Better is NOT Perfect

May 5, 2009

The Mac is NOT Malware Proof. The sky is NOT falling.

On not being Malware proof, Rich Mogull writes:

…just because we live in a nicer neighborhood doesn’t mean we are immune to risks. For many years Mac OS X did have an inherent security advantage over Windows, but to those who understand the technologies within the operating systems, those days are long past.

The latest version of Windows (Vista, not that most people use it) is provably more secure in the lab than the latest version of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Leopard lacks proper implementation of the new anti-exploitation technologies included in Vista, and, based on the number of Apple security patches, experiences about as many vulnerabilities.

When I see articles that defend Mac OS X based on the lack of Mac-specific malicious software, and not on current technical capabilities, cybercrime dynamics, or attack methods, I tend to be dubious.

Mac OS X’s Unix core was a powerful security defense for many years, especially the requirement to enter a password before installing most kinds of software, but modern attack methods are able to circumvent that protection.

It’s part of his article on Mac Disaster News Stories.

Some days it seems the entire world is waiting with bated breath for the eventual fall from grace of the long-vaunted Macintosh security. From industry publications to the mainstream press, even the slightest Mac security hiccup spurs an onslaught of articles, debates, and even the occasional cable news headline. Some stories declare us invulnerable to attacks, while others give the impression that by the time you jump up from your armchair and rush to your Mac, it will already be infected and funneling your life’s savings and family photos to Nigerian spammers. For us Mac users it can be difficult to discern the lines between truth, hype, and outright fantasy.

As someone who spends most of his time reading, writing, and speaking about security, there are five things Rich tends to look for in Mac security news to cut to the heart of the story. After all the hype in recent days over the “Mac botnet,” he thought it was time to share some of his tricks.

Five Tips for Reading Mac Security Stories @ Tidbits.

March 9, 2009

Addiction, Not Lock-In, is Apple’s Motive [UPDATED x3]

[NOTE: This article was originally posted on January 5, 2009 on my personal blog.]

Addiction, Not Lock-In, is Apple’s Motive

I was reading Sean Devine’s thoughts on the App Store. I believe he is correct in Apple, Inc.’s actions, but not the motive.

Apple clearly is giving no preferential treatment to “quality” apps, just making it easy to get at the quantity of them. Sean believes the purpose of this Large Selection focus is to lock people in via a large investment in native apps.

I disagree.

I think that as a hardware-sales-based-profit-model organization, every software related action Apple, Inc. takes is to increase the disability of the hardware it sells.

The KEY to maximizing iPhone profit is to create very high switching costs for users, just as they did for the iPod via the iTunes Music Store

The iTunes Store (both apps and music) run on the slimmest of margins, and (according to Apple) exists only as a perk for their hardware customers and a “value booster” of their hardware.

The fact that native apps (DRM’d or not) cannot be moved to another platform is a technical barrier and to blame it on an attempt at lock-in is assigning malice without cause. Yes, Apple benefits from this, but they benefit equally every time an iPhone specific web site shows up or an iPod user pirates a song off bittorrent.

DRM on music can go away tomorrow and while it would wreak havoc on AAPL’s stock price, it would have zero negative effect on Apple’s bottom line.

Likewise, if all iPhone developers pulled their App Store app and put it on their web site recompiled to run on Android – the iPhone 3G would STILL be more useful than the original iPhone, which people loved.

I’m not suggesting a mass developer exodus wouldn’t hurt Apple or the App Store, I’m just suggesting that Apps are not the gotcha in a customer snare-and-trap scenario.

I believe Apple is snaring customers, just not by locking them in. Apple is snaring customers with the out-of-the-box gadget itself and keeping them happy (and compliant) with apps.

It’s the apps, but then again it’s the object itself.

Unlike a game console, the outer shell of the hardware (and not technical specs or benchmarks) is more important to the vast majority of the people slapping down their cash (aka the non-geeky).

