iPods carry Windows’ virus
It pretty much figures that the first significant virus to affect Apple products (in the past decade anyway) would be a Windows virus. It’s a bit surprising, however, that that virus is carried on Apple iPods. But that seems to be the case, according to Apple itself.
As indicated on Apple’s Web site, a “small number” (less than 1%) of video iPods shipped with the RovMonE.exe virus installed on their hard disk. Like almost all current viruses, RovMonE is Windows-only, which means it can’t affect the Mac OS or the iPod itself, but it can, in theory, affect any Windows machine into which the iPod is plugged.  Only Video iPods shipped after September 12, 2006 might carry the virus.  But, since last quarter Apple sold 8.7 million iPods (as indicated in today’s earnings announcement), it’s a good bet that there are a few carriers being plugged into Windows machines right now. (As a quick estimate, let’s say 1/4 of the 8.7 million shipped last quarter after September 12, 10% of those were video iPods and half of those for Windows machines.  1% of that would mean about 1,000 or so could spread the virus, although it’s probably even less than that).
The good news is that, at this point, one would assume almost all Windows machines have anti-virus applications on them (those that don’t are probably not very functional anyway), and, according to Apple, pretty much any Windows anti-virus application would protect against this virus. Apple does suggest, however, that, to be safe, all Video iPod users use iTunes 7 to reset the software on their iPod to a version that does not include the virus. Doing this, however, wipes out all the data on your iPod (songs, photos, videos, etc.), so it seems unlikely all that many people are going to go to this effort.
There’s more than one lesson to be learned from this episode. First off, viruses can come from places other than the Internet. Mobile phones and PDAs, for instance, have been on our list of possible virus carriers for years. We clearly need to add the iPod to that list. Secondly, Apple needs to put better internal anti-virus procedures in place now that it’s dealing with so many Windows products (iPod, iTunes, QuickTime, BootCamp, etc.). Three decades of not really having to worry about viruses (because they designed their products so well) may have made Apple a little complacent on the anti-virus side. They pretty much admit as much with their interesting statement that:
  1. As you might imagine, we are upset at Windows for not being more hardy against such viruses, and even more upset with ourselves for not catching it.
And the lesson for the rest of us? If we don’t already have that anti-virus application on our Macs, it’s definitely something to look into, as the bad guys are getting closer all the time.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006