Apple Releases macOS Sierra

OSX 10.12 hits the streets with a multitude of new features

siri

Apple has released macOS Sierra – OSX 10.12 – making it available for free to those users and Macs able to run the new OS. This release comes after eight betas and a number of revisions to the GM (gold master) release before its official launch on 2016-09-20.

macOS Sierra can be obtained from the Mac App Store. Apple should be making it available to Yosemite and El Capitan users via their Software Update process before too long. Officially, macOS Sierra supports the following Macs

2009 and Later

  • iMac
  • MacBook

2010 and Later

  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro
  • Mac mini
  • Mac Pro

macOS Sierra does a lot to align compatible Macs with updates to iOS, watchOS and tvOS. macOS Sierra focusses on introducing features that specifically work with iPhone and Apple Watch to improve the overall user experience.

Some of the bigger updates to Sierra include the following:

  • Siri for Mac
    Siri allows users to use normal voice commands to conduct searches, find files, look up information and more. You can pin vocal searches to the Notification Center for continual monitoring.
  • Continuity
    New Continuity features allow you to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch or with iPhone.
  • Universal Clipboard
    You can share clipboard contents across iDevices.
  • iCloud Improvements
    You can now sync not only the contents of your Documents folder, but your Desktop as well, to iCloud Drive.
  • Photos
    A new Memories feature in Photos will display collections of pictures and bring back old events on their anniversary. Special learning algorithms also improve facial, object and scene recognition making searching for specific photos a LOT easier.
  • Apple Pay

You can now pay for items you buy on the web with Apple pay. Payments are authenticated through a connected iPhone or Apple watch.

I am currently working on a review of macOS Sierra and hope to have it posted before the end of the month – along with a review of both iOS 10 and the iPhone 7. Hang tight, kids. Its about to get very Apple-ie around here.

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Yet Another Round of Apple OS Betas

Apple has been busy over the past six to eight weeks…

I admit it – Hello, my name is Chris; and I’m a software junkie.

iosbeta

While this very first step to entering a twelve step program for something that is most likely bad for you, I have to wonder if being a software junkie is really a “bad” thing. My guess is that its not, but if you step back and think about it, its all relative – it depends on what software you’re talking about, what devices you put it on, and most importantly, what state that software is in.

Unstable software on your most important devices isn’t only (potentially) stupid, it can be dangerous. I know more than person who has irreparably bricked their device when trying to install something that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. It’s a risk; and honestly, its likely something that people like me don’t always think through.

Case in point – Apple just released a bunch of updates to nearly every platform they develop on. This isn’t always a good thing. If you remember, a couple of years ago, I had declared iOS 8 a train wreck

Hands on with early iOS 8 Beta Releases
Hands on with iOS 8 Beta 2
iOS 8 Beta 3 – A Train Wreck of a Different Color
iOS Beta 4 – Still not Soup Yet

This experience was SO bad for me, that I didn’t chase after betas of iOS 9, and have left iOS 10 pretty much alone. There are rumors that its as big – if not a bigger change – than iOS 7 was over iOS 6 and earlier versons.

Anyway, if you’re the brave type, you’ll be interested to know that Apple has recently released updates to not only iOS, but to every other platform that it develops for. Recently Apple released Developer Beta 6 and Public Beta 5 of macOS 10.12. They also released Developer Beta 6 and Public Beta 5 of iOS 10. Apple also released Developer Beta 6 of both tvOS 10 and watchOS 3.

While there were some issues with getting many of the developer beta releases, as of this writing, they should be resolved. macOS 10.12 Dev Beta 6 should be build 16A294a. If you’re interested in grabbing any of the betas for your own perusal, you can head over to this link and sign up for as little or as much beta as you want.

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Anyone can Pick Up Malware – Part 2

Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy…

malwareA while back, I posted an article about how anybody could get a computer virus. It was telling, because the anybody was me. I ran afoul of a bad ad network somewhere and picked up something that caused me to, I thought, pick up a key logger. In the end, it turned out I was wrong, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Instead I had picked up a couple other viruses, both of which came through a bad ad network and both of which, it turned out, were responsible for my spam situation. Unfortunately, NONE of the anti-virus products that I had on my machine – Webroot Secure Anywhere and MacScan, could remove the software, though it had no problems at all identifying the viruses on my Time Machine drive.