The non-geeky lust after the gadget itself first, THEN what apps you can get for it.

The only ones who are even aware that you can add features to phones is the 7% of the population that knows how to install hard drives in their PCs, the 2% of the population that have downloaded an app to their existing phone, and developers.

The iTunes Store purchases that “locked people in” to iPods never seemed to erupt into an issue, even after hundreds of millions of iPods and billions of DRMed songs. Why? People were addicted to the iPods, not the store purchases.

I doubt App Store purchases are tying people to their iPhone any more than iTunes purchases tied them to iPods.

Evil Apple, Inc.

All of the negative stereotypes (Selfish. Greedy. Smug. Control Freak. Superior. Arrogant. Secretive.) about Apple, Inc. as a company or Steve Jobs as a person can be boiled down to four basic corporate policies:

1. Apple writes their own machine-level code rather than outsourcing it.
2. Apple designs their own baseline hardware rather than using snap-together pieces.
3. Apple writes code that it doesn’t license to others.
4. Apple follows the model of Loose Lips Sink Ships.

These four policies put Apple at an advantage with all their partners, vendors, developers, and customers – and a lot of them complain loudly. Others carry it farther and assign dark motives for these policies and attempt to predict future actions based on those dark motives.

Lock-in is a dark motive, as it keeps you prisoner. With Apple products you aren’t a prisoner as much as you are an addict. (Getting people addicted is also a dark motive, but in manifests itself differently than a lock-in motive.)

Once they’ve locked users in, they’ll shift focus to mine as much profit as possible from each of those users each year.

Like how they’ve constantly raised prices on music in their 75+% marketshare music store, and pushed prices higher with their 90+% marketshare of a TV/Movie store? Like how they won’t allow any non-DRM’d material on their hardware? No, wait… they’ve never done any of those things.

What HAVE they done? They’ve fought with music studios against raising prices. They’ve waged a public war against DRM and used the RIAA’s instance on it as a bargaining chip to get the least restrictive copy protection in the industry.

They’ve prioritized HTML5 and h.264 over proprietary extensions and plug-ins.

Do you think they were doing it for the benefit of all mankind? No. Open file formats and communications protocols puts all platforms on a level playing field – and Apple believes that when all things are equal, their physical/tangible gear is more desirable than the gear sold by other hardware makers. (The arrogant bastards.)

Their existing customer base agrees. They become rabid at the release of any new hunk of plastic, glass, and metal that gets the Apple Seal of Approval.

What Addiction Looks Like
Jeremy Horwitz had to go 24 hours without his iPhone.

What hasn’t been publicized as much is the iPhone addiction factor—the “you couldn’t pry this thing out of my hands without a gun” survey question—which will be the key to understanding whether, as a key Palm investor claimed last week, the first wave of iPhone users are itching to be free of their two-year contracts come July and ready to won over to Sprint, or rather, that they’re just waiting for the next big iPhone release in order to make another Apple purchase.

My gut feeling is that, absent some really big screw-up by Apple come late June, there will be no tidal wave of departures from the iPhone’s existing userbase—at least, to smartphones at similar price points.

[…]

Yet from (a) my wedding day to (b) the birth of my daughter to (c) the day when I went from the original iPhone to the iPhone 3G, an iPhone hasn’t left my side—or been out of use—for any significant length of time since the original day of release. It has become something close to indispensable for keeping in touch with people, pretty good for music and movies, and even more of a draw since the launch of the App Store.

I don’t think Jeremy is even considering getting a phone from a different maker any time soon, do you? I don’t think he’ll even be seriously looking at them.

Apple’s M.O. is simple:
Phase 1:
1. Build a Better Mousetrap, then make it gorgeous.
2. Let the world know about your better mousetrap in a Spectacular Fashion.
3. Remove all barriers to your door, then make more doors.
4. Profit!

Phase 2:
1. Addict them with something new and shiny.
2. Release something newer and shinier.
3. Repeat and Profit!

