In 2018, Macs accounted for 10% of all active personal computers. Since then, popularity has skyrocketed. In the first quarter of 2021, Macs experienced 115% growth when compared to Q1 2020, putting Apple in fourth place in the global PC market share. It is safe to say that Macs are well-loved and trusted devices by a significant portion of the population — but just how safe are they from a security perspective?
Many users have historically believed that Macs are untouchable by hackers, giving Apple devices a reputation for being more “secure” than other PCs. However, recent attacks show that this is not the case. According to TechCrunch, a new malware called XCSSET was recently found exploiting a vulnerability that allowed it to access parts of macOS, including the microphone, webcam, and screen recorder — all without consent from the user.
Let’s dive deeper into how XCSSET works.
Manipulating Macs with Zero-Day Exploits
Researchers first discovered XCSSET in 2020. The malware targeted Apple developers and the projects they use to build and code apps. By targeting app development projects, hackers infiltrated apps early in their production, causing developers to unknowingly distribute the malware to their users.
Once the malware is running on a user’s device, it uses multiple zero-day attacks to alter the machine and spy on the user. These attacks allow the hacker to:
- Steal cookies from the Safari browser to gain access to a user’s online accounts.
- Quietly install a development version of Safari that allows attackers to modify and snoop on virtually any website.
- Secretly take screenshots of the victim’s device.
XCSSET’s Significance for macOS Users
While macOS is supposed to ask users for permission before allowing any app to record the screen, access the microphone or webcam, or open the user’s storage, XCSSET can bypass all of these permissions. This allows the malware to sneak in under the radar and inject malicious code into legitimate apps that commonly ask for screen-sharing permissions such as Zoom, WhatsApp, and Slack. By disguising itself among these legitimate apps, XCSSET inherits their permissions across the computer and avoids getting flagged by macOS’s built-in security defenses. As a result, the bug could allow hackers to access the victim’s microphone, webcam, or capture their keystrokes for login credentials or credit card information.
How to Stay Protected Against macOS Malware
It is unclear how many devices were affected by XCSSET. Regardless, it is crucial for consumers to understand that Mac’s historical security reputation does not replace the need for users to take online safety precautions. The following tips can help macOS users protect themselves from malware:
1. Update your software.
Software developers are continuously working to identify and address security issues. Frequently updating your devices’ operating systems, browsers, and apps is the easiest way to have the latest fixes and security protections. For example, Apple confirmed that it addressed the bug exploited by XCSSET in macOS 11.4, which was made available on May 24th, 2021.
2. Avoid suspicious emails or text messages from unknown senders.
Hackers often use phishing emails or text messages as a means to distribute malware by disguising their malicious code in links and attachments. Do not open suspicious or irrelevant messages, as this can result in malware infection. If the message claims to be from a business or someone you know, reach out to the source directly instead of responding to the message. This will allow you to confirm the sender’s legitimacy.
3. Use a comprehensive security solution.
Use a solution like McAfee Total Protection, which can help protect devices against malware, phishing attacks, and other threats. It also includes McAfee WebAdvisor — a tool to help identify malicious websites.
Regardless of whether you are Team PC or Team Mac, it is important to realize that both platforms are susceptible to cyberthreats that are constantly changing. Doing your research on prevalent threats and software bugs puts you in a better position to protect your online safety.
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