New Worms Make Macs Vulnerable, Too

Proponents of Apple's Macintosh have long bragged that their computers seemed immune to computer viruses and worms. That's changed with the recent discovery of the so-called Oompa-Loompa virus and two other computer worms.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In the world of computers you're either a Mac person or a PC person. Fans of Apple's Macintosh have long gloated that unlike PCs, Macs are free from computer worms and viruses and other bugs, but they cannot say that any longer. Earlier this week computer security experts reported the appearance of two new worms that Mac users need to watch out for. And Wednesday came a third security alert from Apple. Here to fill us in is Ira Flatow, host of NPR's SCIENCE FRIDAY and regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY.

Ira, welcome back. And what are these security threats we're seeing for Mac?

IRA FLATOW reporting:

Yeah, it's hard to believe that these Macs are getting hit with a new kind of worms. But we've seen now three of them. Three of them that entered the Mac in three different ways. One comes in through the iChat instant messaging system, one comes in basically through Bluetooth. You know, that little wireless system?

CHADWICK: Yeah.

FLATOW: And the third one comes in through email as an attachment that is really kind of disguised. This is really the interesting part. It's disguised as a graphic, tricking the Mac into thinking it's a graphic, and it's in a zip form so the Mac unzips it, and low and behold it's not a graphic, it's a little piece of code that then runs in the Mac and tries to do something it's not supposed to do, although what it does is very harmless, it just types something on your little screen. It could have been made much more harmful but it was not.

CHADWICK: So is the answer to this, don't open any emails, just like for Windows, don't open attachments on emails if you don't know the sender? Well, what do you do if you're a Mac user? How do you protect yourself now?

FLATOW: If you know how to do a few of the patches, you can do them yourselves, you can fool around with the Safari Program to tell it not to open automatically, not to unzip these programs automatically. You can watch what programs are being downloaded through your Bluetooth as you should always do. Just like you say, Alex, be careful of what the package comes in through the mail. Or you can go to your various sites like Symantec or the other anti-virus software programs. They've already included little updates to their anti-virus programs which might protect you from it.

CHADWICK: Ira, maybe the real question here is what is going on with the Mac world which has always seemed to be, I thought, immune to these kinds of bugs that so afflict Windows users?

FLATOW: You know, you're absolutely right because the hallmark of Mac operating systems, the bragging rights over the years, Mac fans have had over Windows fans, is that Mac's are much more secure, that Window users spend so much time patching their machines. We don't know why suddenly these viruses and worms are showing up. Perhaps, I think, it's because Apple, you know, which has always been the under dog, hackers are now looking at it as being top dog in the iPod world. And even though Windows owns 95% of all the operating systems, has a monopoly, the hackers are now saying, well, Mac is now fair game, so watch out, we're coming after you too.

CHADWICK: Does this have anything to do with a new operating system which Mac released fairly recently, the Tiger System, I think?

FLATOW: I don't think it has anything to do with the Tiger operating system. Underneath the Mac's front that you have, the screen that you see is really UNIX, and this is really an attack on the UNIX system. So what hackers may be saying now is, Windows folks, you're not the only ones we're going after, we're going after the Macs and we may be going after those UNIX systems, millions of which are out there.

CHADWICK: Ira Flatow, host of NPR's SCIENCE FRIDAY, regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY. Ira, thank you again.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

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