For just about as long as there have been computers, there have been people creating tiny pieces of software designed to steal information from other computers. Sometimes that involves stealing money, while other times it's just for the sake of gathering personal information.
Sometimes it's both.
There is an entire industry that exists to try and prevent these little pieces of software from infecting your computer and ruining your day (or worse). That's how we get anti-virus software, VPNs, and firewalls. Of course, if you use a Mac, you've pretty much always just ignored all of that because, generally speaking, most of the viruses--as those little pieces of software are known--were made for Windows-based PCs.
Yes, there have been a few that affect MacOS but you're more likely to get a sensible answer to a question from Siri than have your Mac infected with a virus. It just doesn't happen very often.
Which is why it's bad news that a new ransomware attack is targeting Macs. Known as ThiefQuest, the malware was discovered by Dinesh Devadoss, a researcher at K7 Lab, who shared his findings on Twitter.
Ransomware is software that encrypts a targeted computer's files and demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. Usually, these attacks target local governments, hospitals, or large corporations with large networks of computers. When the ransomware infects the network, the entire thing is encrypted, meaning the organization is essentially paralyzed until it pays up.
So, it's not something you really want on your MacBook Pro.
As if that wasn't bad enough, this particular virus is actually a combination of both ransomware and a keystroke tracker which allows the hacker to monitor a user's keyboard strokes and capture login credentials or payment information. That makes it potentially even more malicious, though putting them together also makes it less dangerous, at least in practice.
Ransomware is definitely bad news, and having someone snooping on your passwords or credit card information is potentially even worse. Except, once your computer's files are encrypted and a ransom note pops up on your screen, it's not all that likely that you're going to start logging into your bank account or Facebook profile. That means the malware isn't likely to actually capture any information from you.
Also, as of now, it appears that the ransomware is being distributed through compromised versions of software installers found on torrent sites. So far, it's been discovered in installers for security software Little Snitch, a DJ tool called Mixed in Key, and Ableton, which is a live music production tool. In other words, if you're pirating software, you're putting yourself at risk.
The good news is, it isn't likely that you'll become infected in the normal course of using your Mac. If you only install software that you get from a trusted source like the Mac App Store, or that has been "signed" or verified by Apple, you can avoid many of the risks of installing malware. Sure, that usually means actually, you know, paying for the software you use, but as they say, you get what you pay for.
And sometimes you end up paying a lot more.