Based on this information, it was clear to me that the malware was 1) on my Mac, and 2) actively hiding from the real time scanner of one app and the manual scanners of both apps. To be blunt MacScan didn’t detect a thing. Webroot found everything, but only on my Time Machine drive, and couldn’t remove all of it.

I had a couple options at this point – 1) Rebuild the system (which involved blowing the drive, putting the OS back on and then reinstalling everything from scratch, and 2) Finding an anti-malware app that could remove everything. After trying Malwarebytes for Mac and having it fail miserably, I started looking for another Mac malware scanner and removal system.

What I found, was FixMeStick; but even THAT had issues. It works very well with Yosemite and earlier based Macs; but when I purchased it in January of 2016, it didn’t work with El Capitan based Macs, and my MacBook Pro runs El Capitan. Unfortunately for me, FixMeStick didn’t know about their inability to work with El Cap Macs when I bought the product. I helped them confirm the issue.

FixMeStick is an offline anti-malware scanner. You purchase a self-booting USB stick. You stick it in a USB port, boot from it, it scans your drive, finds the goo and removes it. Unfortunately, El Capitan’s default drive format makes use of journaling, and (up until about 2 days ago, as of this writing), FixMeStick couldn’t even READ a drive that was HSF+ Journaled/ Journaled, Case Sensitive. So it was effectively USELESS to me.

I checked in with them every three to four weeks, asking if they had resolved the issue. They would always say they were close, and that they would have an update to users and a release in about four to eight (4-8) weeks. Those deadlines were always missed, and I came very close to demanding a refund.

I’m going to jump to the end, here, as its going to make this a lot more valuable to everyone in the end…

In the end, they figured it out. Their product now works with El Cap formatted Macs, and the product found three bugs on my Mac and removed them… on the first scan after the issue was resolved… but not without some last minute drama – none of the bugs were the key logger that Webroot Secure Anywhere had identified (and I THOUGHT was the cause of my Google Apps (Gmail) account getting hacked). I thought there was a problem.

Thankfully, I was very wrong.

What I learned is that Webroot has a known issue with identifying false positives when their scanner scans your Time Machine drive. While Key Logger.Spector.Pro.r is a real problem, it isn’t when Webroot Secure Anywhere ONLY identifies it on your Time Machine drive and ONLY on your Time Machine drive.

According to Webroot, and I traded email with their tech support team this past weekend, what Secure Anywhere finds is a false positive on a info.plist file in a kext file that Gatekeeper uses to identify software that can run on your Mac without you having to constantly approve it; AND it ONLY identifies it in this kext file on your Time Machine drive. It’s well documented in their support forums.

So… after 9 months… not only am I virus free; but I never had a key logger, and I shouldn’t have anything or anyone else hijacking my Google Apps account (though thankfully, I actually haven’t had that happen for about four (4) months).

But as I said in November, anybody can get a computer virus. Just because you do, doesn’t (necessarily) mean you’ve been somewhere you shouldn’t nor does it (necessarily) mean that you’re careless. It just means that you picked up a bug. What you do need to do is pick up the right tool to get rid of it, and then make certain you have a real time scanner on your computer.

For me, this is FixMeStick and Webroot Secure Anywhere for Mac.

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Another Day… Another Virus (Backdoor.MAC.Elanor)

This one targets Mac systems. Heads up Apple users…!

As Macs and macOS become more and more mainstream, more and more virus and malware authors are going to be writing code that targets computers coming out of Cupertino. Case in point – a new piece of malware has been encountered in the wild, allowing attackers to hijack a Mac user’s machine.

backdoorThe new malware has been named Backdoor.MAC.Elanor by researchers at Bitdefender. The software installs a backdoor onto an infected Mac that provides full access to a Mac user’s data, and full control over their web cam. The malware has been traced to the installation of an app called Easy Doc Converter.app.

Easy Doc Converter is a fake file conversion app that is apparently available from reputable download sites across the internet. The app installs a component that provides remote, anonymous access of an infected system’s command and control center. Additional components allow attackers to view, edit, rename, delete, upload, download and archive/copy off files from infected systems. They also have elevated privileges that allow them to execute commands and scripts.

This particular bit of malware allows attackers to watch computer users at their workstations via the computer’s web cam. Attackers make use of an included tool called “wacaw” to capture stills and video from infected systems, according to Bitdefender.

Thankfully, the app isn’t digitally signed with an approved Apple security cert, so if you’ve got Gatekeeper enabled (and don’t disable it, trying to install Easy Doc Converter…) you won’t get infected.

