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Thu Feb, 16 2006

Still no Mac virus - another Trojan horse

Repeat after me, folks - a Trojan horse is NOT a virus. Anyone with the most basic programming skills can write a Trojan horse program for almost any operating system. If a user decides to run a dangerous program, you can only stop the user by not allowing the user to do ANYTHING.

Programs have to be able to create/delete files. Programs have to be able to run when the user asks them to. If someone writes a program that deletes all the files in your Documents folder and asks _you_ to run it they have NOT created a virus. They have merely tricked you into doing something stupid. Is it a virus if a stranger calls you on the phone and tells you to select all your documents, drag them to the trash, and choose Empty Trash? No.

A virus is something that runs without the user choosing to run it and has the ability to spread without the user having to directly execute it.

Once again, for those who don't get it: programs that do bad things but require the user to choose to run them are not viruses.

Read the actual facts by Andrew Welch of Ambrosia Software. He breaks down how it works (and doesn't work):
http://www.ambrosiasw.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=102379

Ignore all the idiot pundits who are saying this is a change in the environment. You should never choose to run a program that you don't have reason to trust. Always been true, always will be until we make computers that decide what to do for us rather than leaving us in control.

Posted by: Krioni on Feb 16, 06 | 5:15 pm | Profile

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Mon Mar, 21 2005

REALLY? - Australian IT - Hackers loose worms on Apple (Chris Jenkins, MARCH 22, 2005)

I was just alerted by Google's News Alert email service that hackers have released worms into the wild that attack Mac OS X. Hmm, until I read the article and discover that nothing of the sort has happened, despite the explicitly-worded headline. I'm sure Chris Jenkins will gather a lot of page hits for Australian IT's website, but anyone who knows how to read will realize the headline was completely false.

Not only have no worms for Mac OS X (Apple's operating system) been released, he even describes that non-worm attacks have been increasing on OTHER operating systems. Basically, he points out that security vulnerabilities have been discovered by a company that sells security products (and FIXED by Apple). There are no successful attacks described, and certainly nowhere in the article is a Mac OS X-attacking worm described. Therefore, the headline seems to be indicating some fantasy alternate universe in Chris Jenkins mind, not the article it precedes.

Australian IT (what is the IT supposed to mean, one wonders):
http://australianit.news.com.au/articles/0,7204,12618742^15331^^nbv^15306-15319,00.html

Posted by: Krioni on Mar 21, 05 | 3:34 pm | Profile

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Sat Oct, 23 2004

'Opener' - The first OS X malware? NO!

There is a semi-informed discussion going on at Macintouch where a reader wrote to say that they somehow managed to get a malicious shell script installed on their Mac. Others wrote in to describe what the script seems to be doing.

Let's get something straight - if you have to INSTALL a piece of software or shell script on your machine it is NOT A VIRUS! If you have somehow managed to install a piece of software that does something malicious, it is NOT a vulnerability in your operating system, it is a vulnerability in your own mental faculties. We can all argue about whether computers should have a "super-safe mode" that protects the user from themselves. However, Mac OS X already does this - a program has to ask for an administrator password to be installed as a startup item.

Anyone could write a Trojan Horse that wipes out the user's entire Documents, email, and settings after about 5 minutes of reading. This shell script is more advanced than that, but not much. It uses standard password-sniffing methods, etc to do its work.

This has no way of infecting other computers other than by the user installing it themselves. It is not a virus, nor a worm. It is a Trojan Horse that only can infect your machine after asking politely. Just say no. If you don't know where a piece of software came from - do not execute it. This is as if someone called you on the phone and said "Drag your Home folder to the Trash, then choose Secure Empty Trash from the Finder menu." If someone did that, I'd recommend not following their directions.

If it turns out that this actually was installed remotely using one of the recently-patched vulnerabilities in OS X, that would make it a worm, not a virus.

links:
http://www.macintouch.com/opener.html
http://www.insanely-great.com/news.php?id=3922

Posted by: Krioni on Oct 23, 04 | 3:56 am | Profile

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Mon Sep, 27 2004

Mac security is not perfect (of course) but we've got to compare to the alternative when making choices.

John Welch writes an interesting and informative article about the state of security on Macs at bynkii.com:
On why the Mac's small population is not a defense against an attack

I agree with most of what John concludes - Macs are NOT invulnerable, obviously. I had to deal with what measures to take for the SSH bug, along with several others. Those were bugs which a savvy, malicious programmer could have exploited to obtain root access remotely.

However, most people would be well-served to play the odds. The consultants that have the skills (and time!) to lock down Windows to the point of being both as secure and yet still USEFUL as most *nix operating systems does not nearly cover the number of places such systems are needed. Therefore, most businesses (and home users) would be well-served to avoid Windows like the plague it usually is.

