Category Archives: Apple

How to make an operating system better

With Microsoft taking Windows in a direction that’s distinctly unappealing, it’s a pleasure to write about an operating system that’s actually being improved and enhanced in useful ways: Apple ProDOS.

You read that right: ProDOS. It’s a decades old system that runs on hardware nobody uses any more (Apple IIs), but with the dedicated efforts of a single developer, a new, greatly improved version of ProDOS was recently released as version 2.4.

Why am I so excited about this? Because operating systems are important. They form the core of all the computer systems we use daily. I want to use an O/S that’s reliable, fast, and mostly invisible. A good O/S provides this critical underpinning without compromising our privacy or trying to sell us anything.

As reported by Jason Scott on his ASCII blog, ProDOS 2.4 was a labour of love for its developer. He says:

“The current mainstream OS environment is, frankly, horrifying, and to see a pure note, a trumpet of clear-minded attention to efficiency, functionality and improvement, stands in testament to the fact that it is still possible to achieve this, albeit a smaller, slower-moving target. Either way, it’s an inspiration.”

I agree completely. There’s no reason for a new version of an operating system to ever get worse. This really applies to all software, but it’s especially important for operating systems. Microsoft would do well to look at this project and learn from it.

If you happen to have an old Apple II lying around (as I do), you can run ProDOS 2.4 on it. Otherwise, you’ll need to use an Apple II emulator like AppleWin.

Apple fixes three critical vulnerabilities in iOS

If you have any Apple mobile devices, including iPhones and iPads — anything that runs iOS — you should update them immediately.

Three three vulnerabilities are already being exploited (0days), and can lead to a complete remote compromise of an affected device.

Yesterday Apple released updates that address these vulnerabilities. The updates were released outside of Apple’s regular update schedule (i.e. out of band updates).

Duo Security has additional analysis.

Windows users: uninstall Quicktime now

QuickTime is Apple’s media player software. It was originally developed for Mac only, but eventually Apple produced a Windows version. It’s often installed on Windows systems as it’s almost the only way to play Apple’s proprietary Quicktime media.

The current version of Quicktime for Windows has at least two security vulnerabilities. Rather than fix those issues, Apple has decided to stop developing the Windows version. In other words, if Quicktime is installed on your computer, it is – and will always be – vulnerable.

This leaves Windows users little choice but to remove Quicktime completely, and that’s what we’re recommending.

Ars Technica has additional details.

Security and privacy roundup for January 2016

Your devices are talking about you

You already know that your web browser is tracking your activity. You are probably also aware of ‘The Internet of Things‘ – the increasing prevalence of devices that are connected to the Internet – and you recognize that any such device can also track your activities. Bruce Schneier reveals the next step in this evolution: enabling devices to share information about you. Of course, since the goal of all this surveillance is merely better-targeted advertising, most people are unlikely to care. Still, if privacy and control are important to you, this will not be welcome news.

Brian Krebs reminded us that ransomware can affect files in your cloud storage space as well as on your physical computer and network-connected devices.

A summary of software vulnerabilities over at VentureBeat shows Mac OS X topping the list for 2015. Microsoft’s security efforts seem to be paying off, as the highest-ranked version of Windows on the 2015 list is Windows 8.1 at number 10, and fewer than half the vulnerabilities as OS X.

Serious vulnerabilities were discovered in OpenSSH (a very commonly-used secure terminal client), OpenSSL (the ubiquitous security library), and Trend Micro antivirus software.

Vulnerabilities in the Linux kernel (affecting Android phones and Linux PCs) remain unpatched on many affected devices.

Google produced more patches for vulnerabilities affecting Android devices, but as always, the patches are finding their way to devices very slowly.

The very weak hashing functions MD5 and SHA1 are still being used in HTTPS encryption in some contexts.

It’s official: your smart TV can become infected with malware.

Network devices made by Juniper and Fortinet were found to contain serious vulnerabilities, including an NSA-developed back-door function and a hard-coded back-door password (more).

The free-to-use deep search tool Shodan made the news when researchers showed that it can be used to find household cameras, including baby-cams. Note that the problem here is not Shodan, which is just a useful search tool. The problem is the failure to properly secure Internet-connected devices.

There were more serious corporate security breaches in January, at Time Warner and Linode. As usual in these cases, the login credentials of subscribers were obtained by the attackers.

Amazon’s security practices were (unwillingly) tested by a customer, and found seriously deficient.

More malicious apps were found in the Google Play store. Google removed those apps, but not until they were downloaded millions of times by unsuspecting Android device users.

LG fixed a critical security hole affecting as many as ten million of its mobile devices.

Security and privacy roundup for November 2015

PCs from Dell were found to include support software and related security certificates that potentially expose users to various threats. Dell moved quickly to provide fixes, but many systems remain vulnerable. As if we needed more convincing, this is yet another reason to remove manufacturer-installed software from new PCs as soon as possible after purchase.

