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  • The iPod Virus: Did Apple Say the Wrong Thing?

    October 20th, 2006

    Decades ago, President Truman said that the buck stops here, and this is something you can take to the bank when it comes to a responsible politician, few though they may be, and, of course, the corporate executive. Or at least, that’s the way it should be.

    So when the news came that a small number of new iPods shipped with a Windows virus, questions quickly arose about whether it was some sort of secret plot from Apple to embarrass Microsoft or just an accident, a mistake on the part of one of its contract manufacturers.

    The facts are fairly simple, and here’s Apple’s official statement on the subject: “We recently discovered that a small number — less than 1% — of the Video iPods available for purchase after September 12, 2006, left our contract manufacturer carrying the Windows RavMonE.exe virus. This known virus affects only Windows computers, and up to date anti-virus software which is included with most Windows computers should detect and remove it. So far we have seen less than 25 reports concerning this problem. The iPod nano, iPod shuffle and Mac OS X are not affected, and all Video iPods now shipping are virus free. As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it.”

    Naturally, Microsoft was none too happy with that little dig about Windows’ susceptibility to viruses. Microsoft’s Jonathan Poon, who is responsible for scanning Microsoft products for viruses before they ship, said in a blog entry: “It’s not a matter of which platform that the virus originated. The fact that it’s found on the portable player means that there’s an issue with how the quality checks, specifically the content check was done. This also indicates that through the manufacturing cycle, the base device from which the image was duplicated to the other devices in the manufacturing run, was connected to a PC that most probably did not have , and I quote their press release, ‘up to date anti-virus software which is included with most Windows computers.’ ”

    Well, you had to expect that Microsoft wouldn’t take that crack lightly. However, it does seem to me that Apple did do due diligence in letting you know about the problem, and in providing information on how to rid the affected products of the problem. They even posted links to trial versions of virus software that could be used to clean any infected computers, after which users are asked to use iTunes 7 to restore the affected iPods to pristine condition.

    One might think that would be quite enough to resolve the issue, particularly since RavMonE.exe is one of the less virulent Windows viruses. More important, Windows users don’t need Apple Computer to tell them to use software to protect themselves against malware. That should be a standard requirement.

    However, some tech writers have gone off the deep end and suggested that Apple could have done more, and isn’t addressing the issue in a sufficiently serious fashion. I suppose that crack about Windows incited the right to excess.

    While you might say with some justification that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, mistakes do happen. No doubt, Apple has taken measures to make sure the companies that build iPods and any other cross-platform products in the pipeline do a better job next time. It doesn’t matter what those measures might be, so long is the episode isn’t repeated any time soon.

    It’s also true that word has spread far and wide about the problem, so Windows users have been appropriately warned. Other than telling customers about running virus protection software and cleaning their iPods via the restore function, what else should Apple do? Should they offer to replace the infected iPods, or do the scanning for you in person?

    I suppose replacing the iPods, although the defect is easily removed, is at the discretion of the dealer. Some might do it, others might even be nice enough to do the virus scanning for you, and I’m thinking of the Apple Store, perhaps, and local retailers that have a commitment to customer service.

    Beyond that, let’s not attach too much significance to any of this, although it gave some of the more emotional Windows advocates a chance to vent their spleens about a phrase they didn’t like. Now they can go and get their lives back.



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    19 Responses to “The iPod Virus: Did Apple Say the Wrong Thing?”

    1. John C. Randolph says:

      No, they didn’t say the wrong thing at all. They owned up to their mistake, which was allowing an unsecurable product on their assembly line. If the makers of the unsecurable product are upset about that, to hell with them.

      -jcr

    2. Doc says:

      Perhaps their (somewhat snide) comment about how vulnerable Windows is to viri is just a tie in to one of the “I’m a PC- I’m a Mac” commercials- you know- kinda like the embedded product placement advertizing so popular now…

    3. Retep says:

      It makes every bit of difference how one phrases things. Starting off by saying that Apple is upset with Microsoft first puts the blame squarely on Microsoft. Then saying that they are even more upset with themselves is like saying “We should have known better” which is kind of a sideways way of accepting responsibility. Kind of like actually making a joke about it. Using humour to deflect responsibility is an old tactic.