We'd all be better off. The Windows users would be less likely to have their private information (ID, credit cards, network passwords, etc) stolen, and EVERYONE would have less zombie-spewed spam to deal with.

I think it's important to realize that we're not doing an analysis of Mac security in a vacuum. We've got to compare it with the alternative. When you do that, the choice is blindingly obvious: either spend years becoming a top-flight Windows security guru, or use Macs (and not be abjectly stupid in securing them).

Posted by: Krioni on Sep 27, 04 | 1:49 pm | Profile

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Thu Aug, 26 2004

Mac OS X's Color Picker

The blog codepoetry explores the Color Picker in OS X in great detail, helping us find all the great hidden features found within.

There are ways to use the Color Picker to choose a color anywhere on your screen. You can use external images as a custom palette, and much, much more.

One thing in the Comments is a complaint about having to go into an app's font colors to work with the Color Picker. I wrote a quick little AppleScript that does the job for you. It opens the Color Picker, and will even return a color in {R, G, B] format, if you choose one and press OK.

Here's the code:
set rgbValue to choose color default color {65535, 65535, 65535}
set rValue to item 1 of rgbValue
set gValue to item 2 of rgbValue
set bValue to item 3 of rgbValue

set the clipboard to ("{" & rValue & ", " & gValue & ", " & bValue & "}")

return rgbValue

Posted by: Krioni on Aug 26, 04 | 8:59 pm | Profile

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OmniWeb 5 - the best web browser

I had been hoping for a long time that OmniWeb would reach this point. Version 5.0 finally puts OmniWeb on top for serious users. It now has the stability to match its always-amazing feature set.

One unmatched feature - your browsing state is saved between re-launches. I cannot count the number of time I had many pages loaded in Safari or another browser and accidentally quit (or crashed), losing everything I had queued up to read.

I partially got around this in other browsers by making an AppleScript stay-open applet that saved the URLs of all open windows every minute. However, this leads to another area the OmniWeb excels: AppleScript support. When Apple put tabs into Safari, they did not make them accessible to AppleScript: you can only get information about the active tab for a window. This means that for my "backup web addresses" script to work in Safari I could not use tabs. It was even worse in other browsers that did not support Applescript AT ALL. OmniWeb's tabs are elements of a browser window, which means you can get every address of every tab of every browser. This is the right way to support AppleScript.

OmniWeb is definitely the best Mac web browser (which I believe makes it the best browser, period). How many hours do you spend web-browsing? If it is more than an hour per day, you need OmniWeb, and the money is well worth it. How much is your wasted time worth getting all your pages opened again? How much is it worth to be able to edit web forms in reasonable text boxes that allow Undo, etc? How much are site-specific font choices, popup-permission, cookie-permission, and more worth?

Buy it - invest in these guys and OmniWeb will only pull further ahead.

[I'm not affiliated with OmniWeb in any way except that I want this browser to stick around for a long time...]

VersionTracker.com page: http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/3253
OmniWeb product page: http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omniweb/

I'm looking forward to 5.1, which will use a more up-to-date WebCore rendering engine. I still need to dip into Safari every now and then to view a page properly.

Posted by: Krioni on Aug 26, 04 | 4:22 pm | Profile

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Thu Aug, 19 2004

Fiefdom of Music Choice: Real Networks is being Deceptive

No, I'm not talking politics here, folks. I'm talking about a company that releases poorly-designed products, harasses its users, and then tries to bully its way into a competitors product when it can't compete on its own.

Real Networks has tried for years now to get people to pay for music they can't keep, and have had limited success. Apple came along and ate their lunch by combining a best-of-breed portable music player in the iPod and combined it with an easy-to-use, enjoyable online music store. Their reward? Lots of customers, using good products.

Real then offers Apple the wonderful opportunity to partner with them for, basically, only Real's benefit. They include a threat to go to Microsoft and partner with them to compete against Apple if Apple turns them down. Apple concludes, correctly that Real is not much of a threat and their lousy software design would certainly NOT benefit Apple or its customers. Apple tells them to get lost via releasing Real's childish-sounding message to the New York Times.

Real then reverse-engineers Apple's DRM method so that they can encode their music to play on the iPod while still being copy-protected. There are some problems here: first is that Real could have just converted their music to MP3, which the iPod can play without a problem. Apple's DRM (Fairplay) is presumably their own intellectual property, or at least is SOMEONE's intellectual property. Whatever your politics on this are, Real is using someone else's IP to make a profit. Generally not allowed. Apple correctly announces that as they have no control over what Real is doing, a future update may break Real's hacked conversion (ignore negative connotation of the word "hacked." I'm just using it to describe programming without the full documentation of a particular environment). Apple is trying to explain that Real's software is not Apple's responsibility to support, which is the whole problem with this in the first place. Who will iPod users complain to if a song won't play on their iPod, and someone told them it would?

