Feeds

Symantec false alert floors Macs

Anti-virus cure causes more harm than disease

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Boost IT visibility and business value

A false positive in Norton AntiVirus (NAV) for Macintosh left many Apple fans fearful that their machines had become infected with a Trojan last week. The glitch - triggered by a rogue virus definition update - left Mac users running various versions of NAV for Mac under the false impression that their swap files were infected with malware called "Hacktool.Underhand". The bogus warnings were frequently accompanied by system crashes on machines running Mac OS X.

Symantec quickly released updated definition files to resolve the problem but not before the SNAFU severally inconvenienced a significant number of Mac fans, who have vented their frustration on online discussion forums or by mailing El Reg. "I personally had to rebuild my machine as a result of instruction from Symantec staff," Mac user James Hackett from South Australia writes. "I'm not happy about losing three days work and having to do a full rebuild but am somewhat amused by the irony. As a long-term Mac user and previous net admin, who can't remember seeing a malicious Apple virus/Trojan ever it seems only right that I should be exposed to this trauma as a result of poorly written [anti-]Virus software."1

In a statement, Symantec confirmed that there was a false alarm problem with recent anti-virus updates to its Apple Mac security software, adding that the problem has now been fixed. The issue was restricted to users running Norton AntiVirus 9.x for Macintosh with virus definitions dated 28 April or Norton AntiVirus 7.0.2 or 8.x for Macintosh with virus definitions dated 1 June, it added. Norton AntiVirus for Macintosh 7.x on Mac OS 9 was not affected by the problem.

Symantec wasn't able to say how many times the dodgy definitions had been downloaded so the scope of the problem remains unclear. Users should download updated virus definition files to resolve the problem, Symantec advises. Customers should also delete all quarantined files.

Over-sensitivity in the automatic detection of viruses (or heuristics) leading to false alarms about virus infection is something of an Achilles Hell for anti-virus scanners, which by their nature need frequent updating. Last month a duff anti-virus signature update from Trend Micro floored the Windows PCs of many who applied it. The Japanese firm pulled the update 90 minutes after it was issued but the error caused mayhem to affected systems, particularly in Japan which because of the timing of the release was particularly badly hit. BitDefender, Sophos and McAfee have all been hit by similar (those less severe) glitches in the past. ®

1 Only a handful of computer viruses have ever infected Mac machines, compared to thousands that bedevil Windows users. But the comforting notion that Mac fans are immune from malware malfeasance has been called into question by the development of a proof-of-concept attack against Safari on OS X Tiger. Zaptastic - described as a "slightly evil" dashboard widget - is automatically downloaded onto machines running vulnerable Mac software that visit the site "stephan.com/widgets/zaptastic". The widget doesn't do any harm but it needs to be manually deleted and illustrates that Mac fans are becoming more exposed to security problems.

Related stories

PC-cillin killed my PC
BitDefender bug bites GFI
Sophos updates snag unwary
McAfee virus update freezes PCs
The trouble with anti-virus

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
Mozilla keeps its Beard, hopes anti-gay marriage troubles are now over
Plenty on new CEO's todo list – starting with Firefox's slipping grasp
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Cloudy CoreOS Linux distro declares itself production-ready
Lightweight, container-happy Linux gets first Stable release
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.