As more and more malware targets Macs, you’d be hard pressed not to find and install a decent malware scanner for your Mac. Thankfully, Soft32 has more than one good AV scanner for Mac on the site, including BitDefender Antivirus for Mac 2016.

Since they’re the ones that broke the news on this new malware, they will likely also be the first with removal instructions should you find yourself infected. If you suspect this is the case, installing this app should be your first step.

If you find that you have Backdoor.MAC.Elanor, I’d appreciate hearing from you. Please leave a comment below in the Discussion area for this column and let us know where you found the Easy Doc Converter app and if you’ve been able to get rid of the malware.

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WWDC 2016 Part 1 – macOS Sierra

A lot came out of the WWDC Keynote…

Apple WWDC16

There was a great deal of information that came out of Apple’s software only keynote address to press and WWDC 2016 developer attendees.  In this article, I’m going to concentrate on macOS Sierra.

macOS Sierra concentrates on a few different things. The ones that really caught my eye include Continuity, iCloud and Mac Fundamentals.

Continuity blends the lines between your devices. Your entire computing experience with you logging into and unlocking your computer. macOS Sierra now allows you to auto unlock your Mac by simply opening up your Mac while wearing your Apple Watch.  Apple Watch users can simply open the lid of their Mac laptop while wearing their Watch, and the Mac auto unlocks. Proximity and time of flight networking technology insures that it really is YOU opening up your Mac laptop.

Apple is also implementing a universal clipboard that works between your Mac, and all of your iDevices.  When you find something on your phone that you might want to use on your Mac, you don’t have to email or text it to yourself.  Now, the data is in your clipboard, and all you have to do is paste it.  One of the things missing here – at least as of this writing because I haven’t had time to play with Sierra yet – is clipboard history: the ability to remember a set, number of items copied to your clipboard.  Sierra may support this, it may not.

iCloud Drive makes documents available across all of your connected Apple devices whether they be Macs or iDevices, it doesn’t matter.  With Sierra and iOS 10, you get not only all of your documents, but your desktop and its contents available too.

iCloud Drive also now includes a feature called Optimized Storage.  Modern computers – laptops especially – come with SSD’s.  Unfortunately, most of those SSD’s are smaller than the spinning disk hard drives that everyone is used to.  Macs come with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD’s; and even with half a terabyte, your drive can fill up quickly. iCloud Drive will now intelligently make room for new files on your Mac by moving older files from your Mac to the cloud, allowing you to access them there, instead.  iCloud Drive now only REALLY keeps the data that you’re working on, locally on your Mac.

Apple Pay now works on the web through Continuity.  When you’re buying something online on your Mac, you can use your iPhone to pay for it through Apple Pay via Continuity.  All you need is your iPhone handy, and you should be good to go.

For Mac Fundamentals, Apple has taken a logical, straight forward approach.  For example, tabbed windows now appear on every app, Apple created and included with Sierra or third party app.  This change comes at the OS level and no additional third party developer support is needed.

Picture in Picture (PiP) support is now also included at the OS level.  That means you can be writing a really great Mac article (like this one…) while also watching a video in a POP window that will travel with you from Space to Space and will work with full screen apps as well.

Siri is also included as part of Mac Fundamentals. Siri has her usual sass, but includes the ability to ask the system complex queries that you can pin to Notification Center. From there you can even drag and drop them into a document.  The seamless integration of it with other new and existing Apple features make the complete package very compelling, if not ungodly expensive…  However, if you ARE all Apple all the time, AND you have a compatible Mac, then you’re really going to love what you can do with all of your Apple gear.

You can see demos on all of this (as well as the rest of the Apple WWDC Keynote) here.

Speaking of compatible Mac hardware, Apple has also released the Mac hardware compatibility list for macOS Sierra.  Those computers include the following:

2009 and later

  • MacBook
  • iMac

2010 and later

  • MacBook Air
  • MacBook Pro
  • Mac mini
  • Mac Pro

While this list seems pretty decent, there are some pretty obvious computers missing from this list.  In the pre-2010 list, it seems that only MacBooks and iMacs get Sierra love.  Missing from that list are ANY kind of MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, Mac minis and Mac Pros.

For me, this means that my wife will be eligible for the upgrade, but my son-in-law with his Late 2008 Aluminum Unibody MacBook, will be left out in the cold. All of the other Macs in the house – my daughter’s Late 2015 13″ MacBook Pro, my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro and Mid 2012 13″ MacBook Air – will all get updates.

