Malware Now Targets Apple’s M1 Processors

Security researcher Patrick Wardle warns that malware is now being redesigned in order to target Mac computers running Apple’s M1 processor.

Apple computers have always had less of a security headache than Windows PCs, but as Mac computers have become more mainstream, so the threat it faces has grown.

And it should be remembered that Apple has undergone a significant change within its Mac portfolio, when last November it officially severed its ties to Intel with the launch of its first ARM-based Macs that run on in-house Apple silicon chips, instead of the Intel processors it has used since 2005.

M1 threat

Apple last November unveiled a new MacBook Air, as well as a 13-inch MacBook Pro, and a Mac mini powered by Apple’s bespoke M1 central processor unit (CPU).

Apple at the time claimed said the M1 is “by far the most powerful chip Apple has ever made,” and it would “transform” the Mac experience.

Indeed, Apple claimed that the M1 delivers “industry-leading performance per watt.” This, coupled with macOS Big Sur, means the “M1 delivers up to 3.5x faster CPU, up to 6x faster GPU, up to 15x faster machine learning (ML) capabilities, and battery life up to 2x longer than before.”

Is Apple’s new M1 chip the start of a new era in personal computing? Read Silicon UK’s analysis.

But on Wednesday independent MacOS security researcher Patrick Wardle in a blog post published findings about a Safari adware extension that was originally written to run on Intel x86 chips, but has now been redeveloped specifically for M1.

The malicious extension, GoSearch22, is a member of the notorious Pirrit Mac adware family.

“Apple’s new M1 systems offer a myriad of benefits, and natively compiled arm64 code runs blazingly fast,” noted Wardle. “Today, we highlighted the fact that malware authors have now joined the ranks of developers …(re)compiling their code to arm64 to gain natively binary compatibility with Apple’s latest hardware.”

False sense

Security experts have long warned Mac users not to be relaxed about their cyber defences, just because their platforms are targetted less.

“People tend to forget that MacOS is just as susceptible to attacks as Windows or any other operating systems,” noted Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET. “This can lead to users being left more vulnerable as they have a false sense of security, and perhaps even a lack of protection such as antivirus software.

“We should never forget how sophisticated malicious actors can be: they will target from every possible angle,” said Moore. “

Awareness still prevails as the best protection, and Mac users are advised to make sure they keep well away from any attachments in unsolicited emails and remain vigilant to phishing emails,” he concluded.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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