As long as you are hooked on their gear, you won’t even LOOK at anyone else’s. If you don’t look at anyone else’s, Apple can convince you they invented fire and the wheel.

And you’ll be happy to believe them.

February 4, 2009

Macs Don’t Get Viruses. So, what? They’re still not safe.

Much is made over the fact that Macs don’t get viruses. Even Apple’s advertising campaign plays up this fact. To this I say: So What? Viruses aren’t the only nasties out there, nothing is safe from a trojan horse, and everyone can be phished.

Nothing Is Safe from a Trojan Horse
I can burn a trojan horse on a DVD, and render your DVD Player permanently inoperable. I can put a trojan horse on a thumb drive and plug it into your car stereo’s USB port, and brick your car stereo. Of course, the trojan horse has to be written for the specific target. The trojan horse that destroyed the DVD Player won’t do anything to the car stereo and vice versa.

The same is true of Windows and Macs. A Trojan Horse written for a Mac is harmless to Windows, and vice versa.

What’s the difference?
A virus is a self-replicating piece of software. It requires no human intervention to spread. It just has to exploit a known hole in your system’s security. A Trojan Horse (or just “Trojan”) doesn’t have to find a hole in your security. It just has to bait you. It fools you into downloading it, installing it, giving it permissions, and running it.

Caveat Pirate.
It can be disguised a quarterly report from your supervisor, a viewer for a porn site, a cracked version of iWork or Photoshop, or even a pirated song.

When it’s disguised as a photo or a video or music file, it’s easy to spot because clicking on those things should never prompt your Mac to ask for your password… so when it does: Bingo! Trojan Horse Blocked! However, if I I’m installing something, asking me for my password is perfectly normal.

Another thing no OS is safe from: Phishing.

A phony e-mail link is a phony e-mail link and the fake web page you’re typing your password into doesn’t care what you’re typing on.

On why AV software is necessary on Windows* (especially XP)
* Until very recently, all versions of Windows came with five of its ports open (Mac OS X comes with all of them shut and locked.) Ports are back-door channels to the Internet: one for instant-messaging, one for Windows XP’s remote-control feature, and so on. These ports are precisely what permitted viruses to infiltrate millions of PC’s for almost two decades. Microsoft finally shut those ports after 18 years with the release of Vista.

* When a program tries to install itself in Mac OS X or Linux (system folder), a dialog box interrupts your work and asks you permission for that installation — in fact, requires your account password. Windows XP goes ahead and installs it, potentially without your awareness.

* Administrator accounts in Windows (and therefore viruses that exploit it) have access to all areas of the operating system. In Mac OS X, even an administrator can’t touch the files that drive the operating system itself. A Mac OS X virus (if there were such a thing) could theoretically wipe out all of your files, but wouldn’t be able to access anyone else’s stuff, couldn’t touch the operating system itself, and couldn’t access your backups.

* No Macintosh e-mail program automatically runs scripts that come attached to incoming messages, as Microsoft Outlook does. Outllook and IE are the two most common vectors for malware infection because of auto-running.

On why AV software is a good idea on a Mac.
If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

OK, so a Windows Virus can’t affect your Mac… they’re still attached to that e-mail you forwarded to that mailing list! If you had scanned it, you would have protected your non-Mac using family and friends from having to deal with it. What if their AV software isn’t up-to-date? Wouldn’t you feel awful if little Suzie lost her book report on turtles just because you saw a retro dancing-hamster / peanut-butter-jelly-time flash video and wanted to pass it on?

So am I suggesting you buy the latest version of Norton? HEAVENS NO!!!!

Norton AV software actually has caused problems in the past on Macs and have not provided any protection from anything for all the money they charge.

Check out ClamX AV. There are plenty of free Mac AV solutions, but ClamX is the least intrusive. People say that when a danger finally surfaces, that’s the one they’ll be downloading and using. Until then, no one bothers.

