Apple gets a dose of worms

2 Mar 2006

Viruses for the Apple Mac are a bit like buses; you wait for ages and then two come along at once.

No sooner had security experts unearthed Leap-A, the first worm to infect the Mac OS X operating system, than a second, Inqtana, was discovered mere days later.

Leap-A spreads via the Apple iChat instant messaging program, making it similar in some respects to an email worm. Users receive a file by instant messaging and must choose to open and run it, launching the worm.

Inqtana spreads via the Bluetooth short-range wireless technology. According to the Finnish anti-virus company F-Secure, it is a proof-of-concept virus; it is not “in the wild” and is of little threat.

In addition, Apple released a patch against the flaw that it exploits last year, so that experts believe the chances of a widespread infection are very unlikely. The tone of some press coverage around the news appeared to suggest that these were major developments and that the much-vaunted security of the Mac isn’t all it’s made out to be.

It could actually be argued that much of the Apple platform’s security has to do with the fact that the more widely available Microsoft Windows operating system presents a far larger target for virus writers. To put this into perspective, there are more than 120,000 pieces of known malware for the Windows operating system.

Others in the security industry were more circumspect about how to deal with any real or perceived threats. Michael Conway, director at Dublin-based Renaissance Contingency Services, said: “The correct response is to remain calm and take sensible measures to protect your Mac computers in future.”

He pointed out that Leap-A is not in itself a significant threat but it should act as a helpful reminder that malware can be written for any computer. “The best protection is through sensible best practice, firewalls, security patches and anti-virus technology.”
He warned Mac users not to think of themselves as being invulnerable to these threats, but the general advice is worth taking no matter what is your computing platform of choice.

By Gordon Smith