Today was a sad but perhaps inevitable day: I saw installed adware on an Apple laptop for the first time. The adware was from a company called Genieo, which the English WikiPedia identifies as an Israeli startup. Thomas Reed‘s June 2013 article, “Malicious Genieo installers persist,” documents the adware problem which can infect both Apple/Macintosh users as well as Windows users. I found this problem today on a Mac laptop my 10 year old uses. I have her and my other kids setup with “administrative” rights on the computer, and she had (specifically on August 14th, I figured out by the date on the downloaded file) both downloaded and installed a file titled “InstallGenieo.dmg” which changed her default search engine in Chrome, changed her default homepage, and made some other system-level changes. This is a screenshot of the installer window.

Genieo Adware Installer for Mac

When I searched Rachel’s computer with Spotlight for “InstallGenieo.dmg” it was still in the downloads folder, and the date of the download was August 14th. It looks like the uninstallation of this program isn’t entirely straightforward (it requires some command-line stuff) so I’m not even going to try those steps. We’ve had some unexplained crashes with that laptop for several weeks, and I took it to our local Apple Genius bar where they confirmed the hardware is fine: There’s something amiss with the software. My plan had been to erase the hard drive and re-install the operating system as well as apps, so this incident provides yet another reason to do that. Here’s why I’m actually glad this happened with a relatively harmless adware program.

Since we avoid all Windows-based computer systems like the plague at our house, the only time my own children have used Windows-based computer systems is at their school or when they’ve used my wife’s work computer in the past. They haven’t had to deal with the THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of malware and adware programs which afflict all Windows users worldwide and force all of them to run anti-virus / security software to protect themselves. My daughter didn’t know what adware or malware was, but now we’ve had a conversation about it. I’m using this situation over our fall break to talk about this with all three of my kids, and have a family “mini-lesson” about adware, malware, and how to avoid it. It’s very important when we choose to install a new program on our computers that we know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it! It’s possible I could change Rachel’s computer role to be less than “administrator,” but this is something we’ll all discuss together. I’m leaning toward NOT doing that. I want my kids to become knowledgeable and savvy about how to both safely and effectively use computers and computer software. Locking down their system so they can’t make any mistakes (like Rachel did with this Genieo adware install) isn’t actually helpful in developing their knowledge and skills with technology. Sure it could protect our computer systems, but keeping everything 100% protected isn’t my #1 priority as a dad when it comes to digital literacy for my kids. Helping them learn to be safe, smart and wise when they’re online and using technology devices IS a top priority.

If for some bizarre reason we HAD to have a Windows-based computer in our home, I wouldn’t take this approach. It’s ridiculous today to use any Windows-based computer without antivirus / security software installed. Since we specifically choose to ONLY use computers running MacOS and Google Chrome OS we have the tremendous luxury of not having to worry about most kinds of malware and adware. This incident, however, demonstrates we still need to be wary.

In summary, while I’m sad to see that adware has FINALLY come to the Mac OS (with so many people migrating to Mac, it was really inevitable) I’m not sad this situation happened as it did today. This situation provides an important teachable moment, and it thankfully did NOT come at a high price where data was lost and couldn’t be recovered.

Have you run into any adware or malware on Apple / Mac computers? Do you run any antivirus / security software on your Mac currently? I don’t, and don’t plan to start, unless malware becomes a real problem. This single incident of an adware installation doesn’t qualify as a problem of sufficient size to warrant an antivirus / security software install, IMHO.

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