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Welcome to the World of Fake Mac Viruses

The security companies are encouraged. Windows users are hoping someone else will feel the pain, but in the end it seems the latest Mac virus threat is just another non-starter.

Just the other day, Symantec delivered the news of still another one of those “proof of concept” viruses that seem to make headlines, but never actually infect Macs. The new virus is dubbed “OSX.Macarena,” a name clearly designed to eliminate any real confusion is to what platform is involved. Talk about silly names.

According to another security company, Intego, “This proof-of-concept virus, which has not yet been seen in the wild, was published on a hacker Web site.”

More specifically: “The virus can only infect Intel-based OS X computers. It consists of a C source file, an Assembler ‘dropper’ file, and documentation that explains how to create a virus that can infect Macintosh OS X binary files. Compiling the source code creates two binaries, the OS X virus file itself, and the dropper. The dropper is intended to infect Mac OS X binary files from a Windows installation on the current machine. This can be either via Apple’s Boot Camp, or via a virtualization application such as Parallels Desktop for Mac.”

Let’s look at that statement carefully. You have to be running Windows on your Mac to create even the potential of an infection. In the unlikely prospect it does spread beyond the concept stage, that’s good to know. What’s more, “the virus does not carry a payload. When run it infects other executables in the current directory, regardless of their name or extension.”

In other words, it’ll be there, but can’t actually damage anything beyond asserting its presence. So you can regard it as essentially a low-level infection.

Naturally the virus definitions of both Symantec’s Norton Anti-Virus for the Mac and Intego’s VirusBarrier have been updated to combat OSX.Macarena.

This sort of thing is, of course, nothing new. There have been a handful of proof of concept viruses in recent years, but they never seem to spread into the wild. The lone exception was a piece of malware that masqueraded as a set of pictures of a future version of Mac OS X, which, I gather, may have impacted a few hundred at most.

All any of this news indicates is something we all should have known anyway, and that is that no computing platform is immune to viruses. It can happen, and perhaps some day there will be an outbreak of something that will have the potential of causing real damage to your Mac.

In the meantime, a few technology pundits will wail and moan that Mac users now have good reason to be concerned. They might even suggest you arm yourself with the proper security software right away. My feelings about the matter are decidedly mixed.

If you run Windows under Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop, it makes perfect sense to investigate the retail and even the free applications that will protect you against viruses, spyware and other threats. Whatever you select, install the software right away. The Windows environment may not impact your Mac experience, unless you want to count the potential of OSX.Macarena of course, but it could still cause you plenty of aggravation.

What’s more, if you exchange files and letters with Windows users, you should look into one of the Mac virus protection applications and keep it regularly updated. They major entrants in this arena guard against Windows viruses too. Sure, your Mac may not be vulnerable, but do you really want to be the instrument of infection of a Windows user? Some of you might think it serves them right for choosing the wrong computing platform, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Besides, just being plain nice and showing respect is never a bad idea.

You’ll also want to install Apple’s periodic security updates, which are designed to close holes in the operating system that may leave you vulnerable to a potential infection. Unless the update itself causes stability problems of one sort or another — and that seems to happen from time to time — it’s really a simple decision to make.

In the meantime, don’t you wonder why few of those alleged Mac viruses seem to ever spread into the wild? And then only in limited numbers? Maybe the Mac OS is more resilient than some of those so-called experts expect or believe.