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MacAware

macaware
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Estimated reading time — 6 minutes

A year or so back I was browsing around for some Mac anti-virus software. I was well aware that MacOS has a limited amount of security measures in place and that viruses are still easily acquired on the platform. Don’t buy that myth that they aren’t. The computer, or rather the laptop, that I wanted to protect more was a MacBook Pro 9.2 (Mid-2012). I was conscious that it was a tiny bit slow and quite out-dated, so I was aiming to pick up a light anti-virus.

I think it was fall 2019, around September or October, when I went on this scavenger hunt. I knew the MacOS community liked to tweak and add to a lot of things to do with the operating system and the software. I searched for maybe fifteen minutes that day, before stumbling across a recommendation for a ‘MacAware Anti-Virus’ on one of the smaller community boards. The board itself was hosted on some basic website, the type that reek of being coded by an amateur. It was just a plain grey-blue background with darker boxes and black text for posts. I swear it was called something stupid like ‘Macintosh-pals’ but I’m not sure, it had Macintosh somewhere within the domain name, that’s all I remember for certain. I can’t find it anymore, at least not yet.

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I also recall that the website had no user system, everybody was ‘MacUser #(random numbers)’ and people could just write without having to log in or sign up. The forum also lacked any form of liking or up-voting system. Looking back, I should have maybe understood why the website appeared so bland and suspect looking. But it’s too late for that now.

Anyway, the original post was someone asking if anyone knew of some good Mac anti-viruses. And in the second reply, the one I was looking at, the user had linked to the anti-virus software. I proceeded cautiously after clicking the link, fearing that I’d be bombard with false reviews or spammed with ad pages. But no, instead it brought me to a far better developed website than the one I was just on. Admittedly, it was laid out a little messily, but it featured some reviews from “real users”, boasted the capabilities of the software, and had a download for the latest version. The latest version was only for my operating system, High Sierra. This should’ve triggered a red flag as Mojave had been out for a good while now and, based on memory, I’m pretty sure that Big Sur was on the cusp of releasing.

I did my semi-thorough inspection of the website, the connection was even secure (as far as I remember). The software, MacAware, was entirely free and it promised that it was “community developed” by other Mac users. Figuring that all of this seemed to be pretty safe, I stupidly downloaded the software. It came as a .dmg file, and it followed the usual rigmarole of clicking ‘yes’ to a few things and then dragging it to the ‘Applications’ folder. Then I deleted the disk image file after being prompted to.

Understandably, I immediately went into the Launchpad to run the software and check it out. I already had it in the back of my mind to delete it if it wasn’t any good or looked as though it was poorly made. The anti-virus took a few seconds to open up, but when it did, things seemed entirely as expected. A quite bland but serviceable interface with a white, grey and red theme; dark grey text and a big formal looking ‘MacAware’ logo with a red underline in the top left. Within the ‘Protection’ tab, there were options for a quick or full scan, the ability to scan recently downloaded files, an option to quickly remove junk files and a repair files feature (which maybe was for corrupted files?). Anyway, it looked like the real deal, so it stayed on my laptop.

In fact, as far as I could tell, it worked. It had flagged something in an old game that I was attempting to pirate download a few days later. So, to my foolishly oblivious eyes, the software was entirely trustworthy and doing a satisfactory job at protecting me. Besides, it never asked for pay, not even donations, and it never threw me any false, “You have ____ amount of issues with your PC.” The software, on the surface, was merely doing its job.

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Eventually, I began to get curious about the seemingly legit software. One day, probably a few weeks later, I went into my ‘Downloads’ folder to find everything gone. I knew I hadn’t done this, I would never, and I checked the ‘Trash’ folder to see if I could recover anything. It was entirely empty. So I started thinking, and realised that maybe the anti-virus had just made some error and blitzkrieged my whole downloads folder, all because it possibly detected one thing wrong. After all, when it deleted that ‘legally acquired’ game .zip file that I was downloading, it never went into the trash; it simply disappeared instantly.

