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Newest MacDefender scareware installs without a password

Gregg Keizer | May 25, 2011
Criminals 'give Apple the finger,' says security researcher, by releasing new version just hours after Apple warned of fake AV software.

Hours after Apple owned up to a fake security software scam campaign, the "scareware" gang released a new variant, with a new name and a streamlined installation process that doesn't prompt victims for their password, a French antivirus firm said today.

"Given the timing, and the new name, it does seem like this was their reaction to Apple's support document," said Peter James, a spokesman for Intego, a maker of Mac-specific security software.

On Tuesday, Apple acknowledged the threat posed by what security experts call "scareware" or "rogueware." bogus security software that claims a computer is heavily infected with worms, viruses and other malware. Once installed, such software nags users with pervasive pop-ups and fake alerts until they fork over a fee to purchase the worthless program.

Apple also said it would update Mac OS X, adding the ability of the operating system to detect and delete the MacDefender scareware.

The group responsible for MacDefender -- and other earlier variants named MacProtector and MacSecurity -- must have read the news, said James.

"They changed the name to MacGuard, and released it today, maybe just to give Apple the finger," James said.

The cyber criminals also changed the way they distribute the fake security program, breaking it into two parts: a small downloader, dubbed "avRunner," which once on a Mac reaches out to a hacker-controlled site to download the phony MacGuard security software.

But the new version also includes a more important twist.

"Unlike the previous variants, no administrator password is required to install the downloader," said James. "People will still see an installer screen -- [the attackers] haven't gotten to the point where they're completely avoiding that yet -- but all one needs to do to install is click 'OK' a couple of times. So it's one less hurdle."

avRunner sidesteps the need for an administrator password by putting itself directly in the Applications folder of a victimized Mac. Unlike a legitimate installer package -- or an illegitimate one for that matter -- putting an executable in the Applications folder doesn't require a password when the user is the administrator.

With avRunner safely added to the Applications folder, it then grabs MacGuard from a remote server.

Mac scareware
The newest Mac scareware doesn't need to ask victims for their admin password. (Image: Intego.)

"A lot of the comments on blogs said 'Stupid Apple users, it's their own fault' because they were entering their [administrator] password," said James. "[The hackers] are now saying, 'Well, we don't even need to get a password.'"

 

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