“I always feel like somebody’s watching me.” Those might be the lyrics to a hit 1980’s pop song, but if you own a Mac, they might hit just a little closer to home than you would like. If your specific type of virus infects your computer, there’s a chance that someone could be watching you through your webcam, in addition to controlling other functions on the machine.
The idea that someone might be watching you through your computer probably feels like something out of a spy thriller, or maybe a conspiracy theory spouted by your tin-foil hat wearing cousin on Facebook. After all, the only way that someone could access the feed from your webcam is if you actually turn it on — and even then, you know it’s running because the green indicator light is illuminated.
But that’s not true. While you might believe that your Mac is immune to viruses, it is possible for it to become infected with a Remote Access Trojan, or RAT, that puts every aspect of your privacy at risk.
Losing Control of Your Computer
Imagine you’re sitting down to your computer to read some emails, check in on social media and maybe do some banking. At first things seem normal. But then you notice some oddities — perhaps a few settings are different, some icons are rearranged on the desktop. Suddenly your cursor begins moving around on its own — and you watch as your computer opens up an Internet browser, seemingly on its own, and navigates through your favorites to your bank website. Before you even register what’s happening, you’re watching as a transfer from your account is initiated.
This is an extreme case of what’s possible with a RAT, but it underscores the danger of these malicious programs. Essentially, a RAT is the same technology that allows IT departments to remotely administer computers, the major difference being that a RAT is installed without a user’s knowledge. In most cases, the hackers behind RATs are surreptitious in their activities, making changes and stealing information behind the scenes without the user’s knowledge.
For example, the hacker may install a key logging program to capture passwords, or steal administrator credentials that allow access to features like Keychain, which stores log-in information for other websites. And in some extreme cases, RATs can take over the webcam and override the indicator light; in one notable case, a man from California was imprisoned for taking nude photos of women without their knowledge using RAT malware.
How RATS Invade — And How to Stop Them
The problem is that many Mac users continue to erroneously believe that they are immune to malware infections, and don’t install [tp lang=”en” only=”y”]the best antivirus for Mac[/tp][tp not_in=”en”]the best antivirus for Mac[/tp] or take the same security precautions as PC users. With the rapid expansion of Apple market share, though, cyber criminals have turned their attention to developing malware for Macs, including RATs.
The first step, then, to avoid RATs is to follow basic security protocols. Don’t open email attachments from unknown sources, keep operating system, add-ons and security software up-to-date and use a firewall to keep out malicious traffic.
If you suspect that you have a RAT in your computer (suddenly slow performance is often a clue in addition to strange behavior), take the following steps to try to exterminate the rodent:
Restart the machine. Oddly, this often works because many Mac-centric RATs will only operate as long as the computer is on, and once it’s turned off, the hacker loses a connection.
Disconnect the computer from the Internet. Hackers will only have access as long as the machine is connected.
Install antivirus software, if you haven’t already, and run a scan. A quality program will remove the malware. Don’t forget to scan your backups as well.
Get professional help. Experienced users may be able to locate and remove the RATs persistence mechanism, but if you can’t, call on a technician to remove the malware.
Change your passwords and monitor accounts for suspicious activity. There’s a possibility that the hackers stole sensitive information while they had access to your computer, and could use it for further crimes.
“But what about the webcams? Do I need to worry that someone is watching me get ready for bed or play solitaire for hours on end?” Chances are, no. The cases of criminals taking over webcams to watch their victims are rare. If you’re still worried about being watched, cover your webcam with a piece of paper or tape when you aren’t using it yourself. Otherwise, by admitting that your Mac is vulnerable and taking the appropriate steps to block viruses, you don’t have to lose sleep over RATS.