One of the selling points of Apple’s computers used to be that they weren’t vulnerable to the same viruses that plagued Windows users. But security researchers now say they have discovered what is believed to be the first ransomware attack targeting Mac users.
According to experts with Palo Alto Networks, the ransomware found in version 2.90 of the BitTorrent app called “Transmission.”
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts files on a user’s computer and asks for money in exchange for unlocking the data.
The malicious software – dubbed “KeRanger” – waits three days before encrypting data on the infected Mac and then asks for one bitcoin (about CAD$548) in ransom, according to researchers.
While other malware programs designed to affect Mac computers have been previously discovered, this is believed to be the first ever ransomware attack to successfully target Mac users in the general public.
“The only previous ransomware for OS X we are aware of is FileCoder, discovered by Kaspersky Lab in 2014. As FileCoder was incomplete at the time of its discovery, we believe KeRanger is the first fully functional ransomware seen on the OS X platform,” read Palo Alto Networks’ statement on the discovery.
Soon after Palo Alto Networks published its findings, Transmission released a new version of its software that is said to remove the malicious software from the user’s computer.
“Everyone running 2.90 on OS X should immediately upgrade to and run 2.92, as they may have downloaded a malware-infected file,” read a statement posted to the company’s website.
“This new version will make sure that the “OSX.KeRanger.A” ransomware is correctly removed from your computer.”
While this particular ransomware was found in software that might not be used by the average Mac user, it’s unwelcome news to those who thought Mac’s were safe from viruses.
Ransomware and malware have plagued Windows users for years. In 2014, over 5,000 Canadians fell victim to a ransomware known as Cryptolocker. According to the RCMP, hackers implanted the virus on computers around the world, allowing them to seize customer bank information and steal more than $100 million from businesses and consumers.
Tips to keep your Mac safe from viruses
Just like Windows users, Mac users can do many things to protect their computers from viruses.
The first thing Apple will suggest is making sure you always download and install the latest security patches available for your current operating system. Apple updates these patches often to protect against security vulnerabilities.
Your Mac computer also comes with something called “Gatekeeper” – a program designed to detect malicious software before it’s installed on your computer.
“When you download software from any other place on the Internet, Gatekeeper makes that safer, too. Developers can get a unique Developer ID from Apple and use it to digitally sign their apps. The Developer ID allows Gatekeeper to block apps created by malware developers and to verify that apps haven’t been tampered with,” reads Apple’s website.
“If an app was developed by an unknown developer — one with no Developer ID — Gatekeeper can keep your Mac safe by blocking the app from being installed.”
You can also set Gatekeeper to only download and install apps from the Mac App Store, where Apple reviews each app before it’s accepted by the store.
If you want to take security one step further, you can download an anti-virus program for your computer (no, anti-virus programs aren’t just for Windows users). These programs are available from security companies like Sophos and Norton.