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A Fool And His Data Are Soon Parted

July 27th, 2012 No comments

You heard it here first, a daring, ready for being mocked by John Gruber as Claim Chowder, prediction:

“iCloud will lead to a press firestorm to make Antennagate seem like one photojournalist got a shot of Phil Schiller with fleck of spinach on his teeth before a keynote.”

One or, more likely, several of the following will be an stock-price-affecting issues within the next eighteen months:

iCloud will be hacked or the data accidentally exposed. An intrusion on Apple’s servers will expose the personal data of thousands of customers. Why do I know this? It’s just too sweet a target and no security is perfect.

iCloud data will be subpoenaed. Not just one user whose data could also have been subpoenaed on their local machine or company file servers but a large-scale fishing expedition subpoena that catches the innocent along with the indictable. This may be a single event or a revelation that Apple had to agreed to allow a government to have backdoor access.

iCloud will have downtime. Likely not for the whole customer base but for large cross-sections of users. This downtime will be sufficiently long in duration and/or broad in scope to be press black eye worse than the aggregate of MobileMe outages and failings and those were legion.

iCloud use will be banned by government agencies and for the employees of smartly managed corporations. Contracts, secrecy policies and, likely, law (HIPAA for example) will make such policies necessary. If i find out my physician or attorney uses iCloud to store notes or records regarding my business with them I shall be peevish to say the least.

iCloud’s reputation will be sullied by something discovered or changed in Apple’s licensing or terms of use for iCloud or an unrelated product. The policy term will be publicized as a ’cause for concern’ for iCloud users. The concern will be serious and real even though Apple, most likely, will actually have intended no malice or malfeasance at all.

iCloud’s (and the Mac App Store and iOS App Stores) use of bandwidth will be revealed as a serious hidden cost for a broad cross-section of users.  ISP throttling or bandwidth caps will be a major cost/usability problem for iCloud services.

iCloud and/or apps that rely on it will suffer a data-destroying bug that even the most responsible local backup strategy can’t fix. The cost in human labor and emotional damage will be enormous. How do I know this? ‘History shows again and again how nature (and software) points up the folly of man.’ and iCloud for millions of Mac/iOS users makes Godzilla look like a newt.

None of these will ‘break Apple’, not even all of them combined will but they will hurt Apple, and, more important, they will hurt Apple’s customers. You.

Here are a few more things I predict will hurt you:

By relying on iCloud, customers will be trapped in the ‘documents are associated with an Application’ model. For the hobbyist and the ‘consumer’, perhaps no big deal but for the professional and those who work on projects with others, a big deal. Once a video project goes past the ‘clip for YouTube’ level of complexity, more than one tool must be used in producing the material. More than one document type is associated with the project as a whole. A film or tv show project includes scripts, accounting documents, contracts, still images, scoring materials, audio files, the output of other tools. The work done in these other tools must often ’round trip’ in and out of the video (or digital film) editing tool(s). Beyond the file sizes vastly exceeding what could be remotely reasonable to ‘sync in the cloud’, there are workflow complexities that are simply impossible to manage in the models inherent to iCloud.

iCloud and the document model (A largely user-opaque data store with revision information) first offered in Lion and partly retreated from in Mountain Lion works fine for work done by one person in text-based document formats like word processing and spreadsheets. It’s utterly shattered with more complex documents that demand collaboration like video, graphics and 3D. These documents are meta-documents. They are ‘project files’ that point to and rely on an often very large collection of assets. Assets too large, too inter-related and, often, worked on or provided by collaborators.

You’re trapped. File formats change and evolve. Even if you diligently ‘Save As’ periodic snapshots of your work, being able to go back to a version of your entire configuration, OS, application and document version a year or two later to use an old project as a template for a new one will be increasingly difficult. Managing an archiving and tool management process to make this an option you can always rely on will be ever more difficult. Right now, for example, if you needed to go back to Lion and have already upgraded to Mountain Lion, you’re screwed unless you planned ahead and kept an installer in a way far more complex than just leaving the DVD your old OS came on in a drawer. Your pace of adapting to change is now set by Apple, not you unless you work hard to protect yourself.

