Another day, another raft of apps removed from the iOS App Store. Well, actually it’s not quite that bad, but it does seem to be getting a bit more common.
In any case, Apple have just released this statement:
“Apple has removed a few apps from the App Store that install root certificates that could allow monitoring of data. This monitoring could be used to compromise SSL/TLS security solutions. If you have one of these apps installed on your device, delete both the app and its associated configuration profile to make sure your data remains protected.”
The only minor problem being they haven’t actually named which apps have been removed, making it sort-of impossible to follow their advice.
Not to worry. You can tell if you have one of the not-mentioned apps simply by going to
Settings > General and looking for the Profile option.
If you don’t see ‘Profile’ anywhere in the list, then you can rest easy. You don’t have any of those apps.
If you do see ‘Profile’ in the list, look at what’s in it. Anything you don’t recognise should be removed. There shouldn’t be anything in there that you didn’t explicitly approve of and know about.
Anything you do recognise but are not sure if its safe, contact the developer and/or Apple directly.
Keeping an eye on General > Profiles is a good idea. We recently found a website that will download a config profile and install apps to your iOS device without that device being either Jailbroken or requiring you to enter an AppleID for the download.
Fair enough, it does require the user to click-through a few “do you want to trust this…” type dialogue boxes, but that’s hardly child-proof. If you’re a parent who lets your children use your iOS devices without constant surveillance like most of us, that’s a real security issue (and yet another reason why we at Applehelpwriter insist user accounts is a must-have feature Apple need to implement in iOS sooner rather than later).
Back in the days of Mountain Lion when Apple introduced GateKeeper, a lot of talk was heard about the best way to protect your mac being to only download apps from the App Store. With several hundred malware infected apps discovered in the App Store last month alone, what’s clear is that leaving your security up to someone else (even if its Apple) is short-sighted at best, and disastrous at worse, particularly if your reliable source just happens to be of great interest to hackers (especially if its Apple!).
Rather than relying on others for your protection, the solution is to have a system in place that will protect you and allow you to recover completely and quickly regardless of the source of the infection. In this post I’m going to share with you (part of) my security set up. Of course, at least in part, it uses my own s/w (if I can’t trust my own software, who can? And besides, my s/w is free!), but there are other ways to achieve the same thing. What’s important is the process, rather than the particular tools mentioned to implement it.
I’ll break these five essential security tips down into two parts, protection and recovery. However, if this post looks too intimidatingly long, skip to the end where I summarise the essential points in the TL;DR. OK, here we go:
1. Log changes to your system
I achieve this with my app DetectX (my app FastTasks 2 also does this, but DetectX is better at it). I have DetectX (v2 or higher) in my Login Items. This means every time I login, DetectX reports what’s changed on my system. If you’re starting from a clean bill of health as hopefully you are now, this is vital information in tracking down what’s changed when new trouble begins.
If I don’t log out at the end of the day, I run DetectX the next day, and I always run it after downloading and installing any new software. That means I have a record of what that s/w has done and I know exactly how to uninstall it if I need to.
Incidentally, as soon as you’ve launched DetectX and taken a note of any changes (signalled by the yellow alert triangle), you can quit it. It doesn’t need to be running. It just needs to launch and scan (literally, takes a second) and then quit.
2. Do NOT use your AppleID for your admin account password
Use a unique password for your Admin user account and do NOT allow the options for the user to reset the password using AppleID or to administer the computer using your AppleID. This is a massive security flaw (this setting is made in System Preferences > Users & Groups). Your AppleID is hackable and indeed there has been at least one famous case of a Wired journalist who had his entire mac wiped in front of his eyes while sitting at home by a hacker who had ascertained his AppleID.
3. Use a Password manager
I use 1Password myself, but any similar product will do. The point is that i. you’re not using the same credentials on more than one site and ii. that you’re using passwords whose length and structure is uncrackable. No matter how ingenious you think your passwords may be, trust me if you made them up yourself they are not. Do a search on ArsTechnica.com for “password cracking” and weep at the ease with which this is possible. A password manager is the only sensible solution.
If you care at all about your data you need to invest in a structured backup system. Simply plugging in Time Machine isn’t sufficient since, as many have already discovered, TM will back up all the ‘infections’ along with everything else. When you try to recover, you just end up re-infecting your machine.
This is what I do.
4. Use a variety of both clones and Time Machine on a staggered schedule
I have a TM disk always connected. On top of that, I clone my entire internal HD on Wednesday and Saturdays. This clone is NOT connected to the mac except during backup. I also clone my HD onto a separate disk once a month. Again, this disk is never connected to the mac except when I’m backing up. (I use an app called Carbon Copy Cloner to manage these schedules.)
If any one of these disks gets ‘infected’ or just dies out of natural usage, I’m covered. If I were to get some kind of infection, I’ve got known clean backups for at least one month. So long as the problem manifests itself within that period, I can simply boot from a clean clone and diagnose the problem using the tools mentioned above in PROTECTION. I can then clean my TM Disk and any others once I’ve determined the problem, and of course then I haven’t lost any backup data.