Finally, what most tech news sites are NOT reporting, the software Real uses to do this is not available for Mac OS X. So, the champions of "music choice" are deliberately leaving Apple's core customers out in the cold. When Real foolishly puts up a petition that claims to represent users clamoring for Apple to let Real screws its customers, many flocked to the site and told Real how wrong they were. Once again, Real showed its true colors by ripping down the comments, and posting a new site where users have no choice to have their say.

This kind of self-serving hypocritical garbage should be ridiculed by everyone as the desperate ploy of a company that knows it is out-classed, out-designed, and ready to go out-of-business.

Read Real's garbage

Posted by: Krioni on Aug 19, 04 | 4:10 am | Profile

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Mon Aug, 09 2004

TuneTags 0.86 - posted at VersionTracker

Well, I finally went and did it - posted my new program TuneTags on VersionTracker.com. Here's hoping I didn't miss any obvious bugs and get roasted.

I thought of making TuneTags when I realized how limiting the Genre tag was for song tracks. I wanted to be able to mark songs as good for driving music, good party music, mellow to help you relax, romantic, some combination of those, or whatever. I realized that the Comment tag usually goes fairly unused, and I could save keywords, or "tunetags" there. It is slightly limited by the fact that the Comment tag is limited to 255 characters, but it will work for now. If I made a custom MP3 tag iTunes would be unable to build smart playlists based on those tunetags.

Anyway, here's the freeware product blurb:
TuneTags is an application that works with iTunes to let you add keywords, or "tunetags" to your music.

Have you ever realized that many songs do not fit into just ONE Genre? Or, you want to note which songs are good for Driving, are Romantic, or just about anything else useful to know? You can make playlists for these things, but it would be better if the song itself could be marked with many different keywords, or "tunetags" that let you know more about each song. Then, smart playlists could be made that show you all your good 80's Driving music, or Romantic Folk music, or Defiant Rock music or even music good for getting psyched before a competition.

TuneTags lets you mark each song using many tags from a list, or Library, of tags. It comes with a starting Library of tags, but you can add your your own to the Library as you think of new tunetags that describe your music.

Posted by: Krioni on Aug 09, 04 | 4:10 pm | Profile

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Thu Jul, 01 2004

Daring Fireball: Dashboard vs. Konfabulator

John Gruber of DaringFireball.net explains very well why Apple's upcoming Dashboard mini-application-layer is NOT a rip-off of Konfabulator at DaringFireBall.net: Dashboard vs Konfabulator.

Can anyone who enhances something another developer wrote really expect that the developer of the original product won't add that feature directly at some point? Read John Gruber for reasons why Apple would have been throwing money away to buy Konfabulator.

I'm working on a program that will enhance/work with iTunes to help manage your songs in ways that Smart Playlists don't easily do. And yet, I expect that if it eventually becomes popular, Apple will just add it in to iTunes. All that does is validate my add-on, showing that it should have been in the product in the first place.

If you want to truly be unreplaceable, you have to come up with something that can be patented in some way, and is not derivative. Konfabulator was not a new idea, just a particularly artist-friendly method. As a programmer (of a sort) and not a graphic designer, I found that Konfab's virtual requirement of PhotoShop proficiency led me to realize I'd be better off learning AppleScript Studio (since I knew AppleScript already). Without an IDE, Konfab is just a run-time engine. Dashboard will let anyone be able to run apps a developer creates, not just those who paid $25. Oh, and that developer can use Safari and their existing web-developing knowledge to write Dashboard gadgets.

I feel bad for Arlo Rose, but he doesn't have a legitimate complaint that Apple ripped him off. Rather, he developed in an area that was ripe for evolution of the OS. Especially true once WebCore was released.

Posted by: Krioni on Jul 01, 04 | 6:31 pm | Profile

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Fri Jun, 25 2004

Is Secrecy Apple's Biggest Problem?

From the article:
"1 Infinity Loop, the company's Cupertino, California, headquarters. Like its pretentious address, Apple's haughty attitude simply annoys people."

Um. It is One Infinite Loop, not Infinity, and that is an electrical engineer's joke. Look it up if you're curious. It's not a haughty attitude - it's an inside joke. Geez.

I actually agree that Apple could open up more on some things. As far as pre-announcing products, just look at what happens to innovators who pre-announce: their competitors seize on some obvious statistic about it, make a junky copy before the real thing is released, and claim they beat the innovator at their own game. Example: Google's GMail. They are going to offer 1 GB of email storage, but even more importantly, they are going to have a MUCH better interface. Of course, Yahoo, Hotmail etc are all upgrading their storage quotas before GMail even is publicly released. How many of them are doing the most important thing: making it easier to use? No one, and yet they are going to probably successfully steal a lot of Google's thunder, since most journalists are too lazy to explain why GMail is still much better - one single number is not the whole picture.

Posted by: Krioni on Jun 25, 04 | 5:31 pm | Profile

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