Archive for the ‘Debunking The Magic Tool’ Category

Adobe Reader Malware and Scareware Headlines

December 8th, 2011 2 comments

[NOTE: See Peter from Intego’s comments below. I am electing only to respond to his correct observation that I’d conflated two security issues in this post and amend the post accordingly to address the valid elements of his critique. See prior comment thread here: for why I feel it both important to make the corrections Peter’s comment demand and that I not engage in discussion with him about the remaining content of this piece. Note that the updates below continue to reveal my original error alongside the corrections marked between [UPDATED] and [/UPDATED].

When you sell ‘security products’ you have a a responsibility to exercise an over-abundance of caution in how you communicate with your customers and potential customers. Failing to do this makes you part of the problem and, again, I think Intego is falling far short of that standard.

The issue, as I see it, this time starts with the headline “New Version of DevilRobber Trojan Found In Three Mac Apps” of yesterday’s Mac Security Blog.

The headline implies you might find this nasty malware and be in jeopardy in software you’re likely to be using today. The headline implies typical Mac users are at present risk without an anti-virus application.

Au contraire mon frère, you’re not. As of now, you’ll only find yourself infected with DevilRobber.D if you use BitTorrent to try and pirate software.

Deeper still, the unwritten message is “you need our product to protect yourself” is just not true in this case. To be fair to Intego, this implication is a ‘sin of omission’ rather than a overt misdirection but, as I keep trying to say, I think the core problem is Intego falling short of a very high standard of communication and behavior that I believe comes with selling ‘security’ products.

Why do I pick on Intego? Aren’t all of these antivirus companies are basically a protection racket? Well, it’s pretty simple. Intego is a Mac shop and, having met and chatted with several Intego team members, I think they’re basically good people and they ought to do better. I expect this silliness from the “My super zippy PC TV ad” companies. I don’t expect this from a “Mac Company”.

Here are four simple truths Intego’s article either only indirectly addresses or completely ignores.

1) They found an ‘in the wild’ exploit on a BitTorrent tracker of pirate copies of three Mac titles.
2) Mac users who don’t use BitTorrent to pirate their software are, so far, immune as far as we know.
[UPDATED Points three and four below are not relevant due to my error pointed out by Peter in the comments]
3) Mac users who use Preview to read PDF’s rather than Adobe Reader are immune.
4) Mac users who use Adobe Reader can configure Adobe Reader to block the attack with a preferences setting now.

Worst of all, from a marketing perspective, (the likely motivation for the misleading headline and, indeed, the whole point of their blog) Intego don’t even seem to give themselves full credit for the fact that they already blocked it with existing virus definitions.

Here’s the same post re-written by me as if I worked for Intego:

New Variant of DevilRobber Trojan found in altered MacOS apps distributed via BitTorrent

Intego’s malware researchers have found a new variant of the DevilRobber Trojan horse, which they first discovered in October. The latest variant – DevilRobber.D (there have been two others in between) – has been spotted in three deliberately altered Mac applications (Writer’s Café, EvoCam and Twitterrific) distributed via BitTorrent trackers.

The original developers’ distributions are not infected. (The files you can download directly from the developers’ sites are clean.) The malware has only been found in altered files distributed via BitTorrent trackers. If you use these applications, and have purchased them from the developers, you do not have infected copies of these applications.

[UPDATED *** As Peter from Intego correctly pointed out in the comments, I foolishly conflated the DevilRobber Trojan with another security issue with trojans distributed via PDF and exploits of the Adobe security flaw in Reader. The Links below relate to the PDF issue and *NOT* to DevilRobber]
For more information about this exploit please see:
Adobe’s Security Bulletin:
Topher Kessler’s article for C|Net’s MacFixit:

For more information about this exploit please see:

VirusBarrier X6 definitions addressing the previous versions of the DevilRobber Trojan successfully blocked this new variant (and two others) but we have updated our definitions to specifically block this new version as well.”

If the headline is too long or insufficiently sensational for your marketing guys to sign off on, split it up: New Variant of  Mac DevilRobber Trojan Found and then lead the article with “Three Mac Apps altered to payload the Trojan have been found on a BitTorrent Tracker”.

