Mick

Saturday , July 02, 2011

Defending Your Mac

By now, most of you have heard of this “MAC Defender” malware that’s out on the internet this month.  Some of you may have already panicked, rushed out and slathered your beautiful Macs with legitimate anti-virus software.  Sooner or later you’ll be calling and wondering why your speedy Mac has gotten so slow and certain things just don’t work like they used to.  I could say something pithy like, “Well, it’s not as young as it used to be.  Just a natural part of the aging process that one has to accept…,” but I’d just be going for smarmy points there.  Actually, there is no such thing as smarmy points.  They usually count against you.  No, I’d likely say, “Bring it in, we’ll have a look.”  Once on the bench, chances are we’d see that you’d been driving your Mac with the parking brake on.  That’s the burning aroma you’ve been smelling from time to time.

That’s what anti-virus software does to any computer.

Now if you have a PC running Windows, you don’t have a choice.  Running a PC without protection is like sleeping next to the Amazon without mosquito netting.  You’re just asking for trouble. The last statistic I saw estimated that 10-15% of everything you download on the internet has PC malware in it.  Did you get that?  That’s over 1 in 10 downloads can potentially harm your PC!

But not your Mac.

So should you be panicking now that there is now one piece of Mac malware out there that can trick a gullible person into giving up their credit card data to a website?  Aware, yes.  Panicking, no.

So what is malware, anyway?

Malware is any piece of “malicious software” written for the sole purpose of bringing something bad into your computer, and by association, your life.  Malware can be a virus, a worm, a phish, a trojan, spyware, adware, tupperware and a lot of things you’d probably like to avoid.

But that’s why we love Macs, right?

Marginally relevant sidebar story:

A dear friend was having us do some work on her MacBook Pro and had come to pick it up.  I was showing her what we’d done and talking about it as simply as possible so she’d know what we’d repaired along with some minor changes to her system.  After I’d been talking about a minute or two, she stopped me and said,

“Oh my gosh!  I just did that thing!”
“What thing?,” I replied
“That thing where someone is talking technical and I just tune it out and wait for it to be over so I can smile and nod my head?”
“Oh, that bad?”
“No, just a force of habit.  I actually understand most of what you say, most of the time.  Would you mind repeating that part again about how I can change my password?”

My point here (in case you’re glazed over and smiling blankly now) is that at this stage in MacLand, you don’t need anti-virus software.

There really are no viruses for Macs anyway.  The only people telling you, you need them, are usually the same companies that make their living selling anti-virus software for the PC.  All too often the latest “study” that seems to indicate the need for this software on the Mac is usually funded by the same companies that would like to sell you the software.  Hmm…

MAC Defender was a trojan (as in Troy, not birth control or USC) which required user intervention to get what they ultimately wanted: credit card data.  As such, it was also a “phish,” trying to hook you into giving up information it could not find or gather on it’s own.  Trojan’s make up about 70% of the malware on the internet these days.  Viruses only about 17%.  Malware creators used to be motivated simply by their devotion to the dark lord and bad food.  Just doing evil for evil’s sake was enough to delight their twisted, Twinkie sucking souls.  Now they’re all about profit.

Your bottom line should be this:  Never give information of any kind to a website or email that you don’t know or trust.  You might also want to have a fake birth date that you use to register for certain legitimate things and a different credit card and/or email address for internet shopping.  Less is more on the internet.

As far as Macs one day needing some type of anti-malware protection other than the Mac OS, it’s possible.  My best estimate at the rate things are going is that Apple is eventually going to be the number one platform for home users in the U.S. and possibly the world.  So it will be a bigger target for thieves and evil doers, who generally like to go where the money is.

But we’re not there yet.

Anti-virus software on the Mac right now is like driving your car with a helmet on.  Is it safer?  Probably.  Is it necessary if you’re already a safe driver and wear seat belts?  Probably not.

Keep your data backed up with Time Machine and go about your business knowing that the internet is still pretty safe for Macs.

Here’s Apple’s note on how to uninstall MAC Defender:

http://www.micksmacs.com/article-redirect.htm

We’re always here to help if you need us.

Hope your Memorial Day Weekend is full of friends and family and not too much traffic.  Our hearts and gratitude go out to all of the men and women who have selflessly served this country.

