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DVForge Nixes Virus Prize Contest

TMO Reports - DVForge Nixes Virus Prize Contest

by , 6:15 AM EST, March 28th, 2005

Within 12 hours of announcing an open contest to successfully create and deploy an "in the wild" active virus for Mac OS X, Mac and iPod peripheral maker DVForge Inc. canceled the campaign saying it was ill advised and fraught with legal concerns.

The contest -- titled the Mac OS X Virus Prize 2005 -- was to have awarded a US$25,000 prize to the first hacker who could infect two Macintosh computers owned by the company. Announced early the morning of March 26, the company canceled the program in less than 24 hours.

"During the first several hours after making the public announcement, I was contacted by a large number of Mac users and Mac software professionals who shared their thinking with me about the contest," said Jack Campbell, Chief Executive Officer of DVForge. "I have taken their advice very seriously, and have made the difficult decision to cancel our contest. I have been convinced that the risk of a virus on the OS X platform is not zero, although it is remarkably close to zero.

"More importantly, I have been convinced that there may be legality issues stemming from such a contest, beyond those determined by our own legal counsel, prior to announcing the contest. So, despite my personal distaste for what some companies have done to take advantage of virus fears among the Mac community, and my own inclination to make a bold statement in response to those fears, I have no responsible choice but to retract the contest, effective immediately."

The catalyst for the contest was a report released early last week by anti-virus software vendor Symantec Corp. that said the Mac and Mac OS X was becoming an increasingly bigger target for viruses and hacker attacks.

"It is now clear that the Mac OS is increasingly becoming a target for the malicious activity that is more commonly associated with Microsoft and various Unix-based operating systems," the report stated. "Symantec believes that as the popularity of Apple's new platform continues to grow, so too will the number of attacks directed at it."

The report was met with skepticism across the Internet. Mr. Campbell called the report "complete nonsense" and challenged "any malicious coder" to prove Symantec's claims.

"There are a number of fundamental safeguards against virus attacks that keep the OS X operating system without its first in-the-wild virus," Mr. Campbell wrote. "The 'small number' of Macs has nothing to do with the lack of virus incidents. It is the architecture of Apple's operating system that protects its users from these bugs.

"I happen to believe that Apple should be offering this prize," he wrote. "But, since they have not, I will. On behalf of knowledgeable Mac users everywhere, I am putting my money where my mouth is."

To win the contest, the person coding the virus had to infect two G5 Powermac computer systems owned by the company and submit an e-mail notice with a transcript of at least 32 contiguous characters of code included in the virus, a brief description of the functionality and symptoms of the virus, and contact information. If the virus matched the description and actually worked, Mr. Campbell promised a $25,000 prize.

After canceling the contest, Mr. Campbell went out of his way to distance himself and his company from giving any impression that it was endorsing the development and distribution of computer viruses -- a U.S. federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

In a carefully worded statement, Mr. Campbell explained his reason for the contest and denied it was a publicity stunt.

"We have seen hundreds of people write to us condemning us for 'putting the entire Mac world at risk,'" he wrote. "If an in-the-wild virus is coming, anyway, I say let it come...I believe that this overstated virus threat is costing our platform hundreds of thousands of new users."

Saying he still feels the contest was the right thing to do, Mr. Campbell said, "the contest was only canceled because I was convinced on Saturday morning that there was some minor risk of federal law violation in continuing."

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