Security

The major cyberthreats that macOS users should be worried about

You have a Mac so you're impervious to malware, ransomware, and nefarious hacks, right? Wrong! Addigy CEO Jason Dettbarn explains how and why macOS is vulnerable to cyberattacks.

You are a Mac user. So, that means you are safe and secure from viruses, malware, and ransomware that plagues Windows-based desktops, right? Wrong. TechRepublic met with Addigy CEO Jason Dettbarn to discuss the major current threats to the macOS environment. Below is a transcript of the interview.

Dettbarn: Yeah, Meltdown and Spectre, definitely one of them. We had an interesting scare come early December, when we had the root password vulnerability come about too. That was quickly patched but even the Meltdown and Spectre fixes are considered to be partial, not fully complete. The weird thing about the latest release that they put out, the first secure update of the year, it had, I believe, eight kernel patches, and that's spread across three different operating systems. It's been still creating some havoc. Probably about 15% failure rates on the updates.

Patterson: Can you explain a little bit about the threat that Spectre and Meltdown represent to Mac users?

Dettbarn: Yeah. One interesting part about how everything's evolved in the last few months is we've moved to a brand new operating system. And that operating system was built on a file system that was really built for pre-Intel, the arm-based chips that they were using.

So, when they moved to Intel-based chips, APFS, the new file system gave us some advantages. We were swapping data records every time they came over to the CPU. We got speed-up there. We got a speed-up on SSDs and now the Meltdown-Spectre issue creates an issue where Intel ... Obviously, every Intel chip out there is ... we're able to read the memory before an execution period. It basically does some speculative executions of stuff, branched prediction it does, and is able to execute things ahead of time because it's already in the pipeline and they grab that and start using that.

Patterson: So, if I run in the Mac environment or my business is based in the Mac environment, how can I, in the Windows environment, run a virus scan? I can put up a firewall, and have some assurance that I've done my basic due diligence to protect my system. How can I do the same thing for a Mac environment?

Dettbarn: Yeah, right now, the only thing that we're able to do is apply that security update that came out a little over a week and a half ago. That is the first security update of the year from Apple. It was a huge bundle of security, CVE vulnerabilities, and that's the only thing you can do right now to start guarding yourself against it. Most of the execution that we see has to be done upon a restart for truly taking over main operations. Be cognizant of restarts that didn't happen at your control.

SEE: Cybersecurity in 2018: A roundup of predictions (Tech Pro Research)

Patterson: What are some of the best practices for maintaining a clean Mac environment?

Dettbarn: Yeah, I mean, the patching is the first one and Windows users are notoriously bad about this. The time to average patches is pretty bad. Mac users—at an organizational level, it's even worse. So, individual users might be a little bit better about applying patches. But organizations, you don't know if people just haven't done it in a long time, especially older operating systems.

Apple was lucky to apply the security update across El Capitan, Sierra, and High Sierra. But that's where we feel like it was a huge security update that was a lot to absorb. They don't really patch El Capitan much anymore. It's all Sierra and High Sierra, and that's why we've been seeing a lot of problems with this. We have to wait this particular security update because it's been causing a lot of problems across the board. So, the question is: do you want to stay current on that security or compromise stability to get there?

Patterson: Looking in the next, say, 18 to 36 months, what threats can Mac users anticipate?

Dettbarn: I think we all expect it's going to grow. This is not a provocative statement. The Mac in the enterprise is growing at a very fast rate. Apple was lucky to push out 25% growth of the Mac sales for the last year, and we see this growing in leaps and bounds. A lot of the users that are using the Macs are creatives, areas that hold intellectual property, and business owners. So, that C-suite and the level of information on these machines is of high value. So, maybe they're less of the population but people are really starting to target the Macs quite a bit.

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Image: CNET

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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