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Macs with flashing question mark folder
From: "Mertz, Brian E" <bmertz () ILLINOIS EDU>
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2013 16:30:45 +0000

Hello everyone,

Normally, this list isn't where I would pose this question. But here at Illinois we're seeing enough instances of a 
particular Mac problem that we're starting to wonder if there isn't a bit of nasty Mac malware out in the wild that 
isn't being reported on.  So I thought I'd consult with the security experts.

We're seeing Macs that over a period of several weeks start having performance issues, applications start crashing more 
frequently, and eventually after a few weeks of this, the computer freezes up completely requiring reboots.

Then, the Mac will fail to make it through startup and will freeze on a flashing icon of a file folder with a question 
mark. Running Disk Utility from a startup disc doesn't help, because the HD is not visible.

Wiping the drive and reinstalling the OS works for a time, but then the problem returns, at least intermittently.

Traditionally, the flashing question mark folder has been identified as a hardware problem -- the hard drive is not 
being recognized. But in our experience, this is a relatively rare problem affecting either older devices or devices 
that have had some physical trauma.

This is happening with Macs of all models (laptops, desktops), ages (old and new), and versions of OS X (though not 
iOS).

We've now seen over 20 instances of this problem on campus in the last few months, and that is just what has been 
reported to one select group of field consultants. We imagine there are more instances of this problem out there, as I 
have seen non-University Macs suffer from this as well.

Due to the spike in these problems, and the fact that it isn't just contained to a particular OS, or age or model of 
Mac, we're starting to wonder if this is a software (malware) or firmware problem, instead of just a failed drive 
problem.

QUESTIONS:

  1.  Has anyone else seen a spike in these kinds of Mac failures on their campus?
  2.  If anyone has seen a similar spike with this particular problem, were you able to discover a cause?
  3.  Does anyone have a solution aside from installing new hard drives?


--
Brian Mertz
Senior Client Relationship Consultant
Campus Information Technologies and Informational Services (CITES)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
bmertz () illinois edu<mailto:bmertz () illinois edu>
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