There are fixes and workarounds for all of these concerns, things Apple could do, should do, to both drag us into the future and protect us from ourselves and from Apple.

There are things you can do, or your IT department or consultants can do for you to protect yourself and those will be the subject of future posts and a lot of billable hours for me, but, for now? Don’t use Mountain Lion or iCloud on a ‘production’ machine. Wait and have a plan.

Related links to be updated ongoing:

Andy Ihnatko at The Chicago Sun Times: “Mountain Lion’s iCloud puts life, documents in sync”

 

Ars Technica: “Timeline: when will Mountain Lion see its first patches?” 

Wired: How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking

 

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Flashback-More Info

April 13th, 2012 No comments

Steve Ragan of Security week tells us Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Flashback (but were afraid to ask)

The above just about covers it all. I’ll add that my earlier post: Apple shoddiness so easily fixed remains relevant but Apple has improved the documentation for the two latest updates:

About Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 8 and  About Java for OS X Lion 2012-003 continue to have different names for the Snow Leopard and Lion updates and continue to link to files with uselessly unclear file names. (JavaForMacOSX10.6.dmg and JavaForOSX.dmg respectively). The good new is that now Apple includes this in both documents: “Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 8 delivers Java SE 6 version 1.6.0_31 and supersedes all previous versions of Java for [OS version].” so, some forward motion there.

The key take away from this very real malware event on Mac OS X is this: It may be true that Mac OS X, when configured and managed properly, is less of malware risk than Windows. It’s clearly true that the Mac is not now, never was and never will be immune. Even iOS has not been immune if you acknowledge that some less than ideal behavior has been allowed in Apple-approved apps. Just because something is better doesn’t mean it’s perfect and informed users and well managed I.T. are a necessity no matter what. Apple would have been wise not to oversell the Mac’s historical advantage in this regard as a future guarantee of safety. I said that to Apple loudly and repeatedly for years. I said this to clients. Now the truth has been thrust upon us: No, the Mac is not the insta-p0wn Windows was. Yes, I’d still much rather use a Mac but the Mac’s not perfect and Windows is getting better. We all need to be smarter. We all need to realize we have a responsibility to protect ourselves and learn caution.

One final thought. I’ve picked on Intego a lot before.  The most aggressive of my posts about them being “When your protection tools can’t be trusted: Intego“and another later post where I made some significant technical errors Intego pointed out and I corrected.

In truth a side effect of the Flashback story for me is that my frustrations with Intego have crystalized nicely. I understand more completely why I express such frustration with them. I also fully acknowledge that they have made useful and meaningful contributors to the research and documentation of issues with Flashback for the Mac community.

What I said in the past was that they don’t seem to understand that as a vendor of security tools they need to be above moral reproach in the way they communicate.  This is a blog of a person. A person who happens to run a business but a person none-the-less. You don’t see these posts at my company site. Here, I’m a Mac IT and media production consultant blogging on a personal blog some might say has an attitude. That’s, in part, what a personal blog is for. A touch of the ‘tude. A bit more of the personality than corporate communications.

My clients will tell you when it’s business,  I may be gruff but I am always one hundred percent transparent about the issues involved in a problem or project and I never, ever, take a markup on services or products I specify for a job. I sell my opinion and my skill and my willingness to say “I’ll do what you ask but I think it’s bad for your business for these reasons.” and let my clients decide. This is a business value system I am proud of. It’s what I believe a good consultant strives to do. Help the client, be honest even if it costs you revenue. This attitude has, I hope, been a major reason I’ve stayed in business.

The concern I have with Intego I now understand better and  it’s well encapsulated in a quote from the article linked at the top of this post:

“Intego promoted the trial of their Anti-Virus product, while Sophos promoted their free Mac-based Anti-Virus. F-Secure, Symantec, and Kaspersky Lab also released tools. However, on April 12th Kaspersky had to temporarily pull its tool out of circulation, after a handful of the people downloading it reported that its usage could result in erroneous removal of certain user settings. Kaspersky fixed the tool and released an update a day later.”

