What puts you at the greatest risk of being hacked? Is it your operating system, the websites you visit, the up-to-datedness of your anti-virus software?
Sure, all of those things matter - and they matter a lot - but what it really boils down to is this: how complacent are you about cybersecurity?
One of the biggest complacency risks out there is what I like to call the "Apple syndrome" - as in, "I'm not at risk of malware because I use a Mac."
The myth of Apple's invulnerability to computer viruses and hackers has been a dominant theme among its customers for more than a decade. Apple even touted its reduced risk of malware infections several times in the 2006 - 2009 "Get a Mac" advertising campaign, such as the biohazard suit and virus commercials.
But is this true?
While historically speaking there have been more PC viruses than Mac viruses, that doesn't mean that Apple's products are "immune" to these types of threats. In fact, security researchers released a report last year which found that 2015 had five times more OS X-specific malware than in the previous five years combined. Another report found a 3,600% increase in OS X malware from 2010 to 2014.
Recently, we've also seen several telling incidents which highlight the growing risk facing Apple users. For instance, the first Mac-targeting "ransomware" hit the Internet in March 2016. Known as "KeRanger," this ransomware was spread through a popular file-sharing tool before Apple rushed a patch to its users. The 2015 breach of Hacking Team leaked an OS X "dropper" (i.e., a type of Trojan used to install other malware in a computer) to the dark web, which is now being repurposed by cyber criminal groups. And, of course, who can forget the FBI's hack of the iPhone 5C in the San Bernardino shooting investigation?
Apple users need to overhaul their belief system when it comes to hacking. While a higher percentage of malware will always target the dominant operating system (i.e., Windows and Android), Apple users are not immune - and they will likely face a growing number of threats in the next few years.
Here are five specific risks that Apple users need to watch out for:
Web Browser Attacks
A number of attacks like "cross-site scripting" (XSS) and "man-in-the-browser" (MiTB) are capable of targeting any user, regardless of the operating system they use. These attacks are becoming more prevalent lately as well, as cybercriminals use them to steal login credentials to online banking and other accounts.
These two web-based attacks exploit weaknesses in legitimate websites and internet browsers, and will completely bypass the security of OS X. They are difficult to spot, so victims won't realize they've been compromised until it's too late.
XSS and MiTB are just two examples of how universal threats can affect iMac/Macbook users. Other universal threats, like phishing emails with malicious hyperlinks and third-party software exploits (like Adobe or Java), are also issues which will regularly confront Apple users.
Security Tip: To reduce the risk of XSS and MiTB, make sure the web browser is up to date, consider using script-blocking plugins and use a password manager to safely store your login credentials.
Macs have long been targeted by "crapware," "adware" and "bloatware" - and this will continue for the foreseeable future.
This type of malicious - or sometimes just annoying - software is installed when the user runs into popup ads online or tries to download a program that is pretending to be legitimate, or maybe is legitimate but it allows other software to be bundled into it. The software is able to bypass Mac's Gatekeeper security tool by using fake certificates.
A few examples of this are (arguably) MacKeeper, online offers for VLC, and last year's discovered Adware.Mac.InstallCore.1.
Security Tip: Mac users should avoid clicking on popup ads (even to exit the screen) or downloading programs from the Internet. Stick with the official App Store when installing new software.
Last year, the "XcodeGhost" malicious framework compromised 39 legitimate iOS apps, putting millions of users at risk of information theft.
Malicious apps pose a risk for any mobile operating system, iOS included. They include fake apps, created for the sole purpose of stealing user information or infecting the device with malware; or they can be legitimate apps that are in some way compromised by the hacker, such as by hijacking a back-end server to the application, infecting the third-party advertising network that runs inside of it or, as in the case of XcodeGhost, by compromising the app development tool used to make the app in the first place.
Hackers have proven they're able to slip malicious apps past Apple's review process, as in the case of AceDeceiver earlier this year, or Wirelurker and YiSpecter. Back in 2011, security researcher Charlie Miller demonstrated he could sneak a fully malicious app into the App Store.
Security Tip: Don't assume your iPhone is 100% safe. If you use your phone for sensitive tasks, like mobile banking, limit how many apps you download and try to stick with well known, trusted apps.
"Botnet" malware is a persistent threat for every type of connected device, whether it's a desktop, mobile phone or 'smart' appliance. Apple has been targeted by botnet malware multiple times, as in the 2014 "iWorm" and the "Flashback" Trojan in 2011.
This type of malware establishes a backdoor connection in the computer's operating system, which allows a hacker to steal information or issue remote commands to it. The malware can also be used to smuggle in other types of malware into the already infected computer.
Security Tip: Botnet malware is typically spread via phishing emails and drive-by downloads from infected websites. Make sure OS X is up to date, and install one of the many anti-virus programs available for Mac users, such as Sophos, Malwarebytes, etc.
One of the most pernicious threats on the web today is "ransomware."
For those who've been living on another planet the last year, ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your files (Word, Excel, PDFs, photos, music, etc.) or disables the computer's boot-up process, in order to deny you access to your own stuff. In many cases, the only way to regain access is to pay a ransom to the criminals.
Ransomware is a huge problem right now, and will probably get worse. According to McAfee, the number of ransomware samples detected in the wild jumped 270% between 2013 - 2015.
As previously noted, the KeRanger ransomware appeared on the Internet earlier this year. Although Apple has subsequently updated OS X to block it, consumers need to be on the lookout. Because KeRanger is just the first of many future types of ransomware that will target them.
Security Tip: Follow the botnet tips above, but also make sure to back-up all important data regularly. This is the best defense against ransomware, as you can then overwrite the hard drive, reload from the data backup and be back to work on the same day.