Mac News Review

Lack of OS X Malware Befuddles Security Experts, the Software Update Prebinding Bug, and More

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2007.03.23

This week's top story is the opposite of news - it's the fact that "security experts", used to the world of Windows, are stumped by the lack of OS X malware. It's no mystery: Mac OS X is secure by design; security isn't an afterthought.

They say the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - or perhaps Apple. Unsanity has uncovered a flaw in the Software Update process that can potentially render an OS X installation unbootable. There's a consistent bug in the prebinding process ("100% reproducible" according to Unsanity) that can zero out a file in the right (or wrong) circumstance.

PowerBook, iBook, MacBook, and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review.

All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

OS X Security

The Update Bug

News & Opinion

Products

iPod Accessories

Software

Desktop Mac Deals

OS X Security

You Can't Beat Mac OS X for Security

ZD Net's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes says:

"Today I came across a very interesting post over by Marius van Oers on McAfee's Avert Labs blog which looks at the malware count for Windows, Linux and Mac platforms:

"Today we know of over 236,000 malicious malware items. These are mostly meant for the MS-Windows environment. Only about 700 are meant for the various Unix/Linux distributions. Current known Mac OS X malware count is even less with 7, so pretty much non-existent at the moment.

"Let's take a second or two to digest those numbers. 236,000 v. 700 v. 7...."

Editor's note: Not a single piece of OS X malware has ever been found in the wild. These 7 are just proof-of-concept laboratory specimens. dk

Security Experts Befuddled by Lack of OS X Malware

MacUser's Dan Moren reports:

"Those poor security experts! They've been telling us for ages and ages that malware on OS X was imminent. That it was right around the corner, lurking like some sort of . . . er . . . lurker. Any day now.

"And yet, despite attempts to showcase OS X's vulnerability, we've seen nary a single serious widespread exploit in the wild. No wonder those experts are questioning their faith.

"In an article for the McAfee Avert Labs blog, security researcher Marius van Oers pointed out that Mac malware is 'pretty much non-existent at the moment'.

"The researcher said that out of 236,000 known pieces of malicious software, only seven affect Mac OS X."

The Mac OS X Virus Report: Why the Disconnect?

Gene Steinberg, the Mac Night Owl, says:

"For months, you've been hearing the same old story. As Mac OS X becomes more and more popular, and Windows users continue to switch to Apple's platform, the rise of malware is inevitable. Before you know it, Mac OS X will be subject to some of the same irritants that are inflicted on the Windows platform."

The Update Bug

Prebinding Bug in OS X Updates Can Make Your Mac Unbootable

Unsanity.org says:

"Yes, I am fully aware that I just told every one to update to Mac OS X 10.4.9 and I know this may be construed as me telling people not to.

"When you see the 'Optimizing System Performance' phase of a software update, Mac OS X is really updating prebinding. Updating prebinding has a very, very nasty bug in it (look at _dyld_update_prebinding). If multiple processes are updating prebinding at the same time, then it is possible for a system file to be completely zero'd out. Basically, all data in the file is deleted and it is replaced with nothing. This bug is usually triggered when updating Mac OS X and every update to Mac OS X has the potential to render your system unbootable depending on if the 'right' file is deleted or not. It's triggered during the 'Optimizing System Performance' phase of installing an update. This phase is actually just running update_prebinding. If you launch an application that links to libraries that are not yet prebound, there is a chance one of those files will be zero'd out as dyld automatically redoes the prebinding on that file.

"I've been tracking this particular bug for about 18 months now. Most of the real 'random' failures reported on various Mac OS X 'troubleshooting' sites after a user has installed an Apple software update are actually manifestations of this bug. By real I mean not imagined problems or ones that have been there for a very long time but the user is just now noticing it and artificially connecting the cause to the recent update (it's called Pareidolia). Yes, this nasty prebinding bug has been reported to Apple and yes, it is 100% reproducible if you want to reproduce it.

"Every single time you install an update to Mac OS X whether it be an iTunes update, a QuickTime update, an update for daylight saving time, a security update, an Airport update, or an actual Mac OS X update, you can be hit by this bug."

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Update

Ars Technica's Grover Saunders says:

"Over the weekend, Unsanity posted this article http://www.unsanity.org/archives/mac_os_x/shock_and_awe.php describing how every Mac OS X update has the potential to destroy data, including files that are required for the Mac OS to boot. The crux of the bug is in how Software Update handles prebinding, also known as 'Optimizing System Performance.'

"If multiple processes are updating prebinding at the same time, then it is possible for a system file to be completely zero'd out. Basically, all data in the file is deleted and it is replaced with nothing.

"If you launch an application that links to libraries that are not yet prebound, there is a chance one of those files will be zero'd out as dyld automatically redoes the prebinding on that file.

