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In a MacDefender world, practice constant vigilance

A week ago, I did my public service duties and linked the MacDefender protection and removal guide that Steve Sande wrote to my Facebook wall. Then I braced for the comments. Luckily, none of the taunts I expected about Macs now being subject to malware came to light. What I did get was general surprise that Mac users had to be aware of such a thing.

"I thought Macs couldn't get viruses and such," one commenter said.

Sadly, it's not the case any longer. As fast as we're educating people on how to fight MacDefender, and Apple is developing a patch to fight it, the malware is morphing and coming up with different methods of worming into your system -- including now being able to install sans password. It's a battle that Windows users have long grown tired of, but Mac users are still blinking their eyes and not quite believing that it's our turn.

Macworld published an excellent piece on what MacDefender really means to the Mac community. As Macworld says, even though this is the monster under the bed that Mac users have evaded until now, it doesn't mean a malware apocalypse is upon us.

The article goes into the real danger behind MacDefender and spotlights the fact that both Windows 7 and OS X are actually fairly safe systems. Only 4 out of every 1,000 32-bit PCs are infected with malware and 2.5 out of every 1,000 64-bit PCs, Macworld reports, citing an article from its sister publication, PCWorld. Considering that Windows is far more likely to be targeted than Macs, the infection rate has dropped significantly in the past decade. There are still far more Windows users than Mac users, and that's not going to change any time soon.

I'm surprised that something like MacDefender didn't make an appearance two or three years ago. Macs have always had the reputation of being the "safe" option in computing. After constantly having viruses and malware cripple my Windows machines at home and work, I gratefully made the change to OS X in 2004 and haven't looked back. But as more people abandon Windows for OS X or Linux, the criminals will follow.

I agree with the points the Macworld article makes. It's past time for all Mac users to pay attention to security, and we've pointed this out in the past. OS X is no longer the security blanket of the computing world. If a strange pop-up appears on your machine, no matter how safe you think OS X is, don't click on it. There will be a successor to MacDefender. That piece of malware will have its own successor. It's a battle that won't stop.

What can you do? In the words of "Mad-Eye" Moody, practice constant vigilance. Criminals aren't trying to attack your Mac; they're going after you. They're trying to make you panic and do something rash or lure you into thinking you're accessing a trusted site. Think twice before you click on a link. Don't automatically launch downloaded files. Don't walk away from your computer without securing it, especially if you're in a public location. Be careful who you give access to your machine, and be sure to log out of accounts, such as your email, Facebook or Twitter, before allowing anyone to use your computer.

I noticed my niece's Facebook account had been affected by malware not long ago, and I instant messaged her to let her know. "Yeah, my cousin was playing around with my account," she said, and in the process, said cousin accidentally infected my niece's Facebook. The last thing you want is to have a well-meaning friend or relative tell you that they noticed your computer had a virus and downloaded this free MacDefender software to help you out.

Keep yourself educated, and make sure to keep your family and friends in the loop as well -- especially if they're elderly or kids just starting out. And, above all, use common sense.

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