A hacking tool called KeeFarce looks for KeePass password databases, attempts to decrypt the stored passwords, and makes the decrypted passwords available to intruders. For this to work, the target computer must already be compromised, and the KeePass database left unlocked. According to researchers, the technique could be used on any password management software. Please, if you use password management software, remember to leave it locked, even if you’re the only user. Why make things any easier for intruders?

Anti-adblocking service provider PageFair was hacked on Halloween, and for a couple of hours, visitors to about 500 web sites were shown fake Flash update warnings that actually installed malware. PageFair fixed the problem relatively quickly and apologized for the breach.

The web site for the popular vBulletin forum software was hacked and user account information stolen. Site admins reset all user passwords and warned users, but have yet to address claims that the attackers used a long-standing vulnerability in the vBulletin software itself to achieve the intrusion. If true, anyone who manages a vBulletin site should immediately install the patch, which was made available after the vBulletin site hack.

With all the furor over Windows 10’s privacy issues, it’s important to recognize that modern phones have all the same issues. Anyone who uses a smartphone has observed that most apps ask for access to private information when they are installed. Generally, user choices are limited to agreeing or cancelling installation. A new study looks at popular iOS and Android apps, the user information they collect, and where they send it. The results are about as expected, and the authors conclude, “The results of this study point out that the current permissions systems on iOS and Android are limited in how comprehensively they inform users about the degree of data sharing that occurs.” No kidding.

A nasty new type of Android malware has been discovered. Researchers say that the perpetrators download legitimate Android apps, repackage them with malware, then make the apps available on third-party sites. Once installed, the infected apps allow the malware to install itself with root access. So far, the malware only seems to be used to display ads, but with root access, there’s no limit to the potential damage. Worse still, it’s extremely difficult to remove the malware, and in many cases it’s easier to simply buy a new phone.

Ransomware was in the news a lot in November. SANS reported seeing a malware spam campaign that impersonates domain registrars, tricking recipients into clicking email links that install the ransomware Cryptowall. Ars Technica reports on changes in the latest version of Cryptowall, and a new ransomware player called Chimera. Brian Krebs reports on new ransomware that targets and encrypts web sites. Luckily, the encryption applied by that particular ransomware is relatively easy to reverse.

Several web sites and services were hit with Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in November. In some cases, the attackers demanded ransom money to stop the attack. ProtonMail, provider of end-to-end encrypted email services (and used by yours truly) was hit, and the attacks didn’t stop even when the ransom was paid.

Security certificates generated using the SHA1 algorithm are nearing the end of their usefulness. Plans are already underway to stop providing them and stop supporting them in web browsers and other software. SHA1 is being phased out in favour of the much more secure SHA2 algorithm.

A rash of vulnerabilities in popular WordPress plugins, including the excellent BPS Security plugin, came to light in November. WordPress site operators are strongly encouraged to either enable auto-updates or configure their sites to send alerts when new plugin versions are detected.

An app called InstaAgent was pulled from the Apple and Google app stores when it was discovered that the app was transmitting Instagram userids and passwords to a server controlled by the app’s developer. It’s not clear how the app managed to get past the quality controls in place for both stores.

Security researchers discovered a bizarre new form of privacy invasion that uses inaudible sound – generated by advertisements on TV and in browsers – to track user behaviour. As weird as it seems, this technology is allowing true Cross Device Tracking (CDT).

On a brighter note, Google is now detecting web sites that appear to use social engineering techniques to trick users. Chrome’s Safe Browsing feature will now show a warning when you are about to visit a page Google thinks is using these devious methods.

The whole-disk encryption technology TrueCrypt was previously reported as vulnerable, and a new study has confirmed those vulnerabilities. The study also found that if TrueCrypt is used on unmounted drives, it is perfectly secure, but what use is a hard disk if it isn’t connected to anything? TrueCrypt users are still anxiously awaiting new encryption technologies like VeraCrypt.

Security researchers discovered a critical flaw in many Virtual Private Network (VPN) services. VPN software and services are used by many torrent users to protect their identity. The flaw allows a malicious person to obtain the true IP address of a VPN user.

The Readers Digest web site was infected with a variant of the Angler malware and proceeded to infect unpatched visitor computers for about a week before site operators took action. Thousands of Windows computers may have been infected before the site was finally cleaned up.

October Security Roundup

You probably shouldn’t rely on the security of your encrypted email. Even if you’re using current encryption technologies, certain conditions may arise during transit that cause your message to be transmitted in plain text.

There’s a well-reasoned response to a common question about the responsibility of Certificate Authorities over on the Let’s Encrypt blog. These fine folks will soon be providing free HTTPS certificates to the world, so they’ve been answering a lot of questions about how their service will work.

There’s going to be a minor apocalypse, starting January 1, 2016. On that date, Certificate Authorities will stop issuing certificates that use SHA1 encryption. SHA1 is now considered too weak for use, and is being phased out in favour of SHA2, which is much stronger. Just one problem: people stuck using older browser software and devices will lose their ability to access secure web sites and use those devices. There’s more technical nitty-gritty over at Ars Technica.

