Viruses -- Are Macs being attacked?

Have you read the Google News headlines? I have a specialized section in my Google News feed that presents me with several Mac stories every time I open Safari on my Macintosh. I see the story because I have set news.google.com as my homepage. But why has it appeared every day for the past week?

apple_attack

Today is February 26. The story is dated February 19! Let’s check the next headline:

apple_attack2

Even this story is almost a week old.

So what is going on?

There are several bad file types that can theoretically attack your computer. They are usually describe as:

Virus - a computer program that can replicate itself[1] and spread from one computer to another. The term "virus" is also commonly, but erroneously, used to refer to other types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have a reproductive ability.
Malware - short for malicious (or malevolent) software, is software used or created by attackers to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. It can appear in the form of code, scripts, active content, and other software. 'Malware' is a general term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software.
Trojan - a non-self-replicating type of malware which appears to perform a desirable function but instead facilitates unauthorized access to the user's computer system. Trojans do not attempt to inject themselves into other files like a computer virus. Trojan horses may steal information, or harm their host computer systems. Trojans may use drive-by downloads or install via online games or internet-driven applications in order to reach target computers.

These definitions came from Wikipedia. The links lead to full articles there.

We’re Mac users. We don’t get bad stuff!

Let’s examine that statement. For a long time, Apple products seemed to be immune to the bad stuff. Some people ascribe it to Apple’s excellent security measures. Others say it was because Apple was so unimportant. There are elements of truth in both of those statements. While I could write many pages on that subject, I would prefer to refer you to an
article that Rich Mogull wrote for TidBITS. Rich is an expert’s expert on Mac security. He is someone that I pay serious attention to.

Back to last week.

The attack on Mac computers was discovered at Apple. It was determined that this was the
same malware attack that had been detected at Twitter and at Facebook. Last Friday Microsoft said that they too had been attacked.

Let’s take a look at Apple’s response to this problem. First, one of the features of Mac OS X Mountain Lion is Gatekeeper. Click
this link to learn more about it. They released a software update Java for OS X 2013-001 for all users of Lion and Mountain Lion. They also released an update for Mac OS X 10.6. These updates turned off Java in the Safari browser.

Unfortunately, at this time is not only foolhardy, it is also just plain dangerous to run web applications that require Java.

Back to antivirus software.

If you read
Rich Mogull’s article you saw that he does not recommend antivirus software except in very rare circumstances. He points out that things such as last week’s malware must be out in the wild for days, even weeks before antivirus software is updated to protect you against them. So, they provide the user with a false sense of security.

They often slow other programs down and may run in the background for hours at a time using Mac resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. Furthermore, the majority of the malware that they do find does not affect your Mac and, in fact, won’t affect Windows users with up-to-date system software. And, most antivirus software finds many files that are almost certainly not malicious malware. One example is Troj/Unsc-A. Google it and you will find that out of the dozens of Windows anti-virus programs
only three determined that Troj/Unsc-A might be bad. And even among those it was given a neutral rating.

So once again, I have determined that it is not time for me to buy and run antivirus software. I am still not recommending it to my Mac using friends and family, but as always, I will keep my Windows antivirus software that I use in Parallels up-to-date and I will still not download files, check email or surf the web on the Windows side when I am using it.

It’s always nice to have my own expert, Bob LeVitus weight in, here is his response:

Bob says, “I couldn’t have said it better myself. I may have to run antivirus software on my Macs someday, but that day is yet to come.”
Comments

WD-40…Who knew!

There are several things we can’t seem to do without around our home. Our arsenal of things we can’t do without includes things like duct tape, PAM cooking spray, Shout carpet cleaner and…WD-40.

This topic came up because I ran into
this photo that my sister commented about on Facebook. I Googled WD-40 and found a great PDF file about 2000 uses for it on their Web site. You can check it out here. This made me wonder if there were places where I shouldn’t use WD-40. A little more Googling led me to this site.

When I attended the Macworld | iWorld Expo a few weeks ago I found that MacKeeper was one of the sponsors of the event. That set off alarms for me.

