Reports surfaced today that a new virus is slowly spreading throughout the Mac community. The first infections appeared a few days after Macworld Expo in January 2008 and were initially centered in the San Francisco and Cupertino areas, but soon spread throughout California, with additional hotspots in major metropolitan areas throughout North America and Europe. The virus continues to spread slowly and efforts to eradicate it have been unsuccessful. Although Mac users usually have a relatively lower risk of viruses than their Windows brethren, experts believe this infection is isolated to the Mac community, and it is not expected to transition to the broader computing world.
Officials suspect the virus first appeared at Macworld Expo, quietly infecting unprotected users. Apple employees were likely another vector, as the next wave of infections seemed centered on Apple retail stores. The virus has since entered the broader Mac community, moving beyond enthusiasts with riskier trade show habits to the general Macintosh population. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and general flu-like symptoms.
“It’s bizarre, but this virus appears to be limited almost entirely to users of Macs, iPods, and other Apple products,” stated Dr. Miroslav Virislavski, a spokesman with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. “With tens of thousands of enthusiasts at the Macworld conference, the virus quickly gained a foothold with Apple users, especially company employees. While it’s not unusual for viruses to spread at major events, this one is unique since it has since established itself in Apple retail stores and has been hard to eliminate.”
Experts have identified the infection as a new variant of the norovirus family. Noroviruses are well known for cruise ship outbreaks and for spreading quickly through isolated communities. “Symptoms for the average norovirus normally appear within 24 to 48 hours of exposure,” stated Dr. Virislavski, “but this version seems to mask its symptoms for up to 4 days, even though carriers are contagious after the first 12 hours. We think this long incubation period is contributing to the slow spread and difficulty in containing the outbreak, as is the relatively small Mac user base compared to the rest of the population.”
Noroviruses are particularly hardy and remain viable on surfaces such as keyboards, iPod click wheels, and iPhone screens for up to three weeks under normal indoor conditions. Infected users continue to shed the virus for up to two weeks after their recovery. Symptoms typically last 1 to 2 days, and most users recover without incident. Noroviruses do break down quickly in sunlight, an environment few Mac users experience.
Jim Borne, security product manager at SymCaftego Software, believes Mac users are suffering due to their careless habits and sense of immunity. “Apple users are just as vulnerable as Windows users, but refuse to admit they aren’t any safer. The Windows community has spent years building their defenses while Mac users carelessly share their laptops, iPods, and iPhones without following best practices for safe computing.”
Experts believe the social nature of the Apple community, combined with a false sense of security, make this outbreak particularly insidious. “These guys (and girls) think they’re better than the rest of us, but they’re far less prepared for the real world,” said one epidemiologist, who wished to remain anonymous. “They’re always touching each other’s computers, iPods, and other devices without taking any precautions like simple hand washing. That’s just dangerous, and a little gross.”
A survey released by the manufacturers of the Purell hand sanitizer indicated that Mac users are a staggering 42 percent less likely to use a sanitizing gel between computing sessions. “They also have long hair and dress like hippies,” reported one researcher, “at least the ones that aren’t wearing black jeans and turtlenecks even in the middle of summer.”
The Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control, is investigating the possibility that the virus was released intentionally to infect the Mac community. “Genetic engineering is no longer limited to large companies and nation states. It’s possible this is a man-made virus created by terrorists that specifically targets Mac users,” said a spokesman for DHS. “While we don’t have a single shred of evidence to support that, you should be scared anyway because we said so.”
Security experts agree that while most man-made viruses have a political or financial incentive, the general smugness of Mac users may have finally pushed a basement genetic hacker into creating a proof of concept. David Maynor, the security researcher most well known for his research into Mac wireless vulnerabilities, said that he wasn’t surprised Mac users were infected (see “Wi-Fi Exploit Precursor Published One Year Later,” 2008-09-21). “I’ve been warning about this for years,” claimed Maynor. “As a matter of fact, at Black Hat 2005 I showed a video of myself vomiting for 2 days after using my Mac and no one believed me. Apple tried to cover it up, but we all know that Mac users aren’t any safer than Windows users.”
John Gruber of Daring Fireball quickly challenged Maynor to back up his accusations. Gruber will purchase a brand new Mac and allow Maynor to infect it in front of witnesses. If Gruber vomits after using the Mac, Maynor gets to keep it. “That video is a sham,” says Gruber, “as the camera pans around the bathroom door to show Maynor puking, you can clearly see a bottle of syrup of ipecac on the counter. He faked the entire thing.”
John Moltz of Crazy Apple Rumors Site failed to respond to our queries and is believed to be spending the year dead for tax reasons.