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Malware can cripple your Mac's built-in security tools

Updated 12:02 p.m. ET

Many Mac users — yours truly occasionally included — tend to chuckle when they hear about the security problems frequently encountered by those who favor Windows-based operating systems. As time goes by though, we are finding that there are fewer and fewer reasons for us to laugh — because malware is becoming a problem for Mac OS X, too.

Security blog Sophos reports that a new variant of a backdoor trojan — malware which disguises itself as a benevolent piece of software — called Flashback is floating around the Internet and crippling Xprotect, the anti-malware system built into Mac OS X.

According to Sophos, the evolution of this particular piece of malware was first discovered by computer security software firm F-Secure. The company's researchers noticed that Flashback — which pretends to be an innocent Adobe Flash update — specifically goes after the automatic update component of Xprotect.

This means that the anti-malware system is not able to receive future updates and fails to detect (and quarantine) newer malware infections.

F-Secure explains that this isn't a surprising approach for malware to take. In fact, it is suggested that "attempting to disable system defenses is a very common tactic for malware — and built-in defenses are naturally going to be the first target on any computing platform."

What may be surprising to those of us who prefer to pretend that our Mac-based computers are impervious to malware is the fact that genuine security threats may come our way in the future. Perhaps it's time for us to spring for some third-party security software instead of relying on the minimal protection provided by an operating system's built-in tools.

Update: If you believe that you might be affected by the Flashback malware, then you should consider checking out the removal instructions provided by F-Secure

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