There are plenty of cleaning products for your Mac these days. Ads for them seem to pop up everywhere! Some of them are serious threats. Remember MacDefender? It is a Trojan horse.

While MacKeeper gets some good reviews, it is hard to find a Mac professional who has it or any similar product installed on their computer. Google it and you will find lots of users with horror stories. Zeobit, the developer of MacKeeper assures us that the bad press is courtesy of one of its competitors.

I have my own experiences with it on client’s machines. I am not impressed with its effects on their computers, much less the way Zeobit attempts to get it installed on your computer. If you go to their Web site, there are several big download buttons. No where does it tell you what it does or how much it costs. You must dig pretty deep to find the answer. There are several price plans and all offer some version of live support. That is were the trouble really starts. I have gotten a number of calls from clients who were told to do things that they recognized as being dangerous for their computers. Zeobit wants to sell you an extended service plan. They do not tell you who the service techs are or how much training they have had. They also don’t offer any guarantees. One client ended up with some real problems after he installed the program. When he called their geek he was asked to purchase an additional annual plan that cost hundreds of dollars. After he paid it and spent many hours with the tech, his problems got worse and worse. He finally called me and we spent even more hours cleaning up the mess that the software and the geek had made! The ironic part is that before he installed the software, his computer was working very well. The client bought the software because it looked like it could do so many things--things that he really didn’t need to do to his computer at all!

Do I use products like MacKeeper?

Absolutely not! And I don’t use them on any of the family computers that I support. Macs are NOT Windows machines. We do not have registry errors and all those other problems that you hear about. In fact, modern Macs, left to do their own maintenance are usually VERY stable.

So, how do you keep your Mac happy?

  • Keep the desktop reasonably clean.
  • Don’t overfill your hard drive.
  • Make sure you have enough RAM. Today you cannot buy a Mac that has less than 8 GB of RAM.
  • Don’t use the software CD that came with your printer. Instead, use “Print and Scan” in the System Preferences to let your computer tell you what it needs.
  • Run the latest version of the Mac OS that your computer is capable of running.
  • Keep up with OS and software updates.
  • Avoid the temptation to constantly tinker with and tweak the OS. Also avoid software that modifies the operating system
  • Don’t turn you computer off at night, but let it sleep so that it can run its background maintenance tasks.
  • Remember, if you are having a problem, the first thing to do is to RESTART YOUR COMPUTER.
  • Buy AppleCare from Apple when you buy new devices.
  • Plug your computer into a good UPS to keep your power steady and clean.

And remember we are here to lend you a hand if you run into problems that are not covered by AppleCare!

Back to MacKeeper

It is a well-known fact that some bloggers get free hardware and software in exchange for reviews. It can be difficult to write a critical review when someone has been nice enough to give you something for free! A less well-known fact is that some companies actually pay for reviews.

I have not tried to make this blog pay for itself. While I occasionally receive free products at Macworld | iWorld, I have never been given software for the express purpose of writing a review. I do occasional reviews for User Group magazines, but I do not write for any sites that pay their writers. I have friends who have been offered money for writing reviews. I have read their reviews for products that I like and I know that my review would be just as positive. However I always feel squeamish when I read their positive review of a product that I find lacking.

In the case of MacKeeper, there are a number of very positive reviews of their product. Interestingly, if the writer allows feedback, most of those reviews contain negative comments regarding both MacKeeper and of the review itself. I have looked through many reviews and there are two sites that I think might be worthwhile for you to read. The
first is from The MacFeed. Sadly, that site closed its doors in the middle of 2012. They are missed. However, they have kept their previous work online. The second is from Thomas’ Tech Corner. His blog is primarily focused on Mac security, so the anti-virus portion of MacKeeper is of the most interest to him. If you read either of these sites, be sure to read the comments as well.

There will always be lots of software that supposedly cleans something on your Mac to make it run better or faster. They even sell some of it in the Apple App Store. But do you really need it or is it an effort to give you something to do with your computer besides create neat stuff and connect with people?

The older, long time Apple users among us grew up having to tweak things to keep their computer going. Apple began changing that when it introduced Mac OS X. We are now at 10.8. Apple has had lots of time to get it “right” and they have accomplished it! Gone are the days filled with frantic phone calls because someone’s Mac won’t work. While we get a few of those calls, most are remedied with a quick reminder to restart your Mac before giving us a call.