Caveat Complacent.
Now, if you’ve made it this far you may have noticed that in the beginning I said that Macs don’t get viruses. That is not the same thing as Macs can’t get viruses. OS X has set a record for longest time without an outbreak, but nothing lasts forever and no system that communicates is 100% secure.

*Clipped from a Slashdot post, I have no idea who the original author is.

Digg @ http://digg.com/apple/Macs_Don_t_Get_Viruses_So_What_They_re_Still_Not_Safe

January 31, 2009

Hello world! (Or, Version 1 of my “About Me” Page)

When you start a new WordPress Blog, by default it has one post. This post. Hello World!

Hello World!
Based on my blog’s title, who am I? . . . ? Your answer will determine how I’ll sound to you in all my posts.

I’m a Hater
I’m on the Microsoft payroll and am just pulling a Dvorak and trolling for page hits. I’m Dan Lyons. I’m Fake Dan Lyons, I’m Fake Fake Dan Lyons. I’m a Microsoft PR Move to deflect from [insert bad news here]. I’m a gamer and build-it-yourself type who thinks everyone should know how to upgrade their RAM and add a second hard drive. I think that Bill Gates was a visionary, but was taken down by jealous companies who couldn’t compete in the market and had to get Big Brother to fight for them. I’ve never touched a Mac, except in Middle school and it kept freezing up; they’re overpriced and under-specced and I won’t waste money on a fancy case with a logo on it.

I’m a Fanboi Apologist
I worship at the altar of Steve Jobs. I drank the Kool-Aid and only pretend to grumble so I can make excuses. I’ve never owned a PC because I’m rich. I have Apple stickers on my car, my bicycle, my skateboard, and my dorm-room door. I like to think I’m a rebel, and I’m Different, and therefore better and cooler than you. I have all my hair, and it hangs down to my ass. I believed in Apple II Forever. I bled in six colors. I believe that Jeff and Andy were creating two very different machines, and Steve made the Mac into neither and both. I think Apple is that iPod/iTunes company with the cool bus ads and has something to do with The Beetles.

Who am I really?
I’m a nobody. I’m your brother. I’m Steve Jobs. I’m Fake Steve Jobs Twice Removed. I’m a fourteen year old who just got his own room and a new Mac. I’m the original 40 Year Old Virgin.

OK, it’s not funny anymore.
Well, it was for me. Spoiled sport. Truth? I’m no one you’ve heard of. I write things that you don’t care about and definitely don’t agree with. You shouldn’t read this blog at all. Go away. You’ll thank me.

You think this is comedy gold, don’t you?
I think I’m kinda cute. Of course, that’s the crap they use to rake you over the coals later.

Cute, or Smug?
See! It’s happening already. You’ve put me in a box.

Who are you talking to?
Isn’t that.. me? I mean… you’re me, right? There’s no interviewer giving voice over. I mean, I’m not doing voices out loud or anything.

You want to do it out loud into the empty room, now. Don’t you?

Don’t you?

*sigh*
Yay!!

January 7, 2008

MWSF2008: What I want vs. What I expect

[NOTE: This post was originally published January 7, 2008 @ 7:35 on my personal blog. It has been moved here to consolidate all my Apple-Related rants in one place.]

We all know the format. Rock music is playing while the auditorium fills. Backstage Stephen Jobs, businessman, readies himself for his performance as The Steve. He’s in costume, he’s well rehearsed, and he has his water. The music stops and he walks onstage to a thunderous applause.

First he talks about Old News (existing products, sales reports), then New News (doling out the goodies).

New software first, then (if any) new hardware and hardware bumps. The earlier he reveals new hardware, the more new hardware we’ll get.

Then one more thing. Maybe. He doesn’t do them every time.

Sometimes a thank you and goodbye, sometimes a musical guest.

So what will be the specifics? Until next week, we can only guess.

