What you need to know about the Conficker worm

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If you’ve been paying attention to general computer news, you may have read about the Conficker worm, and what may (or may not) happen to Windows PCs that are infected with Conficker on April 1. The worm has received a lot of attention, leading more than a few Mac users to ask about the worm’s impact on OS X. Mac security maker Intego received so many inquiries that the company added a Conficker entry to its blog.

So, as a Mac user, how worried should you be about Conficker? The short answer to the question is that, unless you’re running Windows inside a virtual machine or via Boot Camp, you really don’t have much to fear from Conficker. It’s a worm that takes advantage of Windows systems with unapplied security patches—a population that may be as high as 30 percent of the Windows machines out there. Conficker won’t work on OS X at all, so most Mac users have nothing to fear from the worm.

If you do use Boot Camp and/or Windows inside a virtual machine, however, you should make sure your system has the latest Microsoft patches, and may want to use a third-party anti-virus utility to check to see if your installation has been infected by Conficker. Microsoft also offers a free Conficker removal tool.

What exactly does Conficker do? At the moment, nobody really seems to know. Symantec’s security researchers, for instance, theorize that the network of Conficker-infected machines will be “rented out to criminals who want to send spam, steal IDs and direct users to online scams and phishing sites.” The reality is that, because Conficker isn’t active at the moment, nobody knows how it may be used. What is known, however, is that on April 1, certain variants of Conficker will take some active steps to further protect themselves from detection and removal. Infected machines are effectively under control of those who wrote Conficker, and they can install malicious code at their discretion.

If you’re using Windows—either on your Mac or directly on an Windows PC—I strongly recommend you take the necessary steps to make sure you haven’t been infected. If you’re only using OS X, you’ve got nothing to worry about, at least relative to the Conficker worm.

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