      Apple could have easily admitted responsbility for their failure first. And then if they felt compelled to they could have said something about Microsoft. Don’t think for a minute they didn’t spend a great deal of time coming up with their precise wording. They did it for a reason.

    4. Jim says:

      Oh, in these politically-correct times, poor ol’ Microsoft is offended with Apple.

      If I was MS, I’d show ’em. I’d make the best gol-durn operating system and give away virus-protection software to boot! And then I’d make an MP3 player that would never have problems. And even if it did, I would constantly apologize to the community that bought my stuff and always blame myself and never anyone – not even the virus writers (as blaming them deflects responsibility from me, who should know better).

      But that ain’t gonna happen, be sure to renew your virus protection subscription often!

    5. Hedge Hog says:

      Hey, Einstein, it is not an “iPod virus,” it is a Windows virus. Think first, THEN write.

    6. Hey, Einstein, it is not an “iPod virus,” it is a Windows virus. Think first, THEN write.

      Touche. The article specifically states that the virus was delivered on an iPod, not on a Windows PC, but that Windows was vulnerable to that virus. If you have any questions, please reread the article, then let us know.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Chuck says:

      When one system (Windows) is so buggy and bullet-hole ridden that viruses are now commonplace, and it forces others to have to deal with those same viruses, who is at fault? Ultimately, the people who created the viruses. But MS knows they have an issue and does little to fix it. The blame DOES rest with MS, and I agree, the way Apple handled it points right back to their PC Vs. Mac commercials. Brilliant PR!

      Jonathan Poon however, has allowed his mindset to think just like everyone else in IT: viruses happen. Apple doesn’t put up with them, and I guess it’s going to take Apple (advertising) to get people to “think different” about viruses, hence the huge Mac sales increases.

      Great spin on it, Apple!

    8. Aaron says:

      I think the statement crossed a line with ” As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses”
      Laying aside the accuracy of the statement and the broad consensus of that sentiment, taking a shot at Windows when Apple screwed up was uncalled for. Admit the mistake (done), offer a solution (done), apoligize for the inconvenience (done) and shut up (oops).

    9. BobS says:

      It is sad to see that so many think that Apple can do no wrong and that Apple’s snide remark was appropriate.

      Imagine that instead of a Windows virus that the unauthorized content was pornographic images. Heck, imagine that a diagram and description of the next version of the Video iPod was the payload. Apple would have nothing to say about Windows and may not have even acknowledged the error. This issue is about procedure – both Apple’s and their manufacturing partners – and they alone are responsible.

      Kudos to Apple for their prompt and well-informed technical response, but shame on them for trying to deflect the blame on an uninvolved party. As much as I like Apple and its products, it appalls me to see this “holier than thou” attitude by many its customers.

    10. Kudos to Apple for their prompt and well-informed technical response, but shame on them for trying to deflect the blame on an uninvolved party. As much as I like Apple and its products, it appalls me to see this “holier than thou” attitude by many its customers.

      As much as some don’t like the way Apple said it, the statement is accurate. Windows is quite vulnerable to viruses, which is why it is not safe to run a Windows PC without malware protection. Apple also said that the problem was addressed and dealt with, and that they agree they should have caught it. The pundits and readers who are complaining about the smug attitude seemed to have missed the latter. They made a mistake, they owned up to it, and moved on. I think it’s time for the rest of us to do so too.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. Mark says:

      Let’s do compare that piece of Windows virus executable code to a pornographic image:

      If the executable code put up a pornographic image; it’s not the code that is offensive per se (just looking at the code doesn’t offend), it’s the image that is offensive. So the piece of executable code placed on the iPod would’ve had no effect and not been offensive if Windows wasn’t susceptible; thus, it’s Windows’ lack of hardiness that lets the code infect it that is offensive.

