Mac News Review

Flashback Malware on the Ropes, Ivy Bridge CPUs Coming Monday?, Dropbox 'Good Enough', and More

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.04.20

Mac notebook and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

Flashback News

News & Opinion

Tech Trends

Software

Desktop Mac Deals

Flashback News

How Serious Is the Mac Malware Threat?

The Guardian's Charles Arthur notes that the Flashback Java exploit may have infected up to 1% of the Mac OS installed base, but wonders if risks for Mac owners in general is really growing?

Arthur observes that "even with the latest infection, amounting to 1% of the estimated installed base of Macs, there aren't so far signs of a deluge of attacks against Macs. Between MacDefender in May of 2011, and Flashback between September and the present day, the amount of Mac-targeting malware remains remarkably low."

He cites Graham Cluley of Sophos pointing out in "a short history of Mac malware" that the amount of malware targeting the Mac platform has tripled in the past three years, which sounds ominous, but in fact still only amounts to a couple of new attacks per year, also noting that one piece of software identified as "malware", from PremierOpinion, is arguably no such thing, but a user-sanctioned tracking system for web use.

'Mac OS X Invulnerability to Malware Is a Myth'

Ars Technica's Jacqui Cheng reports:

"Mac users can expect more OS X botnets, drive-by downloads, and mass malware from here on out. That's according to security researchers from Kaspersky Lab, who said during a press conference on Thursday morning that anti-malware software is now a necessity for Mac users, and that 'Mac OS X invulnerability is a myth.'

Kaspersky acknowledged that Mac malware has existed for years but only recently started gaining more momentum thanks to an increase in Mac market share. "In the case of Flashback (also known as Flashfake), the malware morphed from a socially engineered installation app to an attack that targeted an unpatched Java vulnerability."

"...Kaspersky says the latest Flashback infection was spread via hijacked WordPress sites thanks to a vulnerability in the blog software. This means that trusted blogs visited by Mac users could have been used to spread the infection, debunking the myth that infections only happen by visiting shady websites...."

Kapersky reports Flashback infections have dropped from almost 700,000 to 30,000
Kaspersky reports Flashback infections have dropped from almost 700,000 to 30,000.
Image courtesy of Kaspersky Lab

..."Kaspersky warns that Mac users can no longer rest easy on the belief that they are (or were ever) immune to these kinds of attacks."

Firefox Blocks Vulnerable Versions of Java for OS X 10.5

A Mozilla.org blog says that the Firefox developer began blocking vulnerable versions of the Java plugin on Windows and some Linux distributions two weeks ago, but hadn't followed up with the Mac OS X operating system for a couple of reasons - one being that Apple has already patched its Java software and the Software Update application is very effective doing its job.

The other reason is that there's a bug in Firefox that prevents it from reloading plugin metadata after an update, meaning that even if someone updates Java on Mac, Firefox will continue to say an old and vulnerable version is installed. This bug will be fixed in Firefox 12, and the blog says Mozilla.org will complete the block on Mac OS X after that version is released on April 24th.

However, people still using Mac OS X 10.5 and older won't get the Java update, which means they will remain vulnerable unless they update their operating system or upgrade their hardware. For these users, there's no point in waiting, so Mozilla has blocked the Java plugin for them. This is a soft block, meaning that they are free to continue using the plugin if they choose to, at their own risk.

Publisher's note: The current version of Firefox requires OS X 10.5 or newer on an Intel-based Mac, so the "and older" in the blog's title is meaningless. According to the TenFourFox team, the current version of Flashback has not been compiled for PowerPC Macs, making them currently safe - but if Flashback were recompiled for PPC, those Macs could also become infected. By default, TenFourFox disables Java, so unless you've enabled Java in TenFourFox, it is secure. dk

News & Opinion

Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs to Be Unveiled on Monday

Hardmac's Lionel notes that it appears Intel will officially unveil its new mobile Ivy Bridge CPUS on April 23rd, enabling computer manufacturers to launch their new Ivy Bridge powered models. He observes that April 23rd being a Monday, Apple could release new MacBook Pros as well as new iMacs the day after.

Is Dropbox Good Enough to Be Called 'Good Enough'?

The Register's Chris Mellor notes that the indie Cloud service Dropbox is popular for syncing and sharing files across smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktop PCs, used by him in his all-Apple computing universe of iMac, MacBook Air, iPad, and iPhone by preference over Apple's proprietary iCloud.

Mellor says Dropbox's "killer aspect" for him is that it's a device icon that acts like a folder of files, while "God knows what iCloud is," noting that it screws up calendar sync and iTunes music and film sync - and that kills it stone dead for him, even if it's him doing something wrong. He observes that with Dropbox, there's no wrong to do, since file drag 'n drop is about as basic as it gets, and arguing that aspirations towards "good" can get in the way of achieving "good enough".

