Apple products are not entirely impervious to malware, but it’s much rarer; jailbroken iPhones, for instance, are far more likely to be affected by malicious software than ones still using Apple’s secure environment, which mostly protects against malware.
But does ransomware pose a threat to these devices? Can an Apple product be infected with ransomware. And is this very common?
Can Your Apple Device Harbor Ransomware?
Ransomware is a very dangerous kind of malware that encrypts a victim’s files, rendering them inaccessible. To regain access to their files, the victim often has to pay the ransom amount demanded by the attacker. This could range anywhere from a few hundred to a few million dollars.
Historically, Apple products haven’t been a top target for attackers. Windows and Linux systems are usually what ransomware operators set their sights on, but this is a trend, not a rule.
iPhones, iPads, Macs, and MacBooks can all be infected with ransomware, but this isn’t because these devices have poor security protection.
Apple is known for its top-tier antivirus protection on its devices. On macOS and iOS, you’ll find some great security features, such as FileVault 2 encryption, Safety Check, Face ID, and Lockdown Mode. But despite these useful attributes, ransomware can still pose a risk to your Apple products in rare cases.
No device can be called completely secure. Even with how much technology has advanced over the past few decades, all devices still run the risk of being infected by malicious code. Guaranteeing total virus and malware protection is more or less impossible, with even the top antivirus programs out there not reaching the 100 percent mark.
Because of this, the slim chance of your Apple device running into ransomware remains.
What Kinds of Ransomware Target Apple Devices?
There are many kinds of ransomware out there today, but which types are known to target Apple products?
When it comes to ransomware, LockBit is among the most well-known examples. In fact, Malwarebytes reported that LockBit was the second-most used ransomware program in March 2023, falling just behind CLOP ransomware.
LockBit is actually a ransomware family, consisting of three distinct ransomware variants. At the time of writing, LockBit 3.0 is the most recent variation within this family.
It became evident in early 2023 that MacBooks are no longer safe from LockBit ransomware, despite macOS managing to evade this threat for some time. In April 2023, Bleeping Computer stated that LockBit operators had created encryptors to target Mac devices for the first time. It is thought that this marked the first-ever ransomware campaign focusing on macOS in particular.
MalwareHunterTeam announced this after discovering a ZIP archive on VirusTotal. The archive seemed to contain most of the LockBit macOS encryptors available at the time. Macs running on the Apple Silicon chip were being targeted in the malicious endeavor, though it seems that the encryptors were originally designed to attack Windows systems.
No instances of macOS ransomware attacks were reported as a result, but this isn’t to say that we won’t see LockBit operators target macOS devices in the near future.
ThiefQuest (also known as EvilQuest) became a threat in June 2020, having been discovered by researcher Dinesh Devadoss. The program was found hiding in pirated versions of the Little Snitch app, which could be found on a Russian torrent platform.
However, it didn’t take long for this ransomware program to raise a few eyebrows. ThiefQuest didn’t seem to act much like ransomware, as it contained both backdoor and keylogging code. This isn’t at all standard for ransomware and brought ThiefQuest’s malware, and, along with a very low ransom amount, ThiefQuest itself into question.
It turned out that ThiefQuest’s goal wasn’t to encrypt data and receive a ransom, which is typical of ransomware. Rather, it was a malware program looking to steal valuable data outright.
This program was successful in infecting macOS devices, though it doesn’t stand as the first official ransomware program to target macOS. As previously discussed, LockBit holds this title.
How to Avoid Ransomware
There’s no one solution to avoiding ransomware, but there are a few things you can do to lower the chance of falling victim to this malicious program.
Firstly, having a reputable antivirus program installed is a must. Antivirus often stands as the first line of defense against viruses and malware, and can mean the difference between warding off and welcoming in a malicious program.
Some of the best antivirus programs out there today include:
But antivirus doesn’t always suffice in ransomware evasion, especially if you’re dealing with a sophisticated program. There are other avenues you should consider pursuing, such as the use of antimalware programs. Antimalware programs aren’t an antivirus replacement, but the two can work well in tandem. Because antimalware can detect more high-end kinds of malware, you can stay safe from basic and complex malicious programs by using it alongside a trusted antivirus program.
You should also make sure that all your Apple device software is being kept up to date, be it your applications or operating system. Software vulnerabilities are commonly exploited by cybercriminals for malware infection, as they provide an open door that the software developers may not be aware of.
Apple is no stranger to security flaws, with some having been exploited in the past to attack victims. Through updates, software flaws and vulnerabilities can be ironed out, making your apps and operating system more secure overall.
It’s also best to stick to reputable platforms when installing apps. In the case of Apple devices, use the official Apple App Store, as this platform works to weed out malicious apps that may be harboring ransomware. Don’t jailbreak your phone so you can download content from other app stores as these might not be vetted. It’s always best to stay within Apple’s “walled garden”.
Preventing the Severity of Ransomware
It helps to take some measures to lower the severity of a ransomware attack if you’re ever targeted. Creating backups of your data (and keeping them separate from your system) allows you to access any encrypted files in the event of a ransomware attack, meaning you aren’t forced to pay a ransom in order to get your data back.
You could also consider using a cloud storage platform to house your files, as it’ll likely be easier to re-access your data during a ransomware attack than it would be using a hard drive.
Apple Ransomware Is No Myth
Though Apple provides high-quality protection to its users, ransomware programs designed to exploit iOS and macOS devices certainly exist. Taking certain precautions and being careful about what you do online can help you dodge this nefarious kind of program, though there’s no way to cut them off altogether.