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Number of Mac viruses expanding

There's a dark side to Apple Computer's resurgence: Viruses and other programs designed to inflict damage on Macs are making a comeback too.

There's a dark side to Apple Computer's resurgence: Viruses and other programs designed to inflict damage on Macs are making a comeback too.

In the last month alone, 11 new viruses that target the Mac have been discovered, including new variations on known ones and a particularly destructive program called the "AutoStart Worm," according to Symantec, which makes antivirus software for the Mac platform.

The total far surpasses the average of one new virus every 6 to 12 months, the company said. In the past, Apple's Macintosh computers have been remarkably free of destructive viruses compared to the Windows platform.

Among the discoveries is a variation on the "MDEF" virus, which has the ability to change itself to evade detection. No reports of infection have yet been made.

New variants of the AutoStart Worm first discovered in early May are cropping up as well. Worms are described as programs that copy themselves as they move from file to file, whether they be on floppy disks, hard drives, removable storage units, or the system's main memory if it is used as a "virtual" disk drive. They differ from a normal virus in that they don't need to be attached to a program or document to replicate themselves.

On the Mac, the AutoStart worm program attaches itself to the settings control panel for QuickTime version 2.0 or later on PowerPC-based systems. After doing this, an infected computer will suddenly begin to destroy data in a variety of files.

The problem can be prevented by turning off the AutoStart setting, which is used to automatically load in CD-ROMs, according to Mac Virus, a Web site devoted to tracking viruses on the Mac.

Numerous programs are available for detecting most variants of the worm problem, and a number of Web sites are continuing to track the issue, including the widely read Macintouch.