Macintosh owners have long felt smug with the statement of "Macs don't get viruses." Actually, the statement was never true, as a few rare Mac viruses have floated around for years, but most Mac owners have never encountered one. Today, a newsletter reader sent me a message telling of a new catastrophic warning from a Russian antivirus firm, Dr Web, that claims a new trojan has infected 600,000 Macs and is spreading like wildfire.
In fact, the story is misleading. I question the number of 600,000.
NOTE: A trojan is technically different from a virus but both qualify as "malware" (malevolent software) and both are designed to cause havoc.
To be sure, there is a new trojan called Backdoor.Flashback.39 that does infect Macintosh computers that do not have the latest software updates from Apple. However, Apple released an update a few days ago to the Mac OS X operating system that neutralizes the trojan. If you have "automatic software updates" turned on in your Mac and you are connected to the Internet, you probably already have the fix installed. If not, click on the Apple logo in the top left corner of your screen and select "Software Update" from the pulldown menu. The latest fixes will be installed within minutes.
The fix from Apple both removes the trojan from already-infected Macs as well as prevents new infections.
Next, I am always suspicious of virus "alerts" from anti-virus producers that seemed written to scare people into buying the company's products. This "alert" certainly qualifies.
Next, this is not exactly a new problem. This trojan was first reported seven months ago and the original report noted it is actually a new variant of an old trojan first discovered in 2002. Details may be found at http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/tsunami-wave-of-mac-ddos-malware-spells-danger-43971. I have no idea why Dr Web waited until now to report the "problem."
Finally, one of Dr Web's bigger competitors, F-Secure, was unable to verify the claims of Dr Web. The CEO of F-Secure simply said that his company could not confirm or deny the Dr Web figure of 550,000 infected Macs. (Dr Web later claimed it was 600,000 and still increasing.) There is no doubt that the trojan is real but the claim of 600,000 infected Macs is doubtful.
The reality is that Macs can get viruses, trojans, and other malware and have occasionally done so for years. However, the rate of infection is tiny (despite Dr Web's claims) and most of these problems are easily fixed.
Regardless of your operating system, don't believe wild, breathless prose from any sort of "warning" you read. This includes virus warnings as well as any political claims circulating in email messages on the web. I daily receive email "warnings" of some looming catastrophe supposedly caused by political candidates. So far, all of these "warnings" have turned out to be bogus.
If you are a genealogist, you should already know that you always verify the facts. Even if there is some truth to a warning, please remember that some companies and even individuals profit from making mountains out of molehills.
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