If you hear about a fix-it-all product, be a bit wary. Google it and read lots of reviews and the comments made by other readers. Make sure it really does what you need and expect it to do.

--Pat
Comments

Clean up your desktop…

There are some things that just make sense, even if they are not easy! Keeping bedrooms and the playroom picked up when my children were young was a constant battle. Today, I battle my desk, my sewing table and my computer desktop.

desktop

Flat spaces draw stuff. Although my computer desktop is vertical, it makes a great place to store the things I am working on. There are always pictures for the next blog post, URLS that I want to reference when working with a client or writing and several folders generated by software to keep saved calls and audio notes nearby.

Storing things on the desktop can seriously slow a computer down. While a dozen files won’t have much of an impact, a hundred or even thousands can lead to spinning beach balls!

Just before the holidays I received a message from Pat. He was having all sorts of computer issues and beach balls. Although Pat lives in Ireland, we can use our software to take a look at a client’s computer screen. Imagine my amazement when I saw not tens, not hundreds but almost 4 thousand items piled on Pat’s desktop!

I opened a Finder window, pointed it to the desktop and got to work. The first thing I needed was a new folder. I named it Pat’s Stuff. I put a space before “Pat” so that the folder would be first if I sorted the files by name. I arranged the two windows so that I could easily move files to the new folder.

FinderScreenSnapz001

I began dragging the files and folders to the empty folder. When I dragged the files over, we got a spinning beach ball and it took several minutes before we could see the folders moved to their new location. With each set of files that were moved, the process shortened. When we had only the new Pat’s Stuff folder and the Hard Drive icon on the desktop, the computer was very speedy. The spinning beach ball disappeared!

Unfortunately, cleaning the desktop by shoving everything into a new folder is only a temporary solution. In fact the clutter is still there, but the computer is not having to deal with all of those icons.

Think of each file on the desktop as a separate window because, in fact, the Macintosh OS treats each one that way. It’s no different in Windows. Files stored on the desktop need to be redrawn and kept track of, just as if there were that many open windows.

So how do you deal with all those files? I give frequent presentations and so I often need to clean up the clutter. My solution has been to make that new folder and begin it with a date. Then I drag all the files from my desktop into that folder. If I am not careful, I end up with this, folders inside of folders, but the files still need to be put away!

nested_folders

I was at the Macworld | iWorld Expo last week. I attended a session given by Chris Breen of Macworld Magazine. He suggested an Automator workflow that aids in desktop cleanup, but that is a little complicated for this blog entry. Perhaps I will tackle that later.

Today, while surfing the web, I ran into an interesting application called Unclutter. When it is installed, it adds a tiny jeans pocket to the menu bar at the top of the screen. Click it and you see this menu:

Unclutter

If you pull down to “Open Panel, you see this:

FinderScreenSnapz001

Drag files up to the icon in the menu bar and this happens. Notice the panel opened and you can see the files being placed there:

unclutter_working

It’s very easy to drag files in and out of the window--and they are not being stored on the desktop. If you need a file, just click on the icon, drag down to “Open Panel” and then drag the files to a new location--even back to the desktop.

There are a few more features. The black panel is the last thing you copied to the clipboard and the yellow panel is a place to write quick notes. You can also get the window to open by using the scroll gesture. Take the cursor to the icon in the menu bar. Place two fingers on the trackpad or mouse and pull down. Unclutter will open.

I have not used Unclutter long enough to know if it will solve my cluttered desktop, but I am willing to give it a try!

Unclutter is available in the App Store. It is on sale for $1.99 through February 7. After that it will cost $2.99.

App Store

I keep talking about helping people. That’s because I am a consultant. I work with Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus. We offer trouble-shooting, technical support and training over at Bob LeVitus Consulting. Tutoring costs only $60.00 per hour. We have special software that allows us to see your computer and we can work on the things you want to learn. Give us a call at 408 627-7577. Or send an email to urgentrequest@boblevitus.com.

--Pat
Comments