Look what other companies did. Note even that Kaspersky made a mistake that they had to publicly acknowledge and then promptly fixed. Contrast the others with Intego. Intego promoted their commercial product as a fix and offered a 30 day free trial. A free trial you could only get if you gave them your email address. There’s a sort of sticky ooze all over that approach.

True, no company has to provide product or tools for free but a smart company, a company you want to do business with, might have recognized that there are more customers to be won if you provide a simple and basic free tool for one issue as a promotional loss-leader for the product they can, and should BUY to provide protection in the future.

What Intego did was say “Here’s a fix. If Apple doesn’t really solve this for 30 days, you’ll have to pay us.” and “Here’s a fix but we want your email so we can try and sell you stuff later.” and to me, that’s a tone-deaf approach.

A tone-deaf approach defined by a naked marketing agenda. Tone deaf marketing makes me feel like I can expect tone-deaf support. If I think I’m going to get tone-deaf support, I won’t trust a security tool provider. It’s just that simple. The past issues I’ve had with Intego all boil down to the same thing.  Dumb down UX at the expense of good practice.  Post alerts that convey more urgency than there is.  Do these things and your company doesn’t feel trustworthy.

Flashback is a real threat now. Now Intego can (and should!) enjoy revenue that comes with more global awareness of the truth that Mac users do need to be a lot more security aware than, in general, they had been. But don’t over-play that hand. Don’t miss a chance to be the best and most transparent.

If you sell security tools, you have to recognize that value of your product is defined by ‘trust’ and trust is, in large part, engendered with tone. So, is Intego useless? No. Are they buggy? No more or less than anyone else necessarily. What they are is tone-deaf and it’s just sad. They are a Mac company selling to Mac users and we need them to be better.

 

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Apple shoddiness so easily fixed

April 4th, 2012 No comments

******UPDATE  4.8.12*******

I make some assumptions I probably shouldn’t in this blog. In this case my flawed assumption was that readers would already have done the research, or would use the embedded links below to research the fixes and specifics of this malware. Feedback from readers indicates they’d rather have had more from me on the specifics of Flashback malware and more context. All I intended to point out below was that Apple wasn’t applying good practice in how they posted and documented updates. For those wanting more info on the issue, this is a great piece from Rich Mogull at Macworld.

**********

There’s a lot of noise about Apple whenever they slip up. A bug in a piece of software, an adapter cable that can take only so much abuse. There’s often room for some debate about what’s a reasonable expectation of quality or even what’s really a problem.

There is an update to Java for MacOS that addresses a pretty serious Java security problem being exploited in the wild. (Info here, and here and here.) I’m not getting into how long it took to patch, pointing out that it’s good practice to leave Java off unless you need it on (ditto Flash), or that this is another good argument for running Little Snitch and ClamXav or similar tools. This is a much simpler issue.

This is a simpler more easily fixed concern: Apple needs to clean up it’s documentation and naming and it needs to be consistent.

This is the Apple Support Document for the Snow Leopard compatible version of the Java update: http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1516

This is the Apple Support Document for the Lion compatible version of the Java update: http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1515

The names of the updates in the two articles differ. “Update 7” for the Snow Leopard update vs  “2012-001” for the Lion update.

The files the updates link for download are not only different but opaquely named. “JavaForOSX.dmg” for the lion update and JavaForMacOSX10.6.dmg for the Snow Leopard update.

This is broken.

How can support people, be they professional or ‘just helping dad’ hope to be able to recognize these updates, be confident they address the same issues, and don’t make possibly different  (app-breaking) changes to the way Java behaves when the naming and descriptions are so vague and inconsistent?

Argue if you like that it has marketing value to name every MacBook Pro model released since the death of PowerPC  a “MacBook Pro” or that “The New iPad” isn’t too-clever-by-half a name for the 3rd generation iPad but there’s no reason for creating this confusion.

It’s so easily fixed with a set of conventions published and enforced internally at Apple for consistent naming and documentation. Enforcing such consistency and publishing that set of conventions would be enormously useful for the legions of people who save Apple millions doing support for Apple’s products.

 

 

 

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