compromised address book

Kathy Flowers

Question is for Jim:

I use a MacBook Pro 99.99% of the time to access this group (and occasionally my Iphone.)  This morning I learned from my sister that apparently my address book had been compromised as she had received a suspicious email from me.  This same suspicious email went to the Janome Forum as well as her husband and my daughter.  

What should I do?  I thought Macs were hack-proof?

Thank you in advance for any information you may be able to provide.

Kathy Flowers

Scrambling to avoid hackers, Jim hastily replies:
The hack-proof computer has yet to be created. Macs have far fewer malware attacks for a couple of reasons. First is numbers. There are many more Windows computers in the world than Macs. Hackers have been building tools to attack Windows for years, and they routinely scan Microsoft updates to learn where the weak points are so they can attack systems that have not been patched. There are actual online "stores" where the underworld can buy software to attack Windows computers.

Secondly Apple's OS X operating system is very particular about what software it installs. Nothing gets installed without an administrator entering her password.  If a password is requested when you have done nothing in the way of installing new software, it's a sign that malware is trying to get in. Decline the password request and it's the end of the story. Windows does this too, but the User Account Control asks for permission so much in the course of ordinary operation that users can get in the habit of just clicking ALLOW to get on with things.

Email hacks, however, are much easier for the bad guys to pull off, because the users help them do it. All they need is the address of someone you know and trust. Then they send an email with something like "You have got to see this!" followed by a web address. Once that link is clicked you activate a Javascript. Javascript is a standard component of more than 3/4 of the sites on the Internet. It allows a web page to contain software that executes behind the scenes without you even knowing about it. You can disable it in your browser, but then all kinds of sites (Facebook, your bank, Amazon, eBay, etc.) no longer work. This software can harvest your address book or emails. Again this is far more common in Windows because the tools are already available for the job. It is very rare in a Mac.

Once your email gets into the hands of the bad guys, whether they got it from you or the address book of someone else, they will exploit it by using it on floods of emails. You don't even have to get hacked for them to get your email - it's already all over the Internet. Your best defense is to have multiple addresses. Use one for friends and family that you don't publish anywhere else. Then have a public one for groups, Facebook, etc. If it eventually gets picked up and used you can discard it and start again. When going to a website where you have to provide an email address to get into the site use a disposable email. There are many sites on the web (Google "disposable email address") where you can get an email address that lives for an hour or two.

I see that you are using Yahoo for email. They have been hacked in the past and had millions of emails and passwords stolen. Your email address could have been gotten that way or in any of a hundred other ways. It's a low-level identity theft and there is nothing you can do about it once it happens. Since you have a MacBook Pro I would suggest getting an iCloud email address that you use for friends and family, but nowhere else.

The reason this list is moderated is because of email addresses being abused. I very often get emails bearing a member's address with no content except a link to click. Those always get deleted. I don't bother notifying the sender, because most of the time the apparent sender is not the real sender. Even if I notified them, there is nothing they can do but stress over "being hacked". Sadly this is the world we now live in.