Thursday, April 12, 2012

What’s the Latest on the Flashback Malware Outbreak?

Warning Apple LogoIt’s likely that you’ve heard about how the Flashback malware shattered the façade of superior security in Apple products by infecting upwards of 600,000 Mac systems, majority of which reside in the United States.

Since then, security researchers have been monitoring the size of the Flashback botnet, antivirus vendors have released free tools to help Apple users detect and remove the Flashback malware from their computers and naturally the banter between pro-Windows and pro-Mac users has increased.

However, amidst the scrambling of Mac users to determine whether or not their system had been infected and taking the proper steps to makes sure their malware-free Apple products remained just that, there is a bit of good – and interesting – news.

Researchers Report the Flashback Botnet Size Has Decreased

Dr. Web first reported that the Flashback botnet was 550,000 Macs strong on April 4th and Kaspersky Lab confirmed that the botnet had grown to a whopping 650,000+ Macs two days later.

But then... the weekend came and the Flashback botnet lost it's mojo.

Kaspersky Lab reported that the number of infected Macs was cut in half, dropping down to 237,000.  Researchers believe that the “sinkholing” operations carried out by numerous security firms contributed to the decline of the botnet’s size by interrupting the communications between the zombie Macs and the malware’s command & control servers. Good job!

Security Vendors say Mac Antivirus Sales Have Increased

Aside from the botnet shrinking, it appears that Mac users took a big interest in antivirus software.

Peter James, a spokesperson for Intego, a French security company that specializes in Mac antivirus software, told Computer World that the company witnessed a substantial increase in both sales and downloads of their Mac antivirus software since the Flashback malware made headlines.

Graham Cluley of Sophos Security also stated that they’d seen an increase in Mac antivirus software downloads. Sophos offers a free antivirus solution, Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition to help Apple users protect their systems.

Not too much of a surprise considering the circumstances, but interesting nonetheless considering Macs have always been marketed as malware free products that don't require the installation of an antivirus (/anti-malware) scanner.

Apple is Preparing a Removal Tool

One of the most surprising things about the Flashback outbreak – aside from the number of compromised computers – is the fact that Apple actually spoke out about a security issue before releasing a patch for it.

In the past, Apple has kept a tight-lip on any system vulnerabilities until it’s been investigated and a patch is readily available. Apple claims to do this to help ensure the protection of their users and associated systems, but as the Flashback Trojan has shown, not informing users of potential threats can do more harm than good.

Either way, Apple is currently developing an update that will detect and remove the Flashback Trojan from infected systems. Although the solution will come long after security companies have released their own free tools, it will still be useful since there’s likely to be users out there that haven’t been following the news and probably have no idea that their systems have been hit.

Update 4/13/12: Apple Releases its Flashback Removal Tool to Mac Users

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