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Mac security specialist Intego has begun offering the first antivirus scanner capable of inspecting Apple's much-hyped iPad, despite the questionable need for security scans on the device.

The iPad, which Apple began selling in the US last weekend, runs on the same operating system as the iPhone. Only jailbroken iPhones with default passwords have ever been infected with malware and even then only by a handful of high-profile worms, such as the Rickrolling worm in Australia and the D'oh bank credential stealing worm in the Netherlands, which both spread last November.

Whether either of these worms might be capable of infecting an iPad is unclear. Intego acknowledges there is no iPad malware to defend against as yet but argues it will be ready if and when the threat materialises.

"We're not saying there is malware in the wild," Peter James, an Intego spokesman explained. "But there are exploits that can take advantage of vulnerabilities."

James explained that the malware risk on the iPad, such as it is, mainly applies to devices that have been jailbroken to run apps not approved by Apple. Users of these devices can download cracked software that might pose a malware risk, or they could be exposed to future potential iPad-specific drive-by-download attacks while surfing online.

"Jailbreaking takes advantages of vulnerabilities," James told The Register. "Those users who don't jailbreak their devices have fewer security risks because they are protected by sandboxing. Jailbroken devices are not protected in same way.

"If and when iPad malware arrives we have the engine ready".

Intego's VirusBarrier X6 offers anti-virus protection for Mac PCs. A maintenance update to the software on Tuesday means that once an iPad is connected to a Mac the technology can copy files from the device and scan them to look for exploit code in files. Suspicious files are quarantined on the Mac and deleted from the iPad. Earlier updates along the same lines allowed files held on an iPhone to be scanned for problems.

"The software doesn't run on an iPad or iPhone itself. We're looking forward to multi-tasking that will make this possible and in the mean time offering the best we can," James said. "We can't detect things live but its the best compromise we can offer for now."

Intego's VirusBarrier X6 was promoted as the first anti-malware program to scan iPhones and iPod Touches. Now it gains the same bragging rights on the iPad.

Hundreds of malware strains are capable of infecting Mac-based PCs, compared to millions of Windows-specific malware varieties. Intego competes in the market to sell anti-virus software for Macs against the likes of Symantec and more recently Kaspersky.

The iPad-capable 10.6.5 version of VirusBarrier X6 is available as a free upgrade to existing users, as explained here. The software costs €59.95 for a licence covering two devices. ®

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