DVForge last week offered $25,000 for the first virus that automatically spreads among OS X Macs, but cancelled the contest and retracted the offer of cash, citing concerns about legal liability.

A Mac virus is possible

DVForge said on Saturday that it would not offer cash for a Mac virus, after legal concerns were raised about the contest and in the wake of complaints from Apple security experts - one internal Apple security expert warned that creating such a virus would be possible.

The contest was announced Friday and was intended to raise awareness of what DVForge CEO Jack Campbell considers fear mongering by antivirus company Symantec, which said last week that Mac threats were on the rise.

DVForge makes a variety of Mac peripherals and uses Macs internally and is a bastion of Apple technology experts and loyalists, Campbell said.

Symantec alarmism spurs response

The idea for a contest to create the first self-propagating virus for the OS X platform was a reaction to a recent report from Symantec that called Mac OS an increasing target for malicious activity.

Symantec's warnings were baseless and intended only to "scare the hell out of people," Campbell said.

The idea of a contest grew out of conversations with technical staff at DVForge last week and was intended to call Symantec's "bluff," Campbell said.

"We have just as much incentive as Apple to fight back," he said.

The company connected two G5 PowerMac computers running OS X 10.3 to the Internet and issued a challenge to virus writers to build a virus that would spread between the two machines on or before July 31, 2005.

Campbell was confident that the security features in OS X would prevent anyone from creating a self-propagating virus that moved between the two machines before the deadline expired, he said.

Senior Apple staff warn

However, after word of the contest quickly spread online, Campbell was contacted by senior Apple employees who were experts on the security of OS X who said that it was possible to create such a virus, though doing so would be difficult. The Apple employees encouraged Campbell to end the contest. He was also contacted by an intellectual property attorney and Mac enthusiast, who warned him that writing a virus could be considered illegal, and that DVForge could be considered to be aiding and abetting an illegal activity by sponsoring the contest.

Worried about the prospect of embroiling his company in a legal battle, Campbell cancelled the contest Saturday. However, he also issued a strongly worded statement on the DVForge Web site that railed against Symantec and "the rest of the fear-breeding folks who (prey) on the lack of knowledge about how viruses work."

Companies such as his have a responsibility to take a stand on matters such as the relative security of operating systems, and to counter what he considers untruths, such as the often articulated opinion that the lack of viruses and worms that target the Mac platform is due to the relatively small number of Mac users, he said.