All the best,

Mick

Posted by editor at 09 pm

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Saturday , July 02, 2011

6 Reasons Your Email Address May Be A Problem

Every time we work with a new client, one of the issues that usually comes up is their email address. Especially if they only have one.  In Santa Barbara, the majority of our clients use Cox for their internet connection.  In the olden days of the 90’s (that’s actually TWO decades ago now!), being given an email address from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) was a really cool thing.  In the early daze of screaming (loud, not fast) dial-up modems, having your email address hosted by AOL, CompuServe and many smaller outfits like Silcom here in town, was a natural thing. There were not many alternatives.  No Gmail or Mobile Me, and Yahoo and Hotmail were just beginning to show up.  Basically, unless you were pretty technically savvy and got your own domain, you just grabbed the email address that your ISP gave you and then proceeded to bug everyone in your life to get a computer and start sending email.

Today, in spite of the over-representation of juveniles who roam its malls, the internet is more mature, significantly faster, and accessed in ways the early pioneers might never have imagined.  Astronauts and submarine captains have internet access and it has become ubiquitous and essential across newly created mobile devices, the latest of which is Apple’s iPad. Soon, we’ll have it wired into our cars, bicycles, clothing, toothbrushes and just about anywhere you can imagine.

So what does that have to do with your ISP issued email address?

Well, there are a lot of drawbacks to having your primary email address tied to your ISP.

1) The first problem is that your ISP has you prisoner.  If a competitor comes to town, with a newer, cheaper, better internet package, you are stuck with that cox.net address they are going to charge you to keep.

2) Even worse, in changing ISPs because of a move they’ll sometimes completely cancel and delete the email account without you being aware of it.  Suddenly you have no access to your email or an address you can be reached at!

3) Your internet service provider really doesn’t care that much about providing you an email address.  Now, don’t take it personally.  There’s no money in it and the support costs are painful.  If your ISP could sign a deal with Google to handle all email addresses they would.  Google deals with the near endless service and support requests by having no real humans that you can locate.  [Actually, that’s only mostly true.  I did reach a support team in Ireland once, but it took me an hour of phoning in favors to find that, and I think I had to wait a day for a call back from a number that self-destructed 5 minutes after we hung up.]  Rumor is that they’re an entirely self-perpetuating algorithm, but I’ll save that for another time…

4) ISP email addresses are usually the most problematic on mobile devices.  I cannot tell you how many Cox, Verizon and Comcast email addresses have failed to appear properly on people’s iPhones or iPads.  ISPs have responded to this problem with…nothing.  Modern email addresses need an IMAP configuration to stay in sync across numerous devices.  If you’re totally up to date on your email because you’ve been checking it on your phone or work computer throughout the day, do you really want to come home to your computer and see all of those messages UNread?  Modern times require modern formats and if you have more than one device checking email for you, you should have your email account set up as an IMAP account.  Gmail and MobileMe do this by default.

5)  ISP’s are predominantly PC based and rarely offer any real help for Mac users.  They try sometimes, but it’s rather comical how often we have to undo everything their “support” person has had a Mac user do to their computer.

6)  ISP’s are not really service companies.  They’re actually more like a utility company.  What do I mean by that?  Well, their main job is to provide a big, wide, fast pipeline to the internet.  They have this bipolar relationship with support.  They see the potential revenues, but are not really sure how committed they are to diving in deeper.  There’s a tentative, ill conceived quality to their “solutions” that have you trolling about on their website or downloading some sort of (usually) lame virus software that’s supposedly going to make your life better.   Please don’t.

Solutions?

First of all, I’m not suggesting you dump your primary email address provided by your ISP.  You can keep that as long as you want.  I’m suggesting a gradual migration away from it as your primary address where personal or important email comes.  On the road to that solution is the creation of a new address that you can begin writing to people from.  Actually, we suggest you create two new addresses.   Gmail is free, so it’s not a big deal.  One of these addresses is for family and friends and the other is for business and internet shopping contacts. In doing so, you protect your more personal address from all the SPAM that submitting it publicly can do.

Not thrilled with Google controlling everything?  Then get an email address with your own domain.  [The domain is the part that comes after the “@” sign.]  Then you can have the same email address for life, regardless of who delivers the internet to you.  Something like, Sally@SallySmythe.com.  Families often get a domain and then dole out email addresses to each member.  Sally@TheSmytheFamily.com would be an example of that.  They’re not expensive and you can usually get one for $15-$20/year.

Whatever you decide is right for you and your family, just know that you have fewer options with your ISP providing your primary email address.

We’re always here to help.

All the best,

Mick

Posted by editor at 09 pm

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