as well as other hardware and security. The first is that thumb drives (aka flash drives) are very popular, primarily because of their ease of use: they are an easy way to get programs and files from one computer to another. Because of this, they’re also easy to use to get malicious software onto a computer. This leads to the second and most important point: it is wise to not plug-in thumb drives without positively knowing their source and potential side effects. On this point, it’s a bit alarming that the Secret Service agent didn’t follow this point when they plugged it into their work computer.

The lesson to be gained from the linked article is that employers should not allow their employees to plug-in items such as thumb drives into their computers, or at the very least have security software which prevents the mounting of this type of hardware when it is plugged in.

In addition to being wary of thumb drives, other insecure types of hardware purchased off of sites such as eBay should give a user pause, whether the hardware has been previously used or not. Used hardware always has the potential of having been tampered with, from both a hardware and installed software perspective. For example, users could be spied on through a laptop’s camera, or their keystrokes captured through a hidden keylogger program.

In the realm of “new” hardware, what one person may think is new may actually not be. New hardware should always come in a factory sealed box with a security sticker. Of course, it is possible that this could be faked, but it is much less likely, especially when purchased direct from the Manufacturer.

Separate recent ransomware attacks affect Spectrum Health, MI doctor’s office

Metal chain link with lock, locking wood gate entrance

A cyber attack that hit a contracted vendor of Spectrum Health, Wolverine Services Group, has impacted approximately 60,000 patients of Spectrum Health Lakeland. Wolverine’s systems were attacked by a ransomware attack. A ransomware attack occurs when hackers gain access to a system and encrypt a portion or all of the files and demand ransom payment in order to release instructions on how to decrypt the files.

The breach in this incident affected only the Lakeland portion of Spectrum Health, not their entire system. As is usual with breaches such as this, it occurred well before it was discovered: the breach occurred in September but wasn’t discovered until December. More can be read about this incident here.

In a more recent ransomware hack in Michigan, which occurred on April 1st at a doctor’s office in Battle Creek, the doctors of this office decided to retire early, after they refused to pay the ransom payment and the hackers erased all their files. The files were already encrypted by the office’s software system, so no personal information was gained. However, with patient files gone forever, much data that was already gained through tests and other means will never be recovered, as the article from WWMT states.

While these two cases show issues at businesses, and we as citizens only have so much control over business records, it is important for every person to keep secure their private information. We will continue to work to update this blog on ways users can prevent becoming the victim of cyber incidents (malware, phishing, etc.). If you have any questions or would like to discuss, we’re here to help.

Reminder to keep passwords secure…

Computer code displayed on Monitor

It is a vitally important practice to keep your passwords safe. As a general rule, never give out passwords to anyone. The article here notes that Facebook asked a user for their email login and password to verify who they were. This can open up a user to phishing attacks.

If you need to use Facebook, it is advised to create a new Gmail account and use that specifically for Facebook, rather than risking the potential of a frequently-used email account being compromised.

In addition to this, it is wise to use different and hard-to-guess passwords for different websites. Using the same password for different sites opens one up again to issues if one site’s password file gets hacked.

Feel free to discuss with us your options with keeping your passwords safe. We’re here to help!