"Ouch. I've always just clicked 'Install' and carried on my merry way, so this is fairly alarming news to me. Along with several rather unpleasant ways of diagnosing and repairing your system (including enabling verbose mode and manually replacing the broken files with copies from a working system), the article presents a simple preventative measure:

"When 'Optimize System Performance' appears during the update process do not touch your computer and definitely do not launch any applications. Just back away from your computer box as if it were a swarm of bees...."

Editor's note: Perhaps this explains why I've never encountered any difficulty with system updates. I always use a standalone installer (never Software Update), shut down all applications, and leave the computer alone while the update install runs. cm

Tips for Avoiding Problems with Software Update

Daring Fireball's John Gruber says:

Last week, Jeffrey Zeldman shared the procedure used at his design studio for updating Mac OS X system software. I hesitate to call his tips 'advice', because he doesn't use that term - rather, it's simply a statement of fact. Here's what we did, and we avoided any problems.

Some of his steps are quite sound, and I highly recommend them. Others, I suspect, are entirely superfluous, hinging mostly on superstition. I think it's a list worth examining.

First, though, here's the procedure I use when installing system updates (e.g. from 10.3.6 to 10.3.7) and security updates.

  1. Wait at least one business day after the release of the update.
  2. Run a full backup.
  3. Log out. Then log back in while holding the Shift key.
  4. Run Software Update. While it runs, don't use other apps.
  5. As soon as Software Update is done, restart.

News & Opinion

10 Reasons You Should Buy a Mac

The Register's Tony Smith says:

"Yes, you can accept Apple's logic that 'it all just works' straight out of the packaging, but there are better reasons for moving to a Mac than a factor that's just as true of modern PCs these days.

"...Time to reconsider the once expensive, always stylish, now Unix-based Mac platform? We say yes.

  1. Not-so-heavy metal
  2. Core Comedy Duo
  3. FireWire and Target Disk Mode
  4. Smart-phone smarts
  5. Intel Inside
  6. Bundled apps good, nagware bad
  7. Sleeping and waking
  8. Bill Gates ate my GUI
  9. Still need Windows? No problemo
  10. Smug-tastic

"It's impossible to feel smug after buying a PC. Can't be done. Won't ever happen. Never going to be a factor. But then no one ever got fired for buying Lenovo. Or something like that...."

Products

OWC Launches Blu-ray DVD/CD Drives

Blu-ray Internal DrivePR: Other World Computing (OWC) has announced new OWC Blu-ray Internal and External Drive Solutions that are 100% compatible with any Windows or Mac system with an available IDE/ATAPI bay port (for internal drives), or any FireWire or USB 2.0 system port (for external drives).

Blu-ray High-Capacity 50 GB Storage per Disc

The OWC Blu-ray drives are the ideal solution for consumers with large amounts of data to archive or retrieve using optical media - perfect for high-definition or other video, large photo, music, and data files. The Blu-ray drive solutions read and write Blu-ray, DVD, DVD-RAM, CD and virtually every optical media. The drives provide the advantages of Blu-ray, including high-capacity storage (up to 50 GB per disc!) with write-once and rewritable media at a speed up to 24x, full high-quality HD Picture, and Surround Sound capabilities.

Create your own High-Capacity DVDs using family and friends as the stars

Blu-ray, the next generation of storage technology developed by Sony, gives you the freedom to create home movie and photo memories on long lasting discs with the highest video resolution now available on the market. Blu-ray has a broad base of industry support, with seven of the eight major movie studios and leading consumer electronics and IT hardware manufacturers providing a broad selection of Blu-ray disc™ products.

The OWC Blu-ray Drive Solutions feature:

  • Burn up to 50 GB of data or high-definition video per Blu-ray disc or up to 8.5 GB using standard DVDs.
  • True Plug & Play, it's never been easier to get started creating your own DVDs.
  • Supports FireWire and USB 2.0 (USB 1.1 backwards compatible) ports!
  • Includes two 25 GB Blu-ray media discs.
  • Available bundled with full retail version of Toast 8 DVD/CD Authoring software.

Priced from $559.99 for Internal Drives (with standard IDE/ATAPI interface) and from $649.99 for External Drives, these solutions are available with the full retail version of Toast 8 DVD/CD Authoring software (with Blu-ray Support), two 25 GB Blu-ray media discs, and are covered under a 1 year warranty. All External drive solutions also include all required connecting cables. The OWC Blu-ray drive solutions are available immediately from OWC. For more information, see the website.

Software

iEmulator Upgrade Path for Virtual PC Users

PR: iEmulator 1.7.9, a leading high-performance emulation solution, is again available to all Microsoft Virtual PC owners at the special price of $19.95. This upgrade price includes the full iEmulator application, comprehensive documentation, a version of DOS, unlimited no-charge updates to iEmulator and rapid-response technical support.