Symantec hasn’t done enough to clean up its Certificate Authority activities, according to Google. This follows the discovery that Symantec employees were issuing unauthorized certificates. Google has warned Symantec to provide a proper accounting of its CA activities or face the consequences.

A critical vulnerability in the blogging platform Joomla was discovered in October. The bug exists in all versions of Joomla from 3.2 onward. A patch was developed and made available, and anyone who manages a Joomla 3.x -based site is strongly advised to install the patched version (3.4.5) as soon as possible.

It’s increasingly dangerous to be a computer security researcher. New agreements could even make the work illegal in some regions.

Flaws in many self-encrypting external hard drives from Western Digital mean their encryption can be bypassed, according to researchers.

Google made it easier to determine why a site is flagged as unsafe, adding a Safe Browsing Site Status feature to their Transparency Report tools.

Mozilla is following the lead of Google and Microsoft, and plans to all but eliminate support for binary plugins in Firefox by the end of 2016. Binary browser plugins for Java, Flash, and Silverlight provide convenience but are a never-ending security headache. There’s one exception: Mozilla will continue to support Flash as a Firefox plugin for the foreseeable future.

The FBI teamed up with security vendors to take down another botnet in October. The Dridex botnet mainly targeted banking and corporate institutions, gathering private data and uploading it to control servers.

Cisco researchers, working with Limestone Networks, disrupted a lucrative ransomware operation in October.

A stash of thirteen million user names and plain text passwords was recently obtained by a security researcher. The records were traced to 000Webhost, an Internet services provider.

The Patreon funding web site was breached, and private information about subscribers, including encrypted passwords and donation records, was published online. Source code was also stolen, which may make decrypting the passwords much easier.

Researchers discovered numerous iPhone applications that collect and transmit private user information, in violation of Apple’s privacy policies. These apps apparently made it into the App Store because of a loophole in the validation process.

87% of Android-based devices are vulnerable to security exploits. Google develops Android updates quickly enough, but phone makers are typically very slow to make updates available to users.

New Android vulnerabilities, dubbed ‘Stagefright 2.0’ by researchers, were announced in early October. As many as a billion Android devices are vulnerable, and although patches were made available by Google, they may take weeks or months to find their way to individual devices.

A malicious Android adware campaign tricks unwary users into installing apps that appear to be from trusted vendors. These apps use slightly-modified icons of legitimate apps to fool users.

Security & privacy roundup for September 2015

Android made security news in September for a lockscreen bypass hack and a ransomware app designated Android/Lockerpin.A.

Passwords in the leaked Ashley Madison user database became much easier to decrypt, once again reminding us to avoid re-using passwords.

A rogue version of the iPhone development tool XCode was found to have added malicious code to almost 500 legitimate apps. Those apps were published on the Apple App Store, and were subsequently installed by millions of iPhone and iPad users.

In other Apple-related news, a simple bypass for the Gatekeeper process, that protects Mac OS X users from malicious software, was discovered.

This month’s Flash updates prompted Brian Krebs to take another look at Adobe Shockwave. He found that even the most recent versions of Shockwave still contain very out of date versions of Flash, and strongly recommends that you remove Shockwave from all your computers.

A series of exploits against the Imgur and 8chan sites caused little damage, despite their enormous potential. The true goals of the hack are still in question, and the associated vulnerabilities on the affected sites have been fixed.

A researcher discovered several serious vulnerabilities in popular security software from Kaspersky Labs. While there’s no evidence of exploits in the wild, this is rather alarming. Anti-malware software typically has access to core system functionality, making working exploits very valuable to attackers. Kaspersky Labs acted quickly to fix the bugs, but this isn’t the first time security software has been found vulnerable, and likely won’t be the last.

A new botnet called Xor.DDoS is using compromised Linux computers to perform DDoS attacks against a variety of web sites, probably at the request of paying customers. The Linux computers hosting the botnet appear to have been compromised via weak root passwords. So far, most of the targets are in Asia. This marks a shift in platform for botnet developers, which previously focused almost exclusively on Windows.

Security updates for QuickTime on Windows 7 and Vista

I don’t usually post about Apple software, but the QuickTime Player is installed on many Windows computers, so it falls into a kind of grey area.

Apple recently released an update for QuickTime to address at least nine vulnerabilities it exposes on Windows 7 and Vista computers. Anyone who uses QuickTime on Windows 7 or Vista should install the new version of QuickTime as soon as possible.

I no longer have QuickTime installed on my main computer. Downloaded QuickTime media files play in a combination of VLC and Windows Media Player. There’s no QuickTime player plugin in my my main web browser, either, but I don’t really mind not being able to see QuickTime media embedded in web pages. If I really need to see that content, I can always download it.

If you’re not sure whether you have QuickTime installed, or want to find out how QuickTime media is played on your computer, you can try playing these QuickTime sample media files.