Core Computing Blog

A Cautionary Tale, or, Yes Your Mac is at Risk

Over the years many of us in the Macintosh community have gotten a bit complacent. The threats to our system, documents, our computing world have been rare. But I was reminded this week that the incidences might be rare, but they do exist, more so now than ever, and when/if they strike it can be most unpleasant. When we had one of our clients reach out to us this past week asking about a window they couldn’t close, I thought that it might be a good time for a reminder.

This is one of the more common ways to get caught up in some problems that aren’t easily resolved. Below you’ll see a screen shot from the computer of the user who contacted us this week:

Exit Error

One of the problems is that we have become complacent about clicking in windows that pop up. They have become almost part of the landscape, you know they are there, but you rarely pay a lot of attention, you just click. This one got noticed because the default click, “Stay On Page”, won’t close the window and make it go away. When the window wouldn’t close, the user took a closer look and realized there was more wrong than not being able to close the window. Not being able to get out of the window, plus the weird text saying that her Windows (she was in full on Mac mode) is blocked due to suspicious activity (she was trying to open Mapquest) was a bit of a clue that this was out of the ordinary. Thankfully, that’s when we got the call.

So a couple of pointers are in order. First, if you do not have a way to close a window (some of them don’t even have the “Leave Page” option) or a way to exit a program, then you really have two easy choices. One is to call the person who takes care of your IT issues and the other is to simply Force Quit the program (which is another good reason for frequent saves of your work.). The Force Quit function does exactly what the name implies; it forces the program with the funky windows to quit no matter what without having to click on any suspicious buttons. You can get to the force quit command by clicking on the Apple menu in the top left of your screen and selecting the “Force Quit” option. You’ll then get a small window that lists all of the programs currently running on your computer. All you need to do then is to highlight the problematic program (usually a web browser) and click on the Force Quit button on the bottom right of the window. And that’s all you need to do.

In case you’re wondering what would have happened had they not called us but instead had gone ahead and made the phone call requested in the window, here are some likely scenarios.

First, it is almost a guarantee that the person on the other end will need to install some software so they can work on your computer remotely. This gives them permanent access to your machine any time they choose to log on and it won’t notify you of their visit. They usually will then proceed to run some diagnostics (no one has yet been able to tell me exactly what is done), but generally that is done to distract you from the software install. In addition, for this “work” they perform, they will charge you $300, give or take. In the end, the only thing that really happened is you paid them to put software on your computer that gives them complete access. Not good any way you look at it.

In addition to the remote fix ruse, sometimes it will be a requirement that you download a program like MacKeeper or MacCleaner or some such. Those are less invasive in terms of risk, but they are a royal pain in the rear because they reset a lot of your browser settings to direct you to places where your visits equal ad revenue for them. 

But the worst are the ransom ware invasions. In some cases, clicking on these buttons will completely lock up your data through encryption that cannot be unlocked (no way, no how) until you call them up and pay them a ransom of at least $500 to get an unlock key. Even worse is they usually put a deadline on it that will erase your drive if you don’t pay within the time limit. And they mean it.

So the short version of all this is simple. If you see something that you are not totally and completely sure that it is absolutely safe to click on, DON’T CLICK ON IT. Call someone who can help you. If you’re working with a consultant they can usually take care of things almost instantly and before it causes any permanent damage. The same holds true for your internal IT department.

The web can be a risky place, even if you’re going only to places that you have always visited, so remember, be careful out there.

-Jim Vestal