Since last September when this special offer first expired, iEmulator.com has received many requests from former Virtual PC users asking us to make it available again, which we now have for a limited time.

iEmulator offers an incredible feature set, including the ability to assign up to 1 GB of RAM to each emulated PC, virtually instantaneous PC state saving and loading, full-screen as well as windowed mode, printing support (to both USB and networked printers), support for international keyboards, CD image as well as physical CD-ROM support, the ability to access and share Mac files and folders with Windows, audio support and support for running multiple emulated PCs simultaneously.

In addition, iEmulator can import Virtual PC 7 emulated PCs that use static-sized hard disk images, in many cases without requiring any editing of the imported PC.

Finally, iEmulator 1.7.9 is a Universal Binary, which can run natively on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs, offering an upgrade path to all Mac users who need to run DOS, Windows or PC Linux software.

iEmulator.com continues to set the benchmark for customer support and service. From simple thank-you's for a quick tip to comments like "iEmulator is fantastically easy to use. I was so glad to find such an affordable, user friendly program.", "your support is second to none: friendly and amazingly quick!", "(iEmulator.com has) been very responsive and helpful" and "I am dubbing iEmulator - the best way to run Windows." iEmulator.com is proving that it has consistently set customer satisfaction as the number one goal above all else.

iEmulator is a high-performance PC emulator for the Mac OS X platform that has been available since November of 2004.

iEmulator 1.7.9 requires a PowerPC G3 or later and Mac OS X 10.3 or later.

Editor's note: Some Low End Mac readers have noted that iEmulator appears to be a rebadged version of Q, an open source Cocoa port of the QEMU open source processor emulator, albeit with a nicer front end. iEmulator is said to violate Q's licensing terms. Several iEmulator users have called the program "dog slow" and Gene Steinberg says it's "lethargic", which seems to be the nature of emulators in general. dk

Liquifile File Browser Replaces File Size and Date Columns with Dots

LiquifilePR: Liquifile is a new file management tool for Mac OS X. An alternative Finder, if you will. It is designed for visual thinkers who want to get a bigger picture of their files and feel them more directly. But not only for them.

Did you ever wonder why searching and browsing is so separated in today's interfaces? Ever wished you had a bigger screen when finding or organizing your files? Ever lost files in deep hierarchical structures? Ever wondered what the next big thing in file browsing might be...? Well, maybe you should have a look at this:

Liquifile is a tool that needs a few minutes of introduction (because it is quite different) but then delivers a lot of advantages over the common browsing methods.

Please keep in mind: This is just the beginning. There is still a lot to come in future versions... But what ever will come: The license you buy now will be also valid for all the next versions (up to 1.X minimum, maybe more). We want to support our early supporters! If you have wishes or comments, please let us know. We would love to know what you think. Help us to build your favorite Finder alternative.

By the way: meet us at the CeBit 2007 in Hannover. We will have a stand there (hall 9, stand 37A) and will show lots of liquid browsing stuff. We would love to talk to you, hear your thoughts and wishes and get you really liquifiled.

We will share the CeBit stand with iStuff (maker of the Shell hardcase sleeve for notebooks and the iSaver microfiber cloth. Did you know that iStuff is supporting Liquifile? This means you can also help us by buying iStuff products.

New in version 1.5.1:

  • Dots for folders and packages
  • Keyboard Navigation

System requirements: Mac OS X 10.4 or later.

System support: PPC/Intel

$9.90 - 30-Day-Trial

Please support the development of Liquifile by purchasing a license. A license is personal and can be used on all computers owned by the license owner.

International Liquifile License (v.1.5): $12.90

Smart Scroll X Add Scrolling Options to OS X

PR: Smart Scroll X brings new scrolling options and enhancements to Mac OS X:

  • Super Wheel - smoother, more comfortable scroll wheel action.
  • Grab Scroll lets you scroll by clicking and dragging anywhere in a window. Currently for Cocoa applications.
  • A "High Gear" for your scroll wheel, so you can have super-fast scrolling when you need it.
  • Universal Scroll Keys to scroll without having to reach for the mouse. Scroll keys are the same in every application, giving you fast & dependable scrolling right from the keyboard.
  • Adds Scroll wheel support to FileMaker Pro 6 and 7 (as well as live scrolling).
  • Adds Live Scrolling and proportional thumbs to AppleWorks 6.

Grab Scroll

Grab scroll works with any mouse or pen or trackpad, etc. It is essentially the same feature as the hand tool available in many graphics programs, but now you can use it for scrolling in any Cocoa application (support for Carbon applications is forthcoming).

