Mac Trojan May be a Hoax

Symantec has discovered a file-deleting "Trojan" targeting Mac users. But is it really a piece of malware or a valid but hazardous example of online art?

The company's malware team last week put out a stark warning about a bogus Apple Mac space invaders game that deletes files from the host system's hard drive as the price of zapping aliens.

Branding the deadly game as malware and giving it the name OSX.Loosemaque, the company has even gone to the bother of posting a video of the game's behavior on YouTube. In the demonstration, playing the game is clearly shown to delete files from the Mac user's home folder, starting with doc files and moving on to preference files. Each alien killed in the game destroys a single file.

"The game is actually mildly challenging though I wouldn't recommend doing this on your home computer," says the Symantec analyst.

Research reveals that the "Trojan" is actually a well-intentioned art project called 'Lose/Lose' designed to raise philosophical questions about the nature of video games and killing. Its creator is believed to be one Zach Gage, who released the program as part of an online art project in September.

"By way of exploring what it means to kill in a video-game, Lose/Lose broaches bigger questions. As technology grows, our understanding of it diminishes, yet, at the same time, it becomes increasingly important in our lives," announces Gage, on his website.

The game also clearly states the consequences of playing it, at least as far as English-speaking users are concerned. "Killing in Lose/Lose will likely result in files on your hard drive being deleted," says the opening screen. "You have been warned."

Getting the file on to a Mac would also require a deliberate act as it is not distributed using any subterfuge.

However, in Symantec's view creating such a game is an invitation for criminals to use it for their own purposes.

"While the author of OSX.Loosemaque actually informs people on his website that the game deletes files, there's nothing stopping someone with more malicious intentions from modifying it and passing it on to unsuspecting users who don't have security software installed," says Symantec's Ben Nahorney in a blog.

Is Symantec overreacting? Releasing the game on the Mac reduces its possible use to a small portion of the computing world. In the U.S. Macs are barely 7 percent of PC users, with reducing percentages elsewhere. Mac gaming of any sort, retro or not, is also a tiny niche.Security expert, Graham Cluley of Sophos, was less convinced that it deserved Symantec's opprobrium.

"We did think about talking about it, but it felt a little like scraping the barrel to be honest when there are much more serious Mac threats out there," said Cluley. "Of course, it's possible that some people might think the program is joking when it threatens to zap files and might be tempted to run it. But to my mind it's much less of a threat than the very real problem of fake codecs which have been planted on websites and are served up to Mac users on an increasing basis."

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