Friday, January 30, 2009

The Original Macintosh vs. Boot Sector Viruses

My discussion of the absence of boot sector viruses from the original Macintosh gets good coverage today over at Roughly Drafted. Since the Mac community is currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Mac's introduction, the timing is even apropos.

For those not familiar with my history in the Macintosh anti-virus world, I wrote the Gatekeeper anti-virus system.

True story: As I was working up to the first release of Gatekeeper, I interviewed with Apple for a job. At that time, working at Apple looked to me like the holy grail of jobs, so I went into the interview nervous as hell, but with high hopes. In order to demonstrate the various Mac software that I had developed, I brought along a hard disk, and booted one of their Macs from it. When the Gatekeeper icon appeared on the startup screen, nobody recognized it, so they asked what it was and I explained that it was a generic anti-virus system I was developing that could defeat viruses without any prior knowledge of them, because it watched the behavior of software for actions likely to be unique to viruses, and prevented those behaviors from successfully completing. I was laughed at, and was not offered the job.

The nitwits at Apple notwithstanding, Gatekeeper did work. It wasn't a perfect solution (of course), but it did, among other things, result in the first detection of at least one, and possibly several, viruses. (After 15+ years, I'm a bit vague on the specifics.) And, in the last several years, it has been dusted-off and cited as prior art in order to invalidate at least one software patent.


  1. Funny I never heard this story. Apple doesn't know what they missed! You didn't miss out much, I can say that as an ex-Apple employee.

  2. Anonymous1:07 AM CST

    Chris, I do remember GateKeeper well... what I don't remember is ever seeing any *real* (technical, in depth) description/documention of it -- did you never write up anything like this? That would be a shame...

    ...right from the start I was under the impression that Apple (and Microsoft and Dell and Google and...) were nothing if not a bunch of silly nitwits - but look who's got all the fame and money now. I laughed at the idea of working for or with them or of buying their stock <---for which I very much feel like a fool sometimes...