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Better Safe than Sorry PART 2 – Worms, Viruses and Hackers (Oh My!) – Dr Mac

Posted on November 6, 2001

By Bob LeVitus

…. continued from part 1

Most Macs aren’t affected by the latest parasitic outbreaks in the news (Nimda, Code Red, etc.). But while Mac-specific viruses and worms are rare, the most definitely do still exist. Which is why smart Mac users know if they’re at risk and if they are, they take precautions.

Are you at risk? There are three main groups at risk:
The first is anyone who uses any type of writable or rewritable, mountable media: Disk (floppy, Zip, SuperDisk), cartridge (Jaz, Orb, magneto-optical), burnable optical media (CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-RAM), and every other piece of mountable read/write media that has EVER been inserted in another Mac. If another Mac used it, and it’s mounted on your desktop, you could already be infected.

It’s been years since I’ve heard of it happening, but I remember a well-known commercial software publisher, and a popular Mac magazine, both of which distributed thousands of commercially-produced-yet-infected CD-ROMs to unsuspecting Mac users. Any disk that has ever been inserted into an infected Mac could itself be infected. If you use disks, and, face it, most of us do, you should at least consider virus protection.

The second group is anyone who downloads files from anywhere. If you do, you are at risk. (There are a handful of exceptions, such as a closed LAN, a secure intranet, and such, but only a small handful.) While America Online, and most major Web sites screen their files carefully and rarely pass along viruses, many other repositories of files aren’t so carefully patrolled. So if you download files to your Mac from anywhere, you should at least consider virus protection. The third group is anyone who receives e-mail with attachments. So far there are no Mac viruses that spread just by reading e-mail, but some viruses do spread when you open an e-mail attachment (sometimes called an “enclosure”). So if you receive e-mail with attachments, you should at least consider virus protection.

There’s actually a fourth group: So-called “public relations professionals” who send e-mail with attachments. Nothing tells me your client loves me quite the way your infected press release did. Thank you very much.

I shouldn’t pick on PR people-this advice is valid for everyone. If you use the Web or e-mail for business, it’s considered bad form to spread viruses or worms. Think of it protecting your Mac as a professional courtesy.

Or, continue being unprofessional. I love getting e-mail that starts by saying, “the presentation I sent you Friday had a nasty little surprise in it. I hope you’ve got everything important backed up.”

If you’re a member of any one or more of these groups, you are at risk and probably ought to be using protection. I’m a cynic. I just naturally assume that any disk I insert, that any email attachment I open, and that every file I download could be delivering a nasty surprise.

I’ve used Norton Anti-Virus for Macintosh, for System 7, OS 8, OS 9, and now OS X. It has a great “Live Update” feature that lets me download and install the latest virus definition files automatically, which means my Mac is always protected against even the most-recently discovered viruses. And I can run both 9 and X versions for total protection.

Well, almost. Sadly, the OS X version still doesn’t have Auto Protect, so downloaded files, incoming email enclosures, and inserted disks are still not scanned automatically. It’s got manual scanning but nothing more so far. While it’s better than nothing, it’s not good enough.

Still, I’m happy to report that in all my years using it I’ve never become infected.

Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on the Mac OS and the author of 37 books, including Mac OS X For Dummies and The Little iTunes Book. E-mail comments to:

Copyright 2001 Bob LeVitus. All Rights Reserved.

This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on 10/12/01 and was given permission to republish on

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