My prior rant re: Intego’s behavior is here:

[UPDATED Due to my conflation of DevilRobber with the Adobe Reader vulnerability and this story: the irony is far less thick in this post but PLENTY thick if you look at that link.] (The irony that that last rant addressed a behavior that socialized users to trust a file described and badged as a PDF that was really an application and that now we’re seeing an actual PDF Trojan is not lost on this writer.) [/UPDATED]

Here’s the deal. If you sell security products, I think you have to:

– Tell the truth about the level of risk.
– Tell the truth about what your product can do to protect from specific attacks.
– Tell the truth about what alternative measures users can take to mitigate risk.
– Fall all over yourself to protect the reputations of legitimate developers unless and until they distribute infected files or ship software that creates an attack vector.
– Be ‘low key’ about how you characterize risks so users can be confident in the maturity of your products and your business practices so they either buy your products (good for you and your customers) and follow good practices to reduce their risks even without your products (good for everybody).

[UPDATED Again, due to Peter from Intego pointing out my conflation of two issues, this not relevant to the post though still true.] As a final note, yeah, it sure seems like Flash and Acrobat are getting exploited pretty regularly lately. Maybe not leaving these plug-ins enabled in our browsers would be a good idea. [/UPDATED]

– Jon

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Flash is not the web

April 8th, 2011 No comments

Many, many, many people have written about Apple excluding Flash from iOS and Adobe’s spin that Flash is ‘part of the web’ iOS users are being deprived of. The following note from my friend Kevin and a spate of Flash-induced browser crashes has me me itching to chime in:

I like to listen to internet radio streams when I work; stuff from
has long been a favorite productivity boost for me, like caffeine for the ears.
More recently, thanks to Eric Konieczko, I’ve come to appreciate the more varietal
offerings from, but its flash-plugin player excessively and
consistently loads down my CPU: 50-70%! Not so productive, right? The choice of
browser is not a factor; Flash is a pig!

In contrast, I can use VLC on the source stream ( and
run at a cool 6% CPU, which could be even lower if videolan’s VLC package for Mac
included the cvlc binary (dispenses with the GUI). If you have any experience
compiling VLC and could share any helpful tips, please do; I’d appreciate it very

If you have any ideas for Kevin, I’d be interested too and would welcome comments.

But it gets to the core point. Flash has enormous unique value. It’s very good for this kind of thing. (As an aside QuickTime used to be too but that’s a story for another day) and for this kind of thing.

What it’s not good for is how Adobe’s marketing has encouraged it to be used:

  • As a way for a good visual designer to do sexy site navigation without learning to write code. If you want sexy and your coding talents aren’t able to execute your vision in HTML/CSS/Javascript, hire somebody who can. I know lots of talented people. Need help? Let me know.
  • As a way to inflict, and note that I said inflict and not offer, an introductory splash page for your web site. Splash pages are for people who can’t organize their thoughts well enough to design and execute an inviting and easy to understand home page. Splash pages are a way to try (and fail) to force your users to pause and absorb your message as you hold them hostage before you give them what they came for. If you give them what they came for, you can make money off them.  Be nice.  If you find you can’t explain your site or offering well enough without imposing a linear experience as an introduction, that’s fine. It’s very hard. Get help. I can find you great people.
  • As the only way you offer video and audio. There are multiple standards some supported on a particular computing platform (Windows Media and mp4 on  Windows and  MacOS/iOS  respectively). If you want a reliable experience, offer platform native formats.
  • As a way to inflict (see above regards offer vs inflict) your advertising message in front of content.

Flash is not part of the web. Flash is a media type. The web is the interconnectedness of documents, html documents. If you can’t recognize that essential truth and then, from there, add styling, elegant and engaging navigation and, as needed, images, audio and video on top of that to benefit your users, you’re not making websites you’re limiting yourself and and your success.

Adobe, if you can’t sell Flash for the things it’s actually very, very good for, don’t keep trying to dupe people into misusing it in order to sell more. You, Adobe, make wonderful tools in Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects et al, get rich making those wonderful tools and stop trying to hammer home a doomed agenda.

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Offsetting Trackback spam

April 8th, 2011 No comments

One of the most common forms of comment spam I get are robot generated trackbacks. The two most common, and we’re talking hundreds of them, are trackbacks intended to benefit SEO ‘consultants’ and sell Yankee Candle Company candles.

I’d like to suggest that when your product is tackily packaged comprised of more air than substance, and exudes a potent odor that befouls the atmosphere even for  adjacent businesses, no amount of  fleetingly improved Google rank can help.

Oh, and I don’t much like being in the malodorous wing of a Mall near a Yankee Candle Company shop either.


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