Northwestern’s Apple Store aware of new Mac virus

Cat Zakrzewski

Although Macs are regularly advertised as safe from viruses that commonly plague PC users, employees of Northwestern’s Apple store are keeping an eye out for a virus that recently affected about half a million Mac users.

According to a Russian anti-virus vendor, Doctor Web, over 550,000 machines were infected by a variant of the Flashback Trojan virus, particularly in the United States and Canada. Technology magazine Macworld reported April 6 that Flashback first appeared in 2011, disguising itself as an installer for Adobe Flash. The new version of the virus infecting Macs is a “drive-by download.” It installs itself using a Java vulnerability without the user clicking anything.

So far, the virus seems to have little effect on campus. Dan Wilcox, who works in technical support at the Apple store in Norris University Center Bookstore, said he has not seen any students come in with the virus affecting their computers. He has worked every day since news of the virus made headlines.

“I was really surprised,” Wilcox said. “When I read about the virus, I expected a lot of students to come in with it, but so far no one has.”

At least one professor warned her students about the virus. Medill freshman Marianna Cooper said Prof. Cassandra West emailed the students in her class an article about the virus.

“I’m usually careful to watch out for pop-up ads that look suspicious, but apparently it’s difficult to tell that this is a virus,” Cooper said. “It’s stressful to think it could infect my computer.”

Students can easily protect themselves from the virus, Wilcox said.

“Run updates,” he said. “There has already been an update that will prevent or repair any problems.”

Apple released the software update on April 3. It is available through Apple’s website.

An article in Macworld said the update will repair the vulnerabilites in Java that the Trojan was infiltrating and other Java-related security holes.

Wilcox said installing the update could be a quick fix to many computer problems students experience.

“When someone comes in with a problem, the first thing we do is update the software,” Wilcox said. “Often, problems that seem like hardware-related problems are actually related to software updates, including firmwire updates.”

The Apple store is not expecting a change in sales due to the virus.

“Really, viruses affect Macs maybe once a year, and Apple always releases a software update quickly to fix it,” Wilcox said. “Comparatively, it’s a non-issue.”

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