Mac users installed the update, which didn’t even require a reboot, then breathed a collective sign of relief, and went about their business, thinking their machines about as secure as prior to the outbreak.
That peace of mind lasted, potentially, about eight hours, as malware developers released a new version designed to side-step Apple’s updated malware definitions. Under normal conditions, MacDefender was back in business, installing itself unnoticed and going about its business.
Fortunately for Mac users, Apple seemingly predicted this kind of a shell game in designing the security update (and why not, since this kind of game has been the norm in PC malware design and prevention for years). Then it redesigned its anti-malware system to check for new signatures on startup or every 24 hours. By Thursday morning, Apple had returned the malware creator’s volley, detecting the new version of MacDefender and eliminating it. Mac users now wait for the bad guys to respond. Wash, rinse, repeat. Ad infinitum.
Here’s one quibble with how Apple deals with malware detection. Upon detection of MacDefender or any other known bit of malware, OS X pops up a box, telling users the file they’ve just downloaded “will damage your computer. You should move it to the Trash.” It then provides details of when and where the file was downloaded, and with what it is infected. Users then have the option to move the file to the trash (the default selected option), cancel, or open. Wait…what? Open?
Coming from a company that, if given a choice, will opt for a unified user experience at the expense of user options every time, it seems odd that OS X will perfectly happily allow you the chance to infect yourself knowingly if you so choose. If there’s any time for a platform to get tyrannical with its users, this is it. Especially for a community that is largely unaccustomed to the day-to-day issues of dealing with malware, “The file you have downloaded contains malware. It has been deleted,” would have been an appropriate and welcome response here.
For now, though, the Mac world awaits MacDefender’s next move. Will new versions continue to pop up daily, prompting daily updates of Apple’s detection signatures? Will its developers get tired of the grind and move on to the next target? Will the high profile of MacDefender signal a new opportunity for other hackers and cyber-criminals to go after?
Nobody knows for sure at this point. What we do know is that Mac users are now in on the security arms race that has dominated the Windows lifestyle for years, and there’s no going back.
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