  • With a single-button mouse, a scroll key lets you turn the cursor into an open hand: hold the first key and tap the second one. To scroll, click and drag with the mouse. Grab scroll mode ends when you release the first key (the 2nd key is used to activate grab scroll, and also to scroll faster when you want).
  • With a multiple-button mouse, you just press one of the buttons (select one) to grab the page and slide it inside its window.
  • With a graphics pen, you'll probably want to setup the extra buttons so that the first one does a middle-click (so you can use it to grab scroll) and the 2nd one does a right-click. Since the pen lets you move the cursor farther with less effort and more precision than a mouse, you can keep the normal speed at 1x for maximum control and set the other speeds to some high value.

Two extra scrolling speeds are available, in addition to the normal speed. One by holding a user-selectable key while dragging, and the second by starting to drag near an edge of the area to scroll.

Faster Scroll Wheel

You can make your scroll wheel faster when you hold down a user-selectable key, up to 12 times faster. In addition, the speed multiplier you choose is applied on top of the acceleration already provided by the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane: this means you keep the same level of control as you have now, but you can scroll farther and without having to spin the wheel nearly as much.

Universal Scroll Keys

A welcome alternative to always having to reach for the mouse, Scroll Keys are a real time saver for anyone who types a lot!

With automatic scroll focusing, all you do is press a Scroll Key and Smart Scroll X automatically selects and scrolls the correct pane. Scroll Keys also feature their own adjustable scrolling speed, with optional progressive acceleration, so that you can easily scroll multiple pages simply by holding down a key.

Scroll Keys are the same across all applications: no need to remember different keys for each app. Because of this, and because Scroll Keys are conveniently located in the corner of the keyboard, you can even scroll without having to look at the keys.

Scroll Keys are made possible by the new kind of keyboard shortcut used in Smart Scroll X, which doesn't involve hitting letter keys (hence avoiding conflicts with existing key combinations). Instead, you hold down one of the four corner keys and you scroll by hitting one of the others (some keyboards have these keys on both sides, letting you scroll with either hand) :

FileMaker Pro & AppleWorks Enhancements

Smart Scroll X brings scroll wheel support and live scrolling to FileMaker Pro 6 and 7. You can now use your scroll wheel mouse for scrolling FileMaker Pro documents. Note: With some layouts you may need to click one of the scroll bars once before the scroll wheel works. A fix will be available in the next version of Smart Scroll X.

AppleWorks 6 users get live scrolling and proportional thumbs, as well as scroll wheel support.

Live scrolling updates the document while you drag the scroll bar thumb. Proportional thumbs show how much of the document is being displayed, and they make it easier to see which part you are viewing. They are also easier to grab with the mouse.

Scroll Next

If a window has two or more scrollable panes, it is the one under the mouse pointer that scrolls. Automatic scroll focusing will select one of the panes for you when you press a Scroll Key to start scrolling, but chances are it won't be able to guess the correct pane every time. To let you scroll another pane without reaching for the mouse, Smart Scroll X adds the Scroll Next feature: hold down Control and hit Shift to select the next pane in the window for scrolling. The mouse pointer jumps to the selected pane too, providing visual feedback.

Scroll Next is quite useful in applications such as Mail for example, where one often wants to alternatively scroll the list of messages and the text of an email.

Note: In the current version of Smart Scroll X, scrolling in Carbon applications only works if the mouse pointer is above the pane to scroll. An upcoming version of Smart Scroll X will remove this limitation, and also enable the Scroll Next feature for Carbon applications.

Other Features of Smart Scroll X

Finally, Smart Scroll X lets you select a comfortable scrolling speed for Scroll keys (including optional acceleration), and offers a larger selection of scrollbar arrows positions (still useful from time to time, although with Grab Scroll and Scroll Keys you won't need to click on arrows very often anymore). You do not need to restart applications for these changes to take effect.

New in version 2.1.2:

  • Intel-based Macs: the Smart Scroll X installer automatically removes Rosetta TuneUp, as this utility is no longer needed on Mac OS X 10.4.9.
  • Various other fixes and improvements.

New in version 2.1.1:

  • Super Wheel and Scroll Keys are now automatically turned off for some incompatible apps (MS Office). Thanks to Aydin Yulug for his assistance!
  • Various minor fixes and improvements.

New in version 2.1:

  • Super Wheel improvements for the Finder, Firefox and other Carbon applications.
  • Smoother horizontal scrolling for Super Wheel and Grab Scroll, in Carbon applications.
  • Various minor fixes and improvements.

New in version 2.0x:

  • New Super Wheel feature.
  • New Coasting feature for Grab Scroll.
  • New Grab Scroll feature for Carbon applications.
  • Universal binary.
  • Includes Rosetta TuneUp, a utility for preventing Rosetta-related crashes on Intel Macs.
  • Streamlined preference pane.
  • Various fixes and improvements.

System requirements: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later.

System support: PPC/Intel

$29 shareware

Download:

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