Archive for the ‘apple inc.’ Category

Apple Security Threat

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

A recent occurrence has made me think twice about Apple’s Target Disk Mode boot option. Indeed it can be a very convenient feature, but like most conveniences this one is riddled with security threats. What is most bothersome, though, is how few people realize the problems it poses — not to mention the simplicity of a solution that Apple does not provide…at least not by default.


For those of you not up to speed, most of Apple’s computers allow themselves to be temporarily turned into an external hard drive simply by pressing the corresponding hot key (‘T’) during boot up. If the computer supports this option (most do) it will enter what is called Target Disk Mode (TDM) and allow itself to become a mass storage device and be connected to another computer via an IEEE 1394 interface (aka FireWire, i.LINK, Lynx…whatever).

Yes, this feature is convenient for transferring large amounts of data or if you need a quick makeshift external hard drive (assuming you have a male-male Firewire cable). Unfortunately, the feature also inherently bypasses the OS from ever being started on your computer allowing others access to all sorts of files that you assumed were secure by the OS’s login.

How It Works

When you press the power button on your computer the first thing to come to life is the firmware (a very low level program that lives in the hardware) and it decides what happens next — whether to boot into the installed OS, boot from a CD, boot from a network drive, etc. The decision is based on multiple factors, one of which is to check for certain hot keys on the keyboard.

The Problem

The problem with this convenience is that anyone with a finger has the ability to transform your computer into a large external drive. Yeah, including that person that just walked away with your laptop while you were getting another soy latte at Star Bucks.

Some would argue that if I’m this concerned with the security of my files, that I should enable FileVault in order to encrypt every file on my hard drive. Yeah? Well, I don’t think I should have to enable something that will have incredible amounts of overhead just because a back door exists that can completely circumvent the OS’s login prompt.

Solution (but not really)

Firmware Password Utility ApplicationThe solution is simple: eliminate the hot keys from influencing the firmware’s decision. Welding a steel plate on top of your keyboard would work I guess, but that’s not very convenient. A better idea would be to tell the firmware to not check the hot keys.

Currently, there is no way to disable these hot keys, but it turns out there is a way to password protect the firmware with some extra software. But after reading Apple documentation that states that the firmware password can be circumvented (quite easily), and that it could in fact be hazardous to your system, and that it is temperamental, I disabled it on my machine and don’t recommend it. Way to fuck us over, Apple:

“WARNING: Open Firmware settings are critical. Take great care when modifying these settings and when creating a secure Open Firmware password.”

“An Open Firmware password provides some protection, but it can be reset if a user has physical access to the machine and changes the physical memory configuration of the machine.”

“Open Firmware password protection can be bypassed if the user changes the physical memory configuration of the machine and then resets the PRAM three times (by holding down Command, Option, P, and R keys during system startup).”

The Rant

First of all, I think that the extra Firmware Password Utility (not included in a default installation…but available from the software installation disc (/Applications/Utilities/) and online) should not be necessary. I think there should be a simple check box in the System Preferences that enables/disables whether or not the keyboard is “heard” by the firmware.

I also think that the hot keys should be disabled by default. Apple is all about an ‘out of the box, ready to go’ mentality so I suspect they leave the feature enabled by default because that makes it more convenient for their users to make use of the TDM functionality. We’ve seen this same behavior before, but I think the security threat outweighs the convenience factor. Tisk, tisk Apple.

A More Intuitive iPod Shuffle Switch

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

The iPod Shuffle is a wonderful little product and in my opinion is by far the best mp3 player that doesn’t display information about what is playing. But there is an element of its design that I consider to be flawed and which I attribute to Apple’s consistent choice to sacrifice options for the sake of simplicity.

iPod Shuffle Close Up


One of the two switches on the iPod Shuffle chooses the play mode: either Continuous Playback or Shuffle. The former will repeatedly loop through all the songs in the order that they were added to the iPod from iTunes. The Shuffle mode will obviously play through them randomly, but will it stop playing after all the songs have been played through once? Are Shuffle and Continuous Playback mutually exclusive?

Different Shuffle Symbol Suggestions for the iPod ShuffleThis conflict seems minor, but there might be a major design flaw here. A switch is a user interface element that chooses between two possibilities. Ideally, neither choice implies the other (or else a different user interface element would be used…more about this later). But in the case of the iPod Shuffle, the Shuffle mode implies continuous playback as well. And I agree that it should—it’s intuitive to me that Shuffle would also continuously loop through all the songs. But with the current setup (Default Shuffle Symbol), however, moving the switch from Continuous Playback to Shuffle is contradictory. I would have at least made the symbol something like: Alternate Shuffle Symbol Suggestion 1 or Alternate Shuffle Symbol Suggestion 2.

You might now be saying to yourself: “That’s all fine and dandy because the current symbols on either side of the switch are simply graphical representations of two preset modes: one that continuously loops through the songs in order and another that continuously loops through the songs but in a random order.” Well, let’s not be so quick to make that assumption because as much as I’d agree with you, that’s not the way iTunes does it. iTunes uses buttons to select the mode allowing the user to turn both Shuffle and Continuous Playback on at the same time.