As of this writing, I’m installing macOS Sierra Developer Beta 1 on the MBA.  I’ll do my best to put it through its paces and then have some kind of write up in the coming weeks.

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Apple Seeds New Betas of iOS 9.3.2 and OS X 10.11.5 to Developers

Bug fixes and performance improvements seem to be the order of the day…

ios-9.3.2-beta-1Well, Wednesday 2016-04-20 seems to have been a big day for Apple Developers. In the wake of Apple announcing WWDC from 2016-06-13 through 17, and announcing the ticket lottery, they’ve also released two new OS betas.

Apple has seeded both iOS 9.3.2 Beta 2 and OS X 10.11.5 Beta 2 to their Developer Community.

iOS 9.3.2 Beta 2 comes nearly a month after the launch of iOS 9.3, which was a major update to the mobile OS as it introduced Night Shift and other features and improvements. iOS 9.3 was released three weeks after a bug fix for iOS 9.3.1.

iOS 9.3.2 is a minor update that will focus on bug fixes and performance improvements since the release of iOS 9.3. Of note – sorta… – is a fix for a major Game Center bug. There aren’t any outward facing changes to iOS 9.3.2 that anyone has been able to identify as of this writing.

I also wouldn’t expect any major new updates to iOS 9.x.x at all at this point. My guess is that with WWDC just around the corner, Apple is going to concentrate all its effort on development of iOS 10. While it’s unclear just what goodies may be found in it, I’m certain that some information will start making its way to the main stream media as we get closer to mid-June. I’m certain I may also have an iOS 10 wish list published by that time as well…

Apple also seeded its second beta of OS X 10.11.5 for its desktop OS, currently code named El Capitan. Beta 2 of this update comes just two weeks after OS X 10.11.5 Beta 1.

OS X 10.11.5 is also likely to focus on security enhancements, performance improvements and bug fixes that have been logged since the release of OS X 10.11.4. Currently, nothing of note has been discovered, so this clearly appears to be a maintenance update.

If you’re running the beta, you can get beta 2 via the Software Update mechanism found in the Mac App Store on your Mac desktop, or in the Apple Developer Center’s download area.

Like iOS, it’s clear with the release of this maintenance update so close to the middle of the year, that the more serious development work is happening for OS X 10.12,that will also, most likely, be announced at WWDC and its keynote address on 2016-06-13.

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Do I have the AceDeceiver Malware?

Most – if not all – iPhone users, can relax…

AceDeceiver-Malware

There’s but a great deal of hub-bub over the latest revelation that non-jailbroken iPhones can be breached with a man in the middle attack (MitM) that comes to iDevices via flaws in Apples DRM system, FairPlay.

Apple’s FairPlay DRM (digital rights management) system insures that only authorized users can get access to purchased content (apps, music, movies, etc.) through a given AppleID. However, this MitM attack allows hackers to install malware on iOS devices without a user’s knowledge or consent, bypassing Apple security measures.

According to PaloAlto Networks,“In the FairPlay MITM attack, attackers purchase an app from App Store then intercept and save the authorization code. They then developed PC software that simulates the iTunes client behaviors, and tricks iOS devices to believe the app was purchased by the victim.”

While this has previously been used just to pirate iDevice apps in the past, this is the first time this particular attack has been used to install and spread malware.  Victims first download a Windows program called Aisi Helper which is supposed to provide jailbreaking, system back up and device management and cleaning services.  Once installed, it installs malicious apps to any and all iDevices that are ever connected to the PC.

From that point forward, the malicious app redirects App Store requests to a malicious store, where your AppleID and password WILL be phished.  So, what does this mean for YOU, the iPhone user right now?

Honestly, not much; and there are two really big reasons why:

  1. Currently, this effects users in China
    … and that’s about it right now. So unless, you’re an iPhone user, in China, at least for the moment, you’re safe.
  2. This is currently a Windows only Attack
    So, if you’re a Mac, you’ve got nothing to worry about. It all starts on the desktop, as I noted above.  If you’re using a Windows PC, then be vigilant; but again, unless you’re a Windows user that actually uses a Chinese localized version of Windows (and actually resides IN China), then you don’t’ have anything to worry about.
  3. If you’re OTA Only
    …Then don’t sweat it at all. If you NEVER connect your iPhone to a Windows machine, like…EVER… then you’re perfectly safe.  Apple’s on device security measures have already covered for this, and you have nothing to worry about.