Don’t get me wrong, I was frustrated, and I did worry that it would do things like this in the future, or possibly in even more important folders like my documents or applications folders. But the software hadn’t reported any found errors to me; the latest one was still that game from a few weeks back at this point. I was very confused, but decided if anything else went wrong, the software would be uninstalled.

And sure enough, a few days later, it had wiped my near empty downloads folder and also all my files within documents folder (which had work-in-progress school assignments within it). Furious, I immediately purged the software from my MacBook. I’m pretty sure that I walked away in frustration to play a game or cool off in some other way. I just know that I never touched my laptop for the rest of that day.

From this point on, after deletion, things became very odd. My MacBook was sluggish as hell in the following days, slower than it had ever been. I thought I’d somehow updated to a newer version of the OS, but no, I was still on the latest. My 500GB Hard-drive was nearly full, despite originally only being at roughly half-capacity. I wasn’t a moron, I knew something was happening with my laptop that shouldn’t have been, but I was stupid enough not to realise what software was doing it at the time.

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Things get a little disturbing or aggressive from here, so people with cyberphobia or technophobia, please beware. By this point it was December, I hadn’t touched my laptop in over a week because I didn’t want to reset it, but couldn’t tolerate using something that was decaying before my eyes. So when I put it on charge, opened it up and booted it, lots of things were immediately very wrong with the computer.

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Once it had brought me to the login screen, I could see that my background had changed, I didn’t know to what because of the blur effect, but it was black with red scattered through it. My user icon, the Earth one, had vanished entirely (I didn’t even know this was possible). All I had was the password entry field in front of me, so with anxiety building, I entered the password. The laptop, after a small stutter, proceeded into the desktop and it revealed the background as a plain black fill with “Be MacAware.” Repeated across it horizontally and vertically in a thin red font. I guess by this point I had finally figured out what caused this.

I tried going into the finder and then the settings, but nothing would open. Safari wouldn’t open either. Before I could really settle my frustrations, the Photo Booth app opened and the webcam came on, signified by the little light. It started taking several pictures of me. After dealing with my shock, I put my hand over the webcam but it had a few of my face by this point. With my right hand over the webcam, I spammed ‘Cmd+Q’ with my left one to try and close the software. In the task bar, Mail, Safari, Photos and Messages were all bouncing up and down, showing that they were in the process of opening.

Safari, surprisingly, was the first to open. It loaded up Wikipedia several pages of terror attacks, porn sites, and gore videos on Best Gore and Liveleak, I think it got to ten or so tabs. I couldn’t force quit any of the applications; I have no idea if the shortcut was disabled or if my poor laptop just couldn’t process everything all at once. Please keep in mind that Photo Booth was still actively snapping pictures in the background. I was frantic, mainly because of the webcam, not so much because of the webpages. I tried holding the power button and then rapidly pressing it, but the laptop wouldn’t shut off.

I noticed, from the tiny bit that I could see of it along the bottom, that the background had changed. I can’t confirm, but I think it was the photos that it was snapping of me on Photo Booth, it looked like a dark picture with a tiny amount of light seeping in from somewhere.

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Eventually Siri dragged her way onto the screen and started listening for a command, I don’t know if that was part of the attack or if I just accidentally enabled her somehow. Siri’s voice was all fragmented because of my laptop attempting to process everything. It didn’t last very long after this point before crashing to a black screen with white text and dumping all the data it could. The webcam was still shown as active when I shifted my hand slightly, so I kept it there until I could get the laptop to power off. Then I safely removed my hand.

I got rid of that laptop a few months later, I’m partially cyberphobic myself, so I was frightened that the so-called anti-virus left some scare for me, or if it would take more pictures. I now have a 2017 iMac, and I don’t bother with trying to find any anti-virus software.

Please never download ‘MacAware’ if you come across it.

Credit : G.Stevenson98

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