The $25,000 OS X Virus Challenge: Anatomy of a PR Nightmare

by Chris Seibold Mar 28, 2005

By now you’re probably aware of the huge brouhaha that erupted upon the Macsphere over the weekend. For those of you who wisely avoid the web on the weekends the brief version is as follows: Jack Campbell of DVForge issued a press release offering a $25,000 reward to the first person to write a virus that happened to infect two Macs running OS X in Hendersonville, Tennessee. In perhaps the least surprising turn of events since quick and uniformly unfavorable. Shortly thereafter the contest was scrapped. (All mention of the contest has been removed from DVForge’s press release page as of this writing)

Mr. Campbell contends that the contest was a reaction to a Symantec report that intimated the Mac would soon be a target for hackers. Mr. Campbell maintains, seemingly very earnestly, that it is his opinion that Macs are nigh invulnerable to viruses and the contest would highlight the Mac’s imperviousness to all things of malicious nature. Others opine that the contest amounts to little more than a publicity stunt and point to Mr. Campbell’s somewhat dubious business practices of the past. This makes for an interesting question: Was this simply a Mac zealot’s over reaction to Symantec’s scare tactics? Or was this, in fact, a very ill advised publicity stunt intended to move more DVForge products out the door?

Evidence for the publicity stunt angle is fairly easy to come by. Cast your mind back to the Super Shuffle by LuxPro unveiled at CeBit. The Super Shuffle is a small, white mp3 player that looks nearly identical to the iPod Shuffle. As soon of word of the device hit the street people were crying foul, noting that the device was a blatant iPod Shuffle rip-off (though a few pundits did enviously note that the Super Shuffle contained an FM receiver). While everyone else was getting worked up Mr. Campbell was doing detective work (and he did a nice job). Through his efforts he discovered that the Super Shuffle was a publicity stunt. More interesting than the status of the Super Shuffle was Mr. Campbell’s reaction to the ploy by LuxPro. He glowingly writes:

“This was not a prank, nor was it an act of blind stupidity. In my view, it was one of the most clever PR maneuvers I have ever seen executed by a small company”

Clearly Mr. Campbell is impressed. At this point it isn’t a leap to suppose that Mr. Campbell was envious of the LuxPro tactics and looking for something similar. That opportunity arose when Symantec released the aforementioned report. Seizing the moment Jack Campbell attempted to cash in and garner a ton of free publicity.

There is nothing inherently wrong with self-promotion or publicity stunts. Getting people interested in products or companies is a staple of successful marketing. Apple is very good at this and annoying FM DJ’s are constantly trying to be good at this. There is, however, a hazy line between getting people talking and creating an entirely negative situation. By way of example: Mike Tyson showing up at Wrestlemania is good, SuperBowl wardrobe malfunctions are bad.

So we are left with two questions: Was Jack Campbell serious about the contest or was the near immediate cancellation of the contest always a part of the poorly scripted stunt? I’m afraid we will never know. The final remaining question concerns the effect on DVForge. Will all the publicity surrounding the now defunct OS X virus prize be helpful or damaging to DVForge? In this case it is the green stuff that matters, if the reaction is big enough either way we may all know the answer to that question.


  • You know, that whole market share = vulnerability thing is a crock. Those same people say Firefox will be put up to the same spy/crap/adware IE stands with—but I think we can all agree Firefox is a safer browser than IE.

    Despite the market share, there are loads of people working to figure out vulnerabilities in OS X, Windows, Firefox and IE. Apple takes transparent care to fix any newly discovered faults in OS X and we all know how fast Firefox’ turnaround time is for bugs.

    piecetogether had this to say on Mar 28, 2005 Posts: 13
  • I’ll give Mr Campbell the benefit of the doubt that he was just plain stupid!

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 28, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • I think stupidity. After a lot of feedback, I think he will have found how leglly exposed his position would be and it would cost him much more then prize money to proceed.

    shaitan had this to say on Mar 28, 2005 Posts: 2
  • I still say no OS is safe. Not even straight UNIX. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?

    But with Apple, fixes come pretty quick. Remember the virus disguised as an MP3 one last year (or maybe it was 2003)? Remember how fast Apple fixed that? It took less than 5 days, if I remember correctly.

    Look at Microsoft. They acknowledge security flaws in Windows and IE and then eventually get around to patching them. They have far more developers than Apple does working on their OS alone - why can’t they be bothered to make these patches sooner?

    Waa had this to say on Mar 29, 2005 Posts: 110
  • Macs are much safer than Windows due to the architecture of the OS. On the other hand no operating system is bulletproof so there will always be an exploit. In the end the biggest security hole for macs is the guy behind the keyboard who cleverly uses “passw0rd” as his system admin password.

    chrisseibold had this to say on Mar 29, 2005 Posts: 48
  • Hahaha. A friend of mine uses a term along the lines of “problem lies between user and keyboard.” It makes sense.

    Waa had this to say on Mar 29, 2005 Posts: 110
  • “why can’t they be bothered to make these patches sooner?”

    Maybe because there are other things that multibillion dollar company with 100’s of engineers smarter than you working with millions of lines of code have thought of that you may not? :rolleyes:

    And I would not say “Macs” are much safer.  Mac is a piece of hardware that can run OS X, BSD, YDL, Mandrake, etc.  Technically, you mean that OS X is safer than Windows due to the fact it is based on FreeBSD.

    K Lin had this to say on Apr 13, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Windows users have the free antivirus download possibility while Mac OSX don’t have such services.. because they don’t have viruses! To me the contest is a good image stunt, it’s funny and to the point: you can’t create a virus, you’ll see! They could have even offered a greater reward:)

    NelsonBoyes had this to say on Jun 11, 2011 Posts: 4
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    Samuel had this to say on Sep 14, 2011 Posts: 26
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