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Why New Mac Malware Raises Concerns 2021

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Key Takeaways

Users should install antivirus software to combat a new kind of malware that's spreading among Macs. The malware, termed Silver Sparrow, has been found on almost 30,000 Macs worldwide. Experts don't know what exactly Silver Sparrow will do, but the malware has the potential to harm. krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images

A new type of malware spreading rapidly on Macs is raising concerns among security experts, who warn that users should update their antivirus software. 

The malware, termed Silver Sparrow, has been found on almost 30,000 Macs worldwide. Security researcher Red Canary has published information on the malware that's spread across more than 150 countries. But experts still don't know what exactly Silver Sparrow will do. 

"So far, no malicious payloads have been detected," Chris Hauk, consumer privacy expert at cybersecurity firm Pixel Privacy, said in an email interview.

"However, the fact that the malware has already infected more than 30,000 Macs around the globe, and that it is able to run natively on M1 Macs, does indicate a new type of malware threats may soon begin to rollout to Macs, both Intel, and M1-based."

Not Your Average Malware

The new macOS malware affects both Intel and Apple silicon processors, according to the report. Security researchers said in the report that the sheer scale of the malware is enough to pose a "reasonably serious threat," although it "did not exhibit the behaviors that we've come to expect from the usual adware that so often targets macOS systems." 

In response to the report on the malware, Apple revoked the developer certificates that lets the virus spread. But experts say, even though little is known about the malware, it's a good idea to be cautious. 

"Users should install or update their antivirus software," Jeff Horne, the chief security officer at cybersecurity firm Ordr, said in an email interview.

"There is an incorrect assumption that Macs are not susceptible to malware—this is simply not true and I would recommend using an updated antivirus from a reputable anti-virus vendor on your Mac."

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While the malware doesn't appear to do any harm at the moment, that's no guarantee for the future. "Of course the malware operators could send any number of malicious commands to devices infected with Silver Sparrow," Horne said. 

There's Still Time to Protect Your Mac

The good news for users is that the malware wasn't used to do anything to infected computer before it was discovered, Ray Walsh, a data privacy expert at privacy website ProPrivacy, said in an email interview.

"This should mean that consumers can use antivirus programs to remove the threat now that it has been identified," he added. 

Now for the bad news. The researchers who discovered Silver Sparrow aren't sure how it made its way onto infected devices, so "it is impossible to state with confidence how consumers might have avoided becoming infected," Walsh pointed out. 

The best way to protect yourself from malware like Silver Sparrow is to follow the best practices of cybersecurity, Andreas Grant, a network security engineer and the founder of Networks Hardware, said in an email interview.

These tips include not clicking on any strange links, not downloading things from untrusted sites, and keeping your devices updated.

“There is an incorrect assumption that Macs are not susceptible to malware.”

Hauk recommended that users install Malwarebytes software and do an immediate scan. Since Malwarebytes worked with Red Canary on detection data for its analysis, the company's malware scanning software should detect if a Mac has been infected, he said.

Make sure to keep Malwarebytes' malware definitions updated on a regular basis, and schedule the detector to run at least once per day.

There is no definitive way of removing the malware yet, Grant said. "I recommend anyone that thinks they have it to keep their devices updated," he added. "Because a lot of work is being done right now on eliminating the malware. This will be released in coming updates."

Stay tuned for news about Silver Sparrow, Grant said. Researchers still don't understand what the malware can accomplish.

"It does not exhibit the normal behaviors that most other malware does, like stealing data or pushing ads," he added. "Nevertheless, it could do a lot of harm."