5. Consider CrashPlan or similar online recovery service
I don’t use it myself because I consider my user behaviour as very low risk and my precautions adequate, but if I were either less technically inclined or without the time to manage a system like I described above, CrashPlan is a way to insure yourself without the hassle, (albeit at a cost, so you need to weigh that up). In particular, what I like about the CrashPlan idea is that it offers you protection against ransomware threats (not that we’ve had any serious ones on the mac yet, but I wouldn’t bet against these appearing in the not too distant future). Note that services like CrashPlan are not at all the same kind of thing as Dropbox or iCloud, but the best way to find out more is to head on over to the CrashPlan page and read up on what they offer.
Those are the 5 essential things I think you need to do or consider, but let’s just round this off with some things that you probably don’t need to do.
Do you need AV Software?
Some people are adamant about using this kind of software because of its necessity on Windows machines, where there’s decades of reusable malware going around which makes this kind of app necessary.
On a mac, there isn’t that kind deep history of malware in circulation; the really dangerous stuff is perhaps only now just being written, and none of the AV tools will know about that until after the fact. In other words, any decent malware being written for macs now will get past all the AV vendors. Moreover, much of the worst of known malware is already blocked by Apple via OS X’s Xprotect system. That means your AV software isn’t really doing much other than what OS X is already doing for you.
The other problem with AV software is that its always running on your machine and slowing things down.
Finally, most AV software requires you to give it your Admin password and runs its processes in a persistent ‘super user’ or admin mode. That’s a security compromise in at least two ways. First, it means you are at risk from the AV software vendor if they are not trustworthy themselves. Second, it means your system is vulnerable to bugs or exploits existing in the security software. Hackers love nothing better than finding ways to compromise security software, and if a hacker can get into your machine through bugs in an AV program running on your mac with admin privileges, well, then, you are “pwned” as they say.:o
By way of contrast, DetectX doesn’t need to know about threats in advance; it will tell you whether something new has been added to your mac and where, regardless of what it is, so it will also spot even those kinds of “zero day exploits” that try to sneak malicious files onto your mac. DetectX doesn’t run any ‘always on’ processes or use any system resources in the background. Finally, DetectX doesn’t require you to give it an Admin password.
(Technical note: if you use the Trash function in DetectX, then OS X will ask for your password to trash files outside of your user account, but that’s not a request coming from my app, but from the system. Importantly, authorising that request only allows the system to do what you told it to do: delete the given file selected in DetectX. It cannot be hijacked to do anything else and the authorisation is single-use only. If you tried the same operation again it wouldn’t work without being authorised again).
Should I avoid updating my mac?
In short, no – you should always be on the most recently available update
for your release of OS X as updates almost always address security flaws that have come to light since the last update.
However, update doesn’t mean upgrade. Generally, if you’re going to upgrade (such as from Yosemite to El Capitan), do the upgrade on a spare external disk first and test that everything works OK. Whatever you do, do not just install an upgrade directly over your one-and-only copy of your HD. If you don’t follow the advice above about testing the new OS on an external drive, then at least make an external bootable clone (not Time Machine, too unreliable) of your internal HD first. Anything less is asking for trouble.
Pretty much the same advice can be applied to updates, certainly the early ones. It’s not unknown for a .1 or .2 update to break something serious. These kind of bugs get less likely as you get nearer .4 and .5 updates when everything is fairly stable, but it’s still never a bad idea to make a complete bootable back up of your system just before doing either an update or upgrade. That way, you’re covered whatever happens and can easily roll back to the previous version if necessary.
OK, if I wanted to sum up all of this into two simple golden rules for security and protection it wouldn’t be ‘use this app or that app’ or ‘only trust this source or that source’ it would be: educate yourself about how your mac works, where malicious files hide and keep an eye on those places on a regular basis. That’s what I wrote DetectX to do, but you can do it in other ways without using my app. Secondly, backup regularly and backup onto different disks on a staggered schedule so that you always have a clean, uninfected backup to turn to in case you need it.
Enjoy and share! :)
We’ve spent pretty much the whole of the summer working on this upgrade, so we’re both delighted (and not a little relieved!) to finally be able to announce the release of DetectX 2.
If you were a user of earlier versions of DetectX the most obvious change you’ll notice is the new Selector bar, and the additional functions it offers. Now, DetectX is far more than just a dedicated search tool and offers comprehensive logging, browsing and analytical tools to make troubleshooting new problems on your mac a whole lot easier.
If you’ve used the Analyser in our app FastTasks 2, you’ll recognize the new functions added to DetectX. But we’ve not just taken the Analyser straight out of FT2 and plumped it into DetectX, we’ve also made it more powerful and more convenient to use.