    12. Wilma Flintstone says:

      Microsoft apologist always pin the blame on everyone but Microsoft. It’s time they woke up and faced the music.

    13. Retep says:

      Apple also said that the problem was addressed and dealt with, and that they agree they should have caught it. The pundits and readers who are complaining about the smug attitude seemed to have missed the latter. They made a mistake, they owned up to it, and moved on. I think it’s time for the rest of us to do so too.

      Just like verbal communication is only 5% of communication. The actual words used is actually only a very small part of communication. While there is no body language to base a decision there is the “tone” of what was said. Or alternatively, there is the connotation on top of the denotation. The claim that Apple admits its mistake is true technicallly. That is what the words say. The way it was said makes me think they thought this was a clever way of taking a swipe at Microsoft and feigning an admission of responsibility.

      The people who are complaining haven’t missed what the words say. They are upset because they scratched below the surface and they don’t see what they see.

    14. Retep says:

      LOL…I mean they don’t like what they see

    15. Steve says:

      Or maybe they don’t see what they see.

      Happens all the time.

    16. thetruthhurts says:

      I say people/businesses/governments/institutions should be screaming blame at Microsoft at the top of their lungs. Microsoft has cost us untold billions of dollars by not taking the responsibility to fix or recreate this product (Windows) in a truly secure configuration, especially since Windows has become such a ubiquitous, critical tool to the very function of almost every human endeavor. A multibillion dollar industry has arisen just to keep windows vulnerabilities and exploits in check. And for what? Other operating systems exist (including OS X) that clearly demonstrate that a vastly higher level of security is achievable. Regardless of what all those ZDnet and Cnet Apple-bashing articles and blogs say, OS X has ZERO viruses in the wild and so far has been shown to be impenetrable by every attempt to comprise the system from a remote location. The ONLY exploitations thus far have been user errors or set-ups where the exploiter had physical access or password access to the machine. These MS supporters and IT security people who enthusiastically rail against Apple for every minor misstep want so urgently to demonstrate that Apple and OS X are just as bad as Microsoft and Windows, but they just – simply – are – not. Apple is not the vicious anticompetitive company that MS is…and OS X is not the hole-ridden, insecure mess that Windows is. Apple owes MS no courtesy, no apology; quite the opposite is true. MS owes the world an apology.

    17. KT says:

      Apple’s response was simply childish – amazing to hear such a thing from a company. Suppose a drunken employee loaded porn on some iPods. Would we expect Apple’s official statement to be “we’re upset at Bob for his alcohol problem, but we’re even more upset at ourselves for not catching it”?

    18. Retep says:

      KT

      Nicely stated

      By the way, I am no Microsoft apologist or fan. I use primarily Xubuntu. Although one of these days I might go buy an Apple when I have enough money.

    19. Joe says:

      The Windows system has a number of weaknesses, most stemming from the backwards compatibility to systems designed before networks and security were issues. Here are a few technical issues that increase the vulnerability of Windows:

      1. Disorganized file system.
      2. Poorly used and often ignored protection scheme.
      3. The Regestry. A massive single point of failure.
      4. Ability to silently dowload and install software.
      5. Improper separation of functions. The browser is not part of a well designed OS.

      A number of these design decisions makes the OS far more complicated than is needed. The Microsoft DNA of features first beore structure contributes to the problem. Part of the reason the Mac is more competitive today in price is because Apple has dumped a lot of legacy features such as the classic Macintosh ROM, SCSI, serial ports, floppys etc. This approach is also evident in software decisions such as the moves to a UNIX based system, to Open Firmware & later EFI, and from the classic Mac OS to Carbon and Coco. At the heart of all Windows MFC based programs are legacy Pascal calls obtained from Microsoft’s licence of the Mac OS in return for font support that M$ never delivered.

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