Feeds

Symantec false alert floors Macs

Anti-virus cure causes more harm than disease

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Microsoft on the Threshold of a new name for Windows next week
Rebranded OS reportedly set to be flung open by Redmond
Business is back, baby! Hasta la VISTA, Win 8... Oh, yeah, Windows 9
Forget touchscreen millennials, Microsoft goes for mouse crowd
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Apple: SO sorry for the iOS 8.0.1 UPDATE BUNGLE HORROR
Apple kills 'upgrade'. Hey, Microsoft. You sure you want to be like these guys?
ARM gives Internet of Things a piece of its mind – the Cortex-M7
32-bit core packs some DSP for VIP IoT CPU LOL
Lotus Notes inventor Ozzie invents app to talk to people on your phone
Imagine that. Startup floats with voice collab app for Win iPhone
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.