There’s a whole bunch of changes you can find out about from the DetectX page and from the included user guide (improved documentation is another one of the changes!). One thing that hasn’t changed: DetectX remains free for home users, so there’s nothing to stop you from trying it out. Commercial and institutional users should note that a Commercial Use licence is required. Details are in the app.
Well, now that the app is out you’d think we’d be taking a break, but we’re already working on a special release of DetectX for Snow Leopard users. We know you 10.6’ers have been left out in the cold since release 1.29, but hold tight. Some Leopardy love is coming your way real soon!
On top of that, we’re already working on new definitions to be added to the next update to make sure DetectX keeps finding all those new annoyances that keep popping up and keeping your Mac happy and responsive.
If you haven’t already, go check out the DetectX page for more info.
With recent adware attacks exploiting a vulnerability in OS X and giving themselves sudo permissions without the user providing a password, we thought it’d be a good idea to have FT2 show you info on the Sudo permissions file. This feature has been added in today’ update, FT2 v1.68.
The file in question, sudoers, lives in the (usually) hidden /private/etc folder at the root of your hard drive. Most ordinary users won’t have cause to go digging around in there and probably don’t even know it exists. However, sudoers is the file that determines who can get admin access in the shell (aka ‘the Terminal’), and adding a user to the sudoers file gives them pretty much a carte blanche over the system.
It appears that Apple have already taken steps to block the recent attack, and the next version of OS X (likely due out next month) will restrict what even sudoers can do to the system (although not to the user). Nevertheless, we think it’s good idea to have an easy visual check as to whether the sudoers file has been modified or not. You can find the sudoers information in the Analyser just before the System section (marked by the green dashed line).
Be aware that it is entirely possible that if an attacker gains access to your system, they could not only modify the sudoers file, but completely replace it with a new one. That’d give a new creation date but no modification date. With that in mind, it’s worth checking just when the file was created. Running the public release of OS X Yosemite, build 14E46 (you can find the build number in FastTasks menu), my default sudoers file has a creation date of 2014-09-10. If you are running a different build of Yosemite or OS X you may see a different date. Obviously, if you have modified (or given an app or process permission to modify) the file, that will cause you to see different dates also.
DetectX 1.30 is now available. Aside from the fancy new icon you can see above :p, we also added the Sparkle updater to make updates more convenient for users and made a few tweaks to improve the search definitions.
FastTasks 1.67 is now available. The latest version updates the Analyser and adds AppleScript support. The functions available to AppleScript are fairly limited at the moment, but we’d love to add more. Tell us how you’d like to script FT2 (or any other Sqwarq apps!) in the comments below and we’ll look into adding your suggestions to future updates.
However, given that exploits of Flash seem to occur sometimes within days of even new releases, it might be wise to think about blocking Flash altogether in your day-to-day browser.
Fortunately, that’s pretty easy to do in Safari. Just go to Safari’s Preferences > Security tab, and uncheck the ‘Allow Plug-ins’ box at the bottom. You can manage which websites are allowed access to Flash from the adjacent button, but an alternative strategy is to use a different browser (Firefox or Opera for example) for only viewing sites where you need Flash access.
Either way, its seems wise to make sure that Flash isn’t allowed unrestricted access on your main browser.
FastTasks 2 v1.66 is now available. This incremental update includes an update to the Analyser and a minor bug fix.
Beware, the name was not picked acccidentally. Trimforce forces TRIM activation on all 3rd party SSDs regardless of whether they support it or not, so use at your own discretion. Generally, it should be safe to use if your disk manufacturer recommends having TRIM turned on, but only your own testing will confirm that. As always, be sure you have full and regular backups of your disks in case of data corruption.
sudo — meaning you’ll need an admin password to do this:
sudo trimforce enable
The new command line utility doesn’t have a
--status option, so if you want to check the current TRIM status from the command line, you’ll need this command:
system_profiler SPSerialATADataType | grep 'TRIM'
Just a quick post to let y’all know of a couple of updates to my apps.
1. OSXClock v1.8 has got a few new features including a handy ghost mode and variable transparency. Even better, I’ve removed the time-limit on the demo version, so you can now use OSXClock for free indefinitely (well, if that’s not an excuse to download it I don’t know what is… :) ).
2. DetectX v1.21 now has the ability to trash files found in the search. I didn’t really want to add this, but so many users were having problems finding the invisible files belonging to MacKeeper I didn’t really have much choice. Note that the “Trash” function may require entering an admin password for each and every file that is outside of the user domain. DetectX is, of course, free to download and use, though donations are appreciated if you find it useful.
3. App Fixer is now out of beta and into first public release, version 1.0. Along the way it’s added a couple of extra fixes for Safari browser hijacks.
Scripters and coders are forever battling errors, and access to information on Apple’s error codes is always a bit of a hunt and dig around header files or documentation. Now thanks to Seth Willits from Araelium group, there’s a handy free search tool to spare us the effort.
I’ve already got osstatus.com bookmarked. Thanks Seth! :)