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How do I protect my Apple Mac or iOS devices?

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Apple Mac iOS iPad iPhone devices

Apple had a very successful year in 2011 selling lots of hardware to customers around the world with the result being it may overtake HP in 2012 as the leading global personal computer vendor.

As Apple’s market share has increased to 15%, NetSafe is now taking more calls from iPad, iPhone and Mac owners keen for advice on internet safety and security:

Apple security is a hot topic

At NetSafe we’re well aware of the long debate about the benefits of Macs vs PCs – even Google Chairman Eric Schmidt suggested PC owners should swap to Macs to be more secure. We have however put together some advice below for Apple owners based on a  consensus of expert opinion.

As Mac ownership levels rise – with hardware running on both OSX and iOS platforms – we are taking the cautious view that the technology landscape may well be changing.

Whereas the previously small proportion of Mac owners used to be ignored by cyber criminals and malware writers it’s evident that more shiny iDevices equals a new opportunity for gain.

A recent report by security vendor McAfee stated “in this age of cybercrime, data theft and identity theft users of all operating systems and devices must take precautions”.

Graham Cluley of Sophos told the Guardian newspaper that the “Mac malware threat is still a raindrop in a thunderstorm compared to the problem of Windows viruses, Trojans and worms. But it does exist”.

With this in mind here are some tips for Apple owners – we welcome comments below.

Apple Mac OSX

A new Mac running the Snow Leopard (10.6) or Lion (10.7) operating system features some in-built Linux security including a firewall and user access controls associated with the system accounts.

  • Make sure that once you have configured the initial system administrator account you set up an additional user or two for everyday use that doesn’t have the ability to perform admin functions like installing software or updating settings.
  • Check the default operating system for updates as Apple is known to rapidly deploy updates that focus on security vulnerabilities. You can configure Software Update to check for updates automatically.
  • A small amount of Mac malware does exist but is routinely patched by Apple. The most common form is a Trojan horse that can be delivered from a rogue website often relying on social engineering to take effect – the most common forms are a supposed video codec required to watch streaming video or pirated material so be aware of online tricks.
  • Another example is the MacDefender malware that posed as fake anti-virus software connected with a phishing scam – again keep your operating system updated as Apple released a free update to tackle this problem.
  • If you routinely swap files with PC users we would encourage you to install genuine anti-virus software that can inspect and deal with Windows viruses – even if currently there is not the volume of malware targeting Mac machines you can act as a carrier and pass on infections through email or USB drives to PC users.
    Read Apple’s advice on handling email attachments and internet downloads.
  • Consider which browser you use when surfing – Safari does not have as high a reputation as other browsers available.

Get more detailed advice from Macworld magazine. ClamXav is the most popular free virus scanner for OSX but you may find other software available from the major security companies.

Mac owners can now also use the iCloud service and Find My iPhone app to locate or remotely lock or erase a lost Mac computer.

iOS devices: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch

iPad and iPhone owners have a limited set of options when it comes to increasing their security beyond the essential duty to update the operating system when Apple pushes out iOS updates.

Simply charging via a laptop or syncing the device with iTunes should remind you of the need to download and install new software – Apple has to date not allowed proper anti-virus software into the App Store.

  • Hacking or jailbreaking an iPhone may leave you exposed to malware like the early iPhone worm. This was a popular way to customise the early iPhones and explore capabilities not part of Apple’s iOS operating system but undoubtedly invalidates your warranty.
  • As these devices are small enough to carry and leave behind, make sure you read our advice on securing mobile equipment should you lose the hardware.
  • Apple provided the Mobile Me and Find My iPhone services which are now part of the iCloud system – learn how the Find My iPhone app can help you to locate, remotely lock or erase a lost iOS device.
  • Keep aware of the privacy implications that may stem from your GPS enabled device.
  • Read user reviews of any apps you download as even Apple’s attempts to fully police App Store software has seen rogue apps available for download.
  • Lastly, the default browser Safari has been used in the past to trigger malware infected files so you could consider using an alternative browser like Trend Micro’s Smart Surfing app which filters the websites you visit.

What other apps or techniques do you use to keep your iOS device safe and secure?

Image: fredrika used under Creative Commons licence

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