Across the internet this week, reports were widespread on the rise of malware for Mac OS. As a matter of fact, in Malwarebytes’ latest State of Malware report, the company states that Mac OS malware is outpacing PC malware for the first time ever. In terms of sheer numbers, Malwarebytes reports a staggering 400% increase in threats to devices running Mac OS from 2018 to 2019. Additionally, the report says they found on average 11 threats per Mac OS device versus just 5.8 on Windows PCs.
For those of us who were in the computer market back in the old Mac vs. Windows days, this may come as a bit of a shock. I know it did to me. Those advertisements and all the marketing we’ve ingested lead us to believe that Macs are generally safe and immune to malware. After all, the massive install base of Windows across the globe makes it a massive target for hackers and it’s always made perfect sense that it would be the clear recipient of most malware.
And maybe that is the exact mentality that hackers are preying on. Talking to Recode, Thomas Reed – Malwarebytes Director of Mac and Mobile – had this to say:
People need to understand that they’re not safe just because they’re using a Mac. There is a rising tide of Mac threats hitting a population that still believes that ‘Macs don’t get viruses.’ I still frequently encounter people who firmly believe this, and who believe that using any kind of security software is not necessary, or even harmful. This makes macOS a fertile ground for the influx of new threats, whereas it’s common knowledge that Windows PCs need security software.
To keep some perspective, here, some of these numbers seem to be a tad inflated due to the fact that more users are installing Malwarebytes software on their devices, increasing the overall threat reports. Looking at the per-device threats, in 2018 there were 4.8 threats per Mac OS device, so the jump to 11 year-over-year isn’t great, but it also isn’t a 400% increase either. The takeaway here is that malware and adware is now being aimed in a much more direct way at Apple’s desktop products and users need to accept this fact and take action against it with software like Malwarebytes or something similar.
The report also highlighted Windows and Android as fertile ground for malware and I’d assume this surprises few who are reading this. The biggest difference is the fact that people are less likely to be in denial that their Android phone or Windows PC might need some extra defense against this sort of attack and are more likely to employ additional assistance in getting it secured.
Chrome OS is still just fine
For Chrome OS, however, malware and adware frankly still aren’t a concern. With Chrome OS, you get multiple stages of protection against threats and, in the event that something does go awry, the Secure Boot feature ultimately keeps you safe and secure. For now, Chrome OS is still an operating system that you can use and basically forget about malware. Yes, there are rogue extensions, but their reach is limited and they can easily be removed by the same user that chose to add them. Malware in the sense that we all know and hate on Windows simply doesn’t exist with Chrome OS with the way everything is sandboxed across the system.
That isn’t to say there won’t be problems in the future, but Google built Chrome OS from the ground up to be safe, secure, and fast. Some of the inherent restrictions of Chromebooks make them safer by default, and until the overall user base gets much, much larger, there’s little reason for any hacker to take the necessary time to formulate a way to penetrate the excellent defenses on offer.
Below, we’ve included the outline provided by Google of defense mechanisms in place on every single Chromebook in the market. This is not a single-method form of protection, but a layered one that, at least up to this point, has proven very effective at keeping malware away from Chromebooks.
The most effective way to protect against malware is to ensure all software is up-to-date and has the latest security fixes. This can be difficult to manage on traditional operating systems with many software components from many vendors all with different update mechanisms and user interfaces. Chromebooks manage updates automatically so Chromebooks are always running the latest and most secure version.
On a Chromebook, each web page and application runs in a restricted environment called a “sandbox.” If the Chromebook is directed to an infected page, it can’t affect the other tabs or apps on the computer, or anything else on the machine. The threat is contained.
Even if malware manages to escape the sandbox, the Chromebook is still protected. Every time the Chromebook starts up, it does a self-check called “Verified Boot.” If it detects that the system has been tampered with or corrupted in any way, typically it will repair itself without any effort, taking the Chromebook back to an operating system that’s as good as new.
When using web apps on a Chromebook, all important data is stored safely in the cloud. Certain kinds of files, like downloads, cookies, and browser cache files, may still be present on the computer. The Chromebook encrypts this data using tamper-resistant hardware, making it very difficult for anyone to access those files.
If anything goes wrong with a Chromebook, you can simply push a button or use a quick keyboard combination to enter recovery mode and restore the operating system to a known good version.
As you can see, your Chromebook comes with an impressive system to keep you safe and secure, but I’d still recommend caution when installing Android apps or Chrome extensions. Know where your apps are coming from, know who your extensions are coming from, and make wise choices when deciding what to install. You may slip up, but that is the beauty of a cloud-based operating system. You can wipe the machine clean and get back to work in just minutes even if the worst does ever happen.