Apple users should watch where they browse. The computer is no longer safe from viruses, as exemplified by the recent Flashback malware that security company Symantec estimates netted pirates $10,000 per day, based on the number of infected computers.
The malware specifically targeted Mac users, infecting devices through a security hole in Java software. Oracle patched the hole last February, but Apple did not manage to patch it until early April. The virus infected an estimated half a million computers, the New York Times reported.
The malware differed from most viruses that require clicking on a malicious link or a opening an infected attachment. Users unknowingly downloaded the virus while visiting hijacked websites, most infected WordPress and Joomla blogs.
The malware utilizes click fraud by taking Google’s cut that it would normally make on paid clicks, redirecting the user to a site where the hackers get the 8 cents for the click instead of Google.
“Flashback specifically targets search queries made on Google and, depending on the search query, may redirect users to another page of the attacker’s choosing, where they receive revenue from the click,” Symantec explained in a blog deciphering Flashback. “…This ultimately results in lost revenue for Google and untold sums of money for the Flashback gang.”
Still, the virus is on the run. It was first spotted last month by Dr. Web, a Russian security firm, which told Forbes that it is shrinking at close to 100,000 machines per week as Mac users download the security upgrades. The publication points out that the disinfection rate is much slower than if the virus had targeted Windows machines due to the low rates of anti-virus tools used by Apple users.
“For a PC it would have been much, much quicker. Only the last ten percent of users would remain infected for weeks like this,” Boris Sharov, CEO of Dr. Web, told Forbes. “What we’re seeing is the actual disinfection pace when you don’t have antivirus.”
To remove the virus, Apple users are asked to run software updates. A Flashback removal tool can also be downloaded from Apple’s support site.
Apple users will have to be on their guard from now on. Gone are the days when they could sail the web without virus protection. A survey of security experts in 2008 predicted that Mac users will be more frequently targeted by malware when Apple’s share of the PC market reaches 16 percent and Windows anti-virus software becomes 80 percent effective. The anti-virus software company AV Comparatives currently pegs Apple at 12 percent of the PC market, while anti-virus software has reached 95 percent effectiveness.