The Basics of Securing Your Mac and iPhone Against Malicious Threats

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It wasn't that long ago that Apple's macOS and iOS operating systems were considered immune to malware threats.

However, those days are gone - but that’s what you get for relying on security due to obscurity.

We have just seen a 400% rise in malware attacks focusing on iOS only during the last two weeks of September 2018.

For many years, macOS and iOS did not offer a good enough return on investment for malware creators to bother with thanks to their smaller user base. These days though, both platforms are popular enough to become the apple of the eye of cybercriminals. (I know, but I couldn't resist.)

The times have indeed changed: On the iOS platform alone, there was a staggering 400% rise in malware attacks during the last two weeks of September 2018. And as the business of cyber crime is extremely good at following the money, you can be sure as a cryptocurrency holder you are a particularly hot article.

A recent @FSecure report shows how Mac users of the multi-coin wallet Exodus are targeted. Passing on Exodus won’t save you though: It has become a standard of the industry to include a miner or at least a routine looking for cryptocurrency wallets in pretty much any old malware campaign.

Below I'll reveal the types of malware that could attack your Mac, iPhone or iPad, and explain the absolute minimum you should so to secure your devices against them.

MacOS Malware, Cryptojacking & Ransomware

While it may be true that Mac gets a limited amount of viruses and malware compared to Windows, it doesn't mean that Mac machines have some sort of immunity.

By design, macOS is indeed more secure than Windows, but there are still plenty of ways the bad guys can infect your machine.

Many malware threats come through the open door of your web browser. No matter which browser you use, someone has probably found a security hole. It is a constant game of cat-and-mouse between browser developers and malware developers. Developers plug one security hole, and malware developers find another one to exploit.

Well-respected malware protection vendor Malwarebytes reports they saw more malware on Mac machines in 2017 than in any previous year.

How to find out if your Mac was infected

Malware can take many forms on Mac, but perhaps the most popular forms of malware today are adware and illicit cryptocurrency mining.

You may suspect you have adware infecting your Mac if you visit a familiar website and are subjected to an inordinate amount of ads popping up in your browser. You may also notice a web page you visit all of a sudden contains more hyperlinks than you usually see.

Other malware indicators are your Mac running hot - you might hear your Mac's cooling fans suddenly begin racing). You might also notice your Mac running slower and taking longer to complete tasks. In particular, these are the tell-tale signs of a cryptojacking malware infection.

If you observe any of the above behavior, I strongly suggest you install a Mac security or anti-malware program from a reliable vendor, such as Malwarebytes or Bitdefender.

What to do if you think your Mac was infected by malware

  • Stop using the particular Mac for cryptocurrency transactions, as you might have a key-logger installed. Scripts that rewrite wallet’s transaction target address are also common.
  • Download and install the malware cleaner utility and check your Mac's system drive for malware.
  • If malware is discovered, the scanner app can usually delete the harmful files, or quarantine them away from the rest of your system.

Once your Mac is clean of malware and viruses, schedule regular system scans to ensure new viruses and malware don't infect your machine again.

In addition to running malware detection software, be sure to keep your Mac update to the latest version of macOS. When security holes that allow malware to gain a foothold are discovered, Apple responds by updating macOS to plug the hole.

Remember though, regular software updates are not meant to replace common sense. The evergreen among highly effective ways to spread malware and ransomware is social engineering or simple but large-scale phishing campaigns.

iPhone and iPad Abuse & Malware

As a rule, Apple's iOS mobile operating system platform is one of the most secure operating systems around.

However, by no means should iPhone and iPad users let this lull them into a sense of false security when it comes to iOS malware. This is especially true for users that have jailbroken their iPhone. (More about that later.)

The single most common way iPhones get abused by malicious actors

The easiest route for any malware developer to infect or abuse an iOS device is via the Safari Browser.

While it is nearly impossible to install malware on the device going this route, it is possible to run scripts while the device is visiting a website, and using the device's processor cycles for nefarious purposes.

One such example of this is using someone else’s iPhone to mine cryptocurrency. An infected website can use a bit of JavaScript code to steal processor cycles to mine Monero and other types of cryptocoins.

It seems that no website or network connection is immune from mining code infections, as even a Starbucks Wi-Fi hotspot and popular torrenting site Pirate Bay were found to be running Coinhive code to mine Monero coins using visitors' devices.

While there have been a wide variety of malware attacks on the iOS platform, Apple has been known to quickly respond to such breaches by updating iOS to plug the security hole used by the malware.

Another way malware is introduced on an iPhone is via jailbreaking. Although jailbreaking a device opens up additional application apps that can accomplish things not allowed by apps offered in Apple's restrictive App Store, it also means those apps aren't vetted like they are in the App Store, allowing developers more access to the iPhone, which opens up the possibilities of malware being included in the app.

While the jailbreaking of iPhones has been popular with many users almost ever since the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, some users don't realize that jailbreak is opening up their devices to malware infections.

Once your iPhone has been jailbroken, it not only is open to malware, you might also be turned away if you present your device for servicing at an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider. Jailbreaking voids your Apple warranty, plain and simple.

The most basic way to keep your iPhone or any other iOS device free of viruses and malware is to never jailbreak your device, to keep it updated to the latest version of iOS and to refrain from installing very new or suspicious applications - like those that get advertised through pop-up ads.

These are very generic rules that also work as ransomware protection.

As for having your iPhone’s browser used to mine cryptocurrency, that is much harder to detect and avoid. The only fully reliable way to eliminate cryptojacking via an internet browser is having the use of JavaScript disabled, which will make navigating the web in 2018 considerably painful. That said though, crypto mining malware spreads mostly through malicious app installations which is also the more dangerous variant of cryptojacking.

In Closing

As I've covered in this article, while the macOS and iOS operating systems do an excellent job in keeping malware off of your devices, it is vitally important for users to stay alert, and to keep their devices up to date.

Bill here from Pixel Privacy. Whether it be one of our in-depth guides or our expertly crafted "how-to" articles, we're here to show you how to stay safe online. We believe everyone has the power to keep their data secure, no matter what your level of tech expertise is and our site will show you how!

The information in this article comes as it is without any guarantees. Your keys, your crypto, your responsibility.