Safe and Sound

Safe and Sound
Mac Tip #152/02-June-2004

We have long known that the computers of our friends and colleagues who use the Windows operating system are plagued with viruses and worms, spyware and malware and all kinds of nasty things which make those computers much more of a headache than they are worth.

The most recent Macintosh-specific virus or worm was so long ago few can actually remember when it appeared. A search on TidBITS suggests it was in May 1998 with Autostart-9805.

This excludes the Microsoft Word and Excel viruses which aren’t specific to Macs and can be carried from Windows to Mac and back again by exchanging documents with other users. That’s why you use anti-virus software.

Recently however the Mac world has had a bit of a shake-up in the security department. Several people have come up with “proof-of-concept” trojans which could harm the Mac if they were actually created and released. Since “trojans” aren’t “viruses” your anti-virus software won’t necessarily help you. [I'll explain the difference in another Tip.]

In addition, the Mac Operating System itself has some handy features which could be used by malicious parties to erase all your data.

During June and July I’ll be sharing several Tips to explain and help with this murky area of security.

Today’s Tip is a simple four-parter.

  1. Go to System Preferences and click on Software Update. Check to see if any updates are available. Look in particular for any Security Updates and install those even if you don’t want for some reason to install any other updates.
  2. Don’t open email attachments or download files from the Internet unless you are very very certain about who sent them (or made them available).
  3. Make sure you have good, functional backups of your data.
  4. Read the next few Tips which will appear over the next month.

Matt Neuburg has detailed the current security concerns in an excellent TidBITS article, and Derek Miller has written a plain English article with useful information at his site.

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