He’s my two cents:

iPod:
What I expect: The lineup got a complete refresh in October, including a new model. I don’t expect hardware to change in capacity or price at all. I expect firmware 1.1.3 for the iPod Touch to come out with all the rumored features.

What I want: A video/voice VOIP handset. Call it the iPod Chat. or the iChat Mobile. Or the skunkcabbage vomit machine. Who cares what you call it? Just make it. Please.

iPhone:
What I expect: Firmware 1.1.3 and a loose date for the SDK.

What I want: Immediate release of the SDK and a developer’s preview of Firmware 1.2.0 which it will require.

Portable Macs:
What I expect: Processor and hard drive bumps on existing models.

What I want: Wide touchpads on all models, including a new Macbook Mini, and the functions in OSX to take advantage of it (like resolution independence, Ink, and gestures). Also: A mini tablet that you hold like a PSP.

Desktop Macs:
What I expect: Processor and hard drive bumps for the iMac and Mac mini. Nothing for the Mac Pro.

What I want: A whole new desktop machine. Shaped like a small drawing board, it does away with the pointer and introduces a different GUI paradigm.

AppleTV:
What I expect: After two years in the making, there will be movie rentals.

What I want: TV Show rentals at ridiculously low prices. Low enough to consider cutting out your cable bill and going all-internet.

Cinema Displays:
What I expect: Nothing.
What I want: New 24″, 26″ 42″ and 52″ models. Standard with iSight, BTO without.

Partnerships:
What I expect: Skip lines @ Starbuck’s. All Starbuck’s in airports are now wired for iPhone.

What I want: iPhone now works other places like it does at Starbucks. Music off the air, browse the iTunes Music Store, and order food if available. (Like the pizza/hotdogs at Costco)

Software:
What I expect: iTunes 8
What I want: OS X 10.5.2, and updates to iLife and iWork.

One More thing:
What I expect: He didn’t do a “one more thing” at all between September of 2004 (iPod nano) and October 2007 (iPod touch). I wouldn’t expect one this time.

What I want: I want it all. Duh.

Musical Guest: Nobody. Too much new hardware.

March 26, 2007

The Cons of Switching from Windows to Mac. Ten Quick Ones.

[NOTE: This post was originally published March 26, 2007 @ 9:36 on my personal blog. It has been moved here to consolidate all my Apple-Related rants in one place.]

The Cons of Switching from Windows to Mac. Ten Quick Ones.

1. Everything has a learning curve. Remember learning to tie your shoes? It won’t be nearly that hard.

2. It’s different. Yes, I know this is a Pro, but it goes along with that learning curve thing.

3. Firewire and USB 2.0 only. Gotta dump that ancient printer, finally.

4. When you ask for help, people will try to “solve your problem” rather than answer your question. They will also question your motive for doing it YOUR way. It’s a right-brained/left-brained thing, I think.

5. You will become a magnet for every Apple hater around. You will be surprised how personally offended others are by your choice in electronics purchases. Heaven forbid you buy hardware from a manufacturer that writes its own OS rather than outsourcing it!

6. Mac Memory. When you switch from PC to Mac you will have to break the habit of buying the cheapest RAM you can buy and/or cannibalizing old/dead machines. You will have to buy quality pieces of hardware. Quality hardware is expensive when one is used to bottom of the barrel and freebies.

7. WMV files with one or more of the many types of Microsoft DRM on them go from being “confusing and overpriced” to “completely useless”.

8. Hardware Manufacturers who must sign away the rights to include Mac or Linux drivers with their products (or mention on the box that it works AT ALL) in order to get the “Designed for Windows” logo necessary to compete turns buying gear into Russian Roulette.

9. Software Companies who have to halt development of Mac versions in order to get those same logos. This is happening less and less. In fact, software that halted development of Mac versions in the 90s are returning to the Mac. *cough* Premiere *cough*.

10. Owning a Mac makes you want to own more Apple gear. It sounds like a joke. It isn’t.

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