So, what can you do to protect yourself, if you’ve been to China recently, use a Windows PC, and think maybe you might-could, possibly be infected??  That’s really easy.

  1. Don’t Jailbreak your iPhone
    I know, I know, I know… I said earlier that this attack hit NON-jailbroken iDevices. The whole thing starts, though on the desktop through the program Aisi Helper. While you may not be interested in its jailbreaking services, it can be used to backup, and clean cruft from your iDevice.Here’s a piece of advice – the only thing you need to use to back up your iDevice is iTunes. Period. If you don’t connect to iTunes on your computer through a USB cable and are OTA only, then use iCloud to back up your device. If you think you need to reset your, iDevice, then use only Apple provided tools (iTunes or the Reset functionality in your iDevice’s Settings).  Using third party tools for any of this is just an invitation to trouble
  2. Uninstall the Desktop Software
    If you have Aisi Helper on your PC, uninstall it. Period.  Don’t ever install any third party tool to backup, clean, or manage content on your iDevice, unless you REALLY trust the developer. And then, it’s really, REALLY risky.
  3. Run a Virus Scan
    After its gone, run a full virus scan with the tool of your choice, and then  make sure you quarantine and then remove any threats that are found.

This development is interesting, and monitoring for it on your iDevice and outside of China (where it’s the only place this is currently a threat) isn’t a bad idea.  However, at this point, for everyone else, this isn’t too big of a deal.  The biggest thing you have to keep in mind though, is that jailbreaking your iDevice is risky, no matter how much you might hate Apple’s walled garden.

While you may not be able to do everything you might want to do with your iDevice in terms of customization and side loading applications, with the threat of malware that steals your personal information that can lead to identity theft, the cool factor and the value in breaking free largely lose their appeal.

What do you think? Is jailbreaking still a thing?  Does it really offer you the options you’re looking for?  Is it too risky?  Do you have a jailbroken iDevice?  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and let me know?

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Apple Plans to make us Loopy

Apple Plans to make us “Loopy” with Press Event Scheduled for 2016-03-21

…and by “loopy” I mean, “keeping us in the loop…” Yeah. Let’s go with that…

Loop you in

You know, sometimes it makes me laugh.

The entire world extends a great deal of effort trying to guess exactly what Apple has up its sleeves. Very few people actually get it right, if at all; yet at least twice a year, everyone seems to want to do their Punxsutawney Phil impression and tries to guess what Apple is going to announce at their press events.

The ballet that ensues is often interesting, but is just as often incorrect.

This year is no different than any other. People have been spreading rumors around the next Apple press event, finally announced on 2016-03-10 with the title, “Let us loop you in.” The event is scheduled for 10am Pacific Time on 2016-03-21.

I’ve looked high and low, and I’ve found that the following is generally accepted to be the best guesses as to what Apple will ultimately introduce to the world at that time. I’ve divided this up into a couple of lists, as some new information has been circulated as of midday 2016-03-10 that may make this event rather interesting.

What’s Consistent

  1. iPhone SE
    Having the 4″ and similar build and form factor of the iPhone 5/5s, the iPhone SE is expected to be a replacement of the (now entry level ) iPhone 5s. The device is said to have a metal case, a curved edge design similar to the iPhone 6s, with the A9 processor, and NFC support for Apple Pay (which would also imply touch ID, but I haven’t found conformation of that just yet). Either way, 3D Touch is not said to be included.
  2. 9.7″ iPad Pro
    Initially, people thought this might be the iPad Air 3. Recent rumors indicate that this will instead be a smaller version of the Pro line, with all of its features and everything that makes an iPad Pro an iPad Pro (magnetic Smart Connector, A9X processor, quad-speakers and support for Apple Pencil)

What’s Possible

  1. MacBook/ MacBook Pro Updates
    Intel released its Skylake processor a while ago, and Apple has yet to update any of its notebooks with support for the new processor architecture yet. I’ve seen a few sites indicate that this update is likely possible as a side comment with perhaps 1-2 very quick slides on the subject at most. Unless they make drastic changes to the product lines, in which case, all bets are off.
  2. New Bands for Apple Watch
    Expect existing bands to be offered in new colors. There may also be new product(s) in this line announced (so, like, entirely new bands). Two of the most anticipated new bands include a nylon band and a Space Black Milanese Loop (a non-Apple brand has been available on Amazon for a while now).

Apple will be live streaming the event via its website and AppleTV. It’s also possible for you to get (near live) updates via Twitter or other websites around the internet.

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