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Friday, February 17, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Poetic justice for Apple hackers

The Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Apple Computer has resorted to a poetic broadside in the inevitable cat-and-mouse game between hackers and high-tech companies.

The maker of Macintosh computers had anticipated hackers would try to crack its new OS X operating system built to work on Intel's chips and run pirated versions on non-Apple computers. So, Apple developers embedded a warning deep in the software — in the form of a poem.

A hacker encountered the poem recently, and a copy of it has been circulating on Mac-user Web sites this week.

Apple confirmed Thursday it has included such a warning in its Intel-based computers since it started selling them in January.

The embedded poem reads: "Your karma check for today: There once was a user that whined/his existing OS was so blind/he'd do better to pirate/an OS that ran great/but found his hardware declined./Please don't steal Mac OS!/Really, that's way uncool./(C) Apple Computer, Inc."

Apple also put in a separate hidden message, "Don't Steal Mac OS X.kext," in another spot for would-be hackers.

"We can confirm that this text is built into our products," Apple issued in a statement. "Hopefully it, and many other legal warnings, will remind people that they should not steal Mac OS X."

The hacking endeavors are, for now, relegated to a small, technically savvy set.

But it underscores a risk Apple faces if a pirated, functional version eventually becomes as accessible and straightforward as installing other software on a computer.

It's a risk that became apparent after Apple decided to make a historic transition to Intel-based chips, the same type its rivals use in predominant Windows-based PCs.

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Apple previously relied on Power PC chips from IBM and Freescale Semiconductor, but this year began switching its computers to the Intel platform.

Various analysts have since hypothesized a worst-case situation in which Apple would lose control of its proprietary Macintosh environment: how its reputedly easy-to-use and elegant operating system would no longer be locked to its computers, a critical revenue pipeline for Apple.

Such scenarios have raised a debate among Apple observers about whether the company should just license its operating system to run on other machines, similar to Microsoft.

Apple has repeatedly said it will not do that.

Meanwhile, security experts Thursday identified a computer worm that specifically targets Mac computers running OS X — a rarity since most worms target the broader base of PCs with Microsoft's Windows. Experts, however, consider the threat low.

It is believed to be the first such virus aimed specifically at the Mac platform.

The worm is called OSX/Leap-A, according to a posting on the Web site of antivirus software company Sophos, which said the worm is spread via instant-messaging programs.

The worm attempts to spread via Apple's iChat instant-messaging program, which is compatible with America Online's popular AIM instant-messaging program, according to the Sophos Web site.

The worm sends itself to available contacts on the infected users' buddy list in a file called "latestpics.tgz," according to the Sophos Web site.

"This first Macintosh OS X threat is an example of the continuing spread of malicious code on to other platforms," said Vincent Weafer, senior director at Symantec Security Response, in a statement.

The worm will not automatically infect Mac computers but will ask users to accept the file, Weafer said.

Symantec ranked the new worm as a Level 1 threat (with 5 being the most severe).

An Apple spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.

Details about the worm provided by Reuters.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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