Playback choices in iTunesAnd let’s not kid ourselves that it is ok to have iTunes do something different than all the iPods out there. Apple’s success with their line of mp3 players (as well as their other products) is almost entirely attributable the almost necessary connection between their hardware and software components.

Wallify is Apple’s #1 Download

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Wallsaver Widget is Apple's Top DownloadMy Wallify widget has been the #1 download on Apple’s site for a whole month!

Wallify Widget v1.2 Released

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I’ve released a new version of my Wallify widget. There have been some improvements in functionality but the main new features are that it now dynamically lists all the Screen Savers installed on your system (no more static lists). It also allows you to check for new versions via AJAX (at your request of course). And I even reduced the size of the widget! Full release notes.

I’ve added some more useful information in the FAQ and don’t forget that it still maintains the same best features:

  • Free!
  • Uses no third party applications.
  • Only uses stuff already built into the OS.

Screenshot of Wallsaver v1.2

The Apple Syndrome

Monday, August 20th, 2007


I needed to find some product information while doing some comparative shopping at Best Buy this past weekend. I used one of the iMacs on display in their “Apple Shop” to browse the Internet…lord knows I wasn’t about to ask one of the “highly trained” employees they have on the floor. As I wrapped up my investigation I was met by a girl…no, she was definitely older than just a girl…a woman, early to mid-twenties with no valid excuse for being an idiot, who came up to the iMac next to me and started petting it.

“Mmmmm. I just love these things. Don’t you?” she asked.

“Yeah, they’re nice,” I responded casually.

“No, you don’t understand,” she continued “these things are amazing. You see, I believe that Apple is going to take over the world someday and I think people should start using their computers now to get used to them because that’s how it’s going to be in the future.”

How does one respond to an opening statement like that?

“It’s just a computer,” I said.

Let’s pause here for a moment. You see, my opinion on this subject has become very apathetic in the last few years. The truth is that Windows and Macs both perform equally well, both crash, both get viruses (yes, Mac users, they do) and both have a slew of things that should be fixed; it’s how you use it that matters. I guess it’s just the opposite of the “grass being greener”…it’s more like “my grass is greener because it is what I stand on everyday.” My point is, what ever you are used to is what is better for you. Ok, enough said. Let us return to the conversation:

“I’m just as fine with a Windows machine,” I added.

“Oh,” she expressed sympathetically. “Are you not creative?”

And that’s when I walked away. No goodbye. No polite smirk. Just a turn of my head and I was on my way, contemplating the irony of her logic: we should all conform by being “Mac users.” That way, we’ll be able to express ourselves creatively in our iLives.

People tend to get distracted by the marketing bullshit and actually believe that having a Mac instantly makes you a creative individual. Following this logic, not having a Mac means you’re not creative. How shallow.

That being said, I own a Mac and am very satisfied with it. But I happen to use more than iPhoto & Safari, bitches. I like Apple’s hardware and occasionally their software as well. I love the fact that I have access to a UNIX environment and can run all my C programs through the terminal pretty much out of the box. However, I recognize that Steve Jobs is in fact mortal and that his corporation has many similarities to Microsoft—a company people are so quick to criticize.

This post is for all you people who posses Apple stickers: don’t be so quick to assume that there is only one solution people should conform to. After all, that’s what the Nazis did.

A more drastic, but fairly accurate view point.

Stupid People (Part I)

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Part I of what I expect to be a series of posts.

You know, there’s something that really bothers me about dumb people. I was browsing through Adobe’s site to check out the new features that the new Creative Suite offers and I ended up watching the “Feature Tour” for Dreamweaver, Illustrator, Photoshop and Indesign CS3. Did you know one of the features of Indesign is that it, and I quote, “has mouse wheel support?” “This is especially helpful when working on long documents.”

Really? What a novelty!

Oh, and don’t miss out on the awesome features of Photoshop CS3. Adobe has a good example of how you can hide and unhide a layer in their “Feature Tour” so be sure to watch the video.


No, really. The photographer that Adobe interviewed toggles the layers for a good portion of the video and says that “the new version is so easy to use and that it really has what we need.” Way to show the true power of Photoshop you moron!

People treat these new releases as if they are groundbreaking and innovative, but more often than not the new features are few and your use of the product won’t change much. The face of the product is what changes the most and people seem to think that means a whole new product. Sure, Adobe is the industry leader with their product line (don’t forget they purchased Macromedia a while back), but it doesn’t make them smarter than most other software developers out there.

Remember not to get carried away with what is advertised. All these advertisements are written by marketing folk who, even though have product knowledge, are just trying to get their job done and will say wonders to brainwash you into thinking that what they offer is the best available.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to single out Adobe. This bitch session of mine applies for all the idiots out there, especially the “Steve Jobs is God” lemmings.