Mac and Android viruses spread across campus and globally

Android-based malware infections increased more than 400 percent last year.

Chemistry junior Mark Spencer, center, gets assistance from accounting senior and Tech Stop technician Mike Snell, left, Monday afternoon at Coffman.

Marisa Wojcik

Chemistry junior Mark Spencer, center, gets assistance from accounting senior and Tech Stop technician Mike Snell, left, Monday afternoon at Coffman.

by Jeff Hargarten


A recent spate of computer viruses has spread rapidly across Android and Apple devices, both nationwide and on the University of Minnesota campus.

Viruses that were once rare for Mac computers have become more common at the University in the last several months, said Nate Wagenaar, workstation support supervisor at the Office of Information Technology.

âÄúWhile University-wide numbers are hard to get âĦ there has been an increase in Apple viruses in the last eight to 10 months,âÄù he said.

Most of the new infections sweeping across the Internet into student laptops have been fake anti-virus programs, Wagenaar said. Many of these programs have been trying to scam people out of their credit card numbers.

Students using Apple products are more frequently bringing infected laptops in for support.

OIT is constantly monitoring computers for malware. To prevent it from traveling through the UniversityâÄôs wireless  network, the office blocks any school account connected to an infected computer, forcing students to fix the problem before regaining access.

âÄúThis is a new trend for Apple devices, and there arenâÄôt the same levels of [anti-virus] tools as there are for the PCs,âÄù Wagenaar said.

Currently, anti-virus programs for AppleâÄôs newest Lion operating system are not available through the University.

The increase at the University follows global trends. Mac malware continues to show a sharp increase, according to a November worldwide threat report from technology security company McAfee.

About 58 new variants of Mac malware have popped up in the last year, according to a report  from software company F-Secure last week.

The spread of malware for Apple systems has continued into 2012, said Ian Bain, a McAfee spokesman. He said the company anticipates the trend to continue.

Smartphone privacy breached

Mac users are not alone in experiencing new security threats.

New viruses for Android smartphones spiked 427 percent in 2011, according to a November report from Juniper Networks..

Roughly 55 percent of those infections are spyware tracking private information and Internet browsing habits. The remainder is Trojan viruses sending money to hackers via text message.

âÄúAttackers have moved on from simple destructive malware to spyware and malware that makes them money,âÄù said this yearâÄôs McAfee threat prediction report.

Many of these Android infections are downloaded through GoogleâÄôs application store, the report said. The virulent software can steal private information, including sensitive financial transactions.

OIT does some work on student-owned Android devices, but primarily just supports mail and wireless on smartphones.

The University hasnâÄôt had to deal with as many Android-related malware issues since students with vulnerable smartphones may not know theyâÄôve been infected.

âÄú[The] rise of malware is certainly related to both popularity and availabilityâÄù of Android and Apple devices, said Sarah Vreugdenhil, a spokeswoman for McAfee.

The spread of these viruses is more difficult to contain because device owners probably donâÄôt run the security scans and operating system upgrades meant to combat infections, she said.

Staying secure

There are ways students can avoid getting infected computers.

Wagenaar suggests students âÄúkeep their eyes openâÄù even while browsing websites like Facebook, as many new spyware infections are installed on computers through applications the website carries.

The University also offers safe computing tools online to help students with basic technical issues, and offers an unlimited anti-virus license purchased from Symantec to all students, staff and faculty.

Many files download on peer-to-peer file sharing services such as Limewire and BitTorrent, are filled with security threats.