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12/30/2019
07:00 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb

Mac Malware Breaks Into Top 5 Threats of 2019 – Malwarebytes Labs

Of the top 25 detections across all platforms, six were Mac threats, the researchers discovered.

Malwarebytes Labs has been checking its year-end lists to see what's been naughty and nice and there were a few surprises in it. They foundwhat they called a “startling upward trend” in the detection of Mac threats.

For the first time ever, Mac malware broke into the top five most-detected threats in the world.

What ML did is to look at the top detections across all platforms: Windows PCs, Macs and Android. They found that, "Of the top 25 detections, six of them were Mac threats. Overall, Mac threats accounted for more than 16 percent of total detections."

This may not sound impressive. Indeed, it may seem to be in line with the lower number of Macs that are in use. However, ML says that its Mac user base is about one twelfth the size of their Windows user base; which means that the 16% figure becomes fairly significant when compared to the overall sample's size.

They go on to say that the most interesting statistic that emerged from their data was how many Mac detections they saw per machine in 2019. On Windows, they saw 4.2 detections per device over the year. The Mac users, on the other hand, saw a yearly rate of 9.8 detections per device -- more than double the amount of detections when compared to Windows users.

Refreshingly, ML considered whether or not there was an inherent bias in these numbers. They wondered if the Macs that were represented by the data could have been machines that already had some kind of suspected infection, which is why Malwarebytes was installed in the first place. They realize that Mac users tend not to think that antivirus software of any kind is needed for their machines.

This leads the researchers to believe that "the overall threat detection rate for all Macs (and not just those with Malwarebytes installed) is likely not as high as this data sample."

But the detection ranked as the second-highest of 2019 is a Mac adware family known as NewTab. ML found it at around 4% of the overall detections across all platforms. NewTab is adware that uses browser extensions as a tool to modify the content of web pages. NewTab has been found to pose as an app, such as a flight tracker, maps/navigation, email access or tax form.

At 3% of the total detections there is fifth-placed PUP.PCVARK. These are a variety of potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), most of them clones of Advanced MacKeeper.

Standard "full-scope" malware does exist for the Mac but it tends to be more targeted or otherwise limited in effect. This year, both the Mokes and Wirenet malware targeted Mac users through a Firefox vulnerability. But it was only users at certain cryptocurrency companies that were targeted.

The upshot of this research is that Mac users should not be lulled into a false sense of invincibility against malware.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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