Recently, our own Harry McCracken revealed that even he’d been hit by the Mac malware known as Mac Defender (also known as Mac Protector). Here’s how to remove it from, or avoid getting it on, your Mac.
First of all, let’s clear up some definitions. “Malware” means “stuff that’s bad for your computer”, and this most certainly qualifies as that.
But “malware” can take many forms. A lot of people, including some mainstream media journalists, use the word “virus” to mean “malware,” but technically speaking they’re not the same thing.
A virus is a form of malware, which spreads from one computer to another with the unwitting help of a human assistant. It attaches itself to other files and waits for a chance to copy itself and attach to more. So it spreads from file to file, from machine to machine. Mac Defender is not one of these.
A worm is a variation on this theme, something that can copy itself and spread even without human help. Mac Defender isn’t one of these either.
A Trojan horse is malware that pretends to be something else, and tricks you into installing it on your computer. Bingo – that’s what Mac Defender is.
It hides on the web, waiting for the unwary to click a link that takes their browser to the right page. That page includes the malware download, and that’s where we meet another problem: by default, Apple’s Safari web browser automatically downloads what it finds there and opens it right up.
Yikes. So what can you do about it?