The Lite Side

Mac Virus Writers Return from Extended Cruise

- 2003.09.09

Despite the inability of the mainstream press to distinguish between the words "could" and "is" ("Mac users are just as vulnerable as PC users because a worm or virus could be written that is as destructive as Sobig.F"), a real question needs answering: Just where are the Mac virus writers?

I mean, there must be a few of them, right? This needs investigatin', and we here at the Lite Side are never averse to a challenge (unless it involves actual research) so here are the results of the Lite Side's

Case of the Missing Worm

Having followed several false leads in my search for a Mac Virus Writer (see episode #39, The Case of the Unplugged CPU and episode #76, A Loose Modem Cable Tells No Tales) I arrived at Snodgrass Typesetting and Coffee Table design optimistic that my search was near its end.

Earlier that day I received a mysterious phone call at my tech support hotline (555-PLUG) that said every computer at Snodgrass had been infected and needed to be fixed ASAP. I went through the usual litany of questions when I learned they were an all-Mac shop.

"You're sure you don't have any PCs?" I said.

"What's a PC?" said the voice on the other end. A voice that suggested a beautiful face might be attached to it. Naturally, I was intrigued - and a little concerned that they were, shall we say, a bit limited in their Outlook.

I arrived at Snodgrass and quickly determined that every machine was, indeed, a Mac. Furthermore, they were all displaying the same annoying message on a floating screen: "Nyah Nyah Nyah, Even Macs get blah."

The only way to stop the message was a forced restart, after which the first attempt to access the company server triggered the virus again.

If it was a virus.

I interrogated the owner, Melvin McMac. It turned out I worked with his cousin Mike on a number of cases a few years ago involving involuntary Switching (Episode #42, The Case of the Expanding IT Department), and he remembered Mike mentioning me making Macs work.

"We don't even connect to the Internet except to send email," he complained. "Too much work to do to play Solitaire or visit www.vega$.com."

He was a short man, with too much hair in too many of the wrong places.

"Has anyone outside the company had access to your server in the past few weeks?" I asked. Over at the reception desk, Michelle McMac (no relation to the owner) was dusting a coffee table covered with sample font printouts.

As if I had given him a cue, McMac (Melvin) asked McMac (Michelle) if anyone had come by to work on the computer. "Sure, Mr. McMac," she said, giggling, as if she was still amused by the fact that they shared the same last name but weren't related. "There was that fellow Norman Blotsky, remembah? You told him you didn't want any toilets or somethin', and he left in a huff."

With a name and a copy of a business card from McMac's Rolodex, I was off in search of Blotsky. This is the part of detective work that doesn't get into the papers. Unlike the Justice Department cooperating closely with Microsoft to nab the notorious teenage script kiddie through his publicly posted Web page, I had to pound the pavement and follow leads to find Blotsky, who was last seen at a Blue and White fleet ticket window at San Francisco's Pier

The clerk remembered him. "Blotsky was carrying one of those Apple video game machines," he said. "I remember, because it had a great orange lid shaped like a toilet seat."

Tangerine first gen iBook, I thought. Powerful enough to be useful even today - and thick enough to stop a bullet if it had to. I'd always wanted a tangerine iBook, but private investigators have to investigate someone like OJ to earn enough to buy one of those outright.

By the time I'd saved enough, they'd been superseded by iceBooks, which were faster and cheaper.

Luckily for me, Blotsky's ship came in just as I finished with the clerk. He ambled off the boat and headed for a nearby Starbucks. I followed him, easily evading his notice in the crowds jamming the narrow pier.

I saw him sit on the sidewalk outside the shop and pop open his iBook, a sure sign he was war driving for open access - or maybe he already paid his fee to tap into Starbuck's WiFi network. In either case, I stepped into the store and made my way to the window behind him to watch him work. He checked his email, then surfed over to the MacSurfer archives and checked the headlines for the past six weeks.

Then he slammed his lid shut in frustration and disappeared before I could pierce the triple-decaf mocha hairball line to follow him.

It was then I noticed a number of people wandering by all carrying Apple laptops or wearing Apple shirts from the various websites that sell partisan stuff (like LEM). Back to the Blue and Gold ticket guy, who informed me (in exchange for a coupon for $5 off the Ripley's Believe it or Don't museum) that a cruise filled with Mac Hackers had just come in from an extended cruise. They were aboard the ProtoCulture, a small cruise ship about the size of my backyard shed.

Then I saw Blotsky standing in line at the Cold Stone Creamery, watching the workers hack and slash a pile of Butter Pecan and Carmel Ripple for the customer ahead of him. I decided to confront him.

"Blotsky!" I shouted from the door. "Let's step outside and have a conversation."

"But I haven't ordered yet," he whined. The steel in my eyes must have given him pause, however, because he shut up and stepped out behind a street vendor selling invisible dogs on leashes made of phosphorescent plastic.

"Tell me, Blotsky," I said, eyeing his tangerine toilet lid, "Did you plant a virus at Snodgrass Typesetting and Coffee Table Design before you took off on your little jaunt?"

He clutched the computer to his chest as he denied planting any virus or worm. Then he paused and said, "Dang! I bet they tried to use Remote Desktop again."

He danced from foot to foot, as if he needed to reformat his hard drive in a hurry. "I told them not to mess with that software."

"What about your search for news of your virus on MacSurfer?" I asked.

He seemed mildly surprised that I knew about that and glanced at his computer again as he replied, "I wanted to see if they've released the latest version of Aleph One while I was on my cruise."

I eventually figured out the guy was harmless at best, and no worse than incompetent.

Soon everything was resolved at Snodgrass, and I had a fistful of leads for tracking down a real Mac virus writer. Michelle waved to me as I left. "Come back anytime, mistah," she said. "We don't get too many visitahs, you know."


I didn't let the door hit me in the butt on the way out.

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