Editor's note: Like Chris Mellor, I am using Dropbox by preference over iCloud to keep current files on my various OS X and iOS devices in sync. It's hard to imagine how I ever got along without it. iCloud is a non-starter for me, because it won't support three-quarters of the systems I have in daily use, while Dropbox supports all of them and is slicker to use for my purposes. cm

Publisher's note: Exactly what Charles said! iCloud is not a low-end solution; Dropbox works with PowerPC Macs and as far back as OS X 10.4 Tiger. dk

Souping Up a Mac Pro with a MCE 12x Blu-ray Drive

BareFeats' rob-ART morgan says:

"Like many Mac Pro owners, I wish Apple offered a Blu-ray optical drive CTO option. Many Mac Pro owners have taken things into their own hands and installed Blu-ray reader/burners. Then they must scrounge around for some software that makes it useful under OS X. That can be a challenge.

"MCE has decided to make the Blu-ray experience easier for owners of the Mac Pro (and Power Mac). They are bundling the MCE 12x Blu-ray Recordable Drive with software that enables you to play Blu-ray movies on your Mac Pro's screen. And it gets better...."

Tech Trends

Desktops to Adopt 2.5" Hard Drives as All-in-One PCs Gain Favor

PR: Demand from all-in-one PCs, combined with requirements for lower power consumption and a thinner, smaller storage alternative to existing 3.5" hard drives, will help create a viable market for 2.5" hard drives in desktops beginning next year, says a new report from IHS iSuppli.

Worldwide shipments of 2.5" hard drives to all-in-one PCs are forecast to reach approximately 1 million units in 2013, up from virtually zero this year, according to an IHS iSuppli Storage Space Market Brief from information and analytics provider IHS. Shipments then will increase to 3 million units the following year and rise steadily until they hit some 7 million units in 2016, as shown in the figure below. The hard drive market for all-in-one PCs will continue to be dominated by 3.5" discs, with shipments by 2016 estimated at 31 million units, but growth will be much slower for the segment during the same period than for 2.5" drives.

shipment forecast for 2.5-inch vs. 3.5-inch drives for all-in-one PCs

The 2.5" hard drive is used widely today in a variety of products, including mobile or notebook PCs, external hard disk drives, and in enterprise applications such as servers and storage systems. Their advantages over conventional 3.5" hard drives include a smaller form factor, lower power consumption, and higher endurance.

Of late, however, the 2.5" drives have also become attractive and desirable for desktop PCs, especially among all-in-one computers.

"With a maximum capacity of 1 terabyte (TB), 2.5" hard drives are proving very attractive to PC makers for use in their next-generation all-in-one designs," says Fang Zhang, analyst for storage systems at IHS. "Multiple all-in-one PCs have the potential to adopt 2.5" hard drives, including the iMac from Apple Inc., TouchSmart from Hewlett-Packard, Series 7 from Samsung Electronics, IdeaCentre from Lenovo, Top Touchscreen from Asus Eee, and all-in-one desktops from Vizio and Acer."

All-in-One PCs for All

With demand for all-in-one desktop PCs expected to grow, future market prospects for the 2.5" hard drive appear encouraging, IHS believes. Compared to conventional desktop PCs, all-in-ones possess superior features and performance, brought about by advances in microprocessors and the thinner hard drive size. As such, all-in-one desktop PCs can extend the markets for 2.5" hard drives beyond their current areas in notebooks, external hard drives and the enterprise, allowing the thinner and smaller drives to penetrate the desktop space.

Speed and Pricing Challenges

Two disadvantages of the 2.5" hard drive are speed and price. Most 2.5" drives typically run at 5,400 revolutions per minute (rpm), compared to 7,200 rpm for the 3.5". The 2.5" also sells at slightly higher prices than the 3.5" of the same cpacity as a whole, although the gap in price can be narrowed if 2.5" volumes become significant.

Nonetheless, enough positive factors are present to push growth overall for 2.5" drives. As a result, the 2.5" will represent approximately 4% of the all-in-one desktop PC market by next year, and then go on to account for 18% of the all-in-one market by 2016. And as capacity and speed continue to improve and costs go down, the 2.5" hard drive is expected to take share away from 3.5" hard drives in the traditional desktop PC market, IHS predicts.

"The 2.5" hard drive market may enjoy about four to five years of uninterrupted growth before low-priced, high-density solid state drives become more competitive," Zhang said.

Publisher's note: Apple has used 2.5" hard drives in the Mac mini since the compact desktop model was introduced in January 2005, but it has not yet adopted 2.5" drives in it all-in-one iMacs. dk

Software

Adobe Reader Adds Free eSignatures Capability

PR: Adobe Systems Incorporated has announced it is making eSignatures available to hundreds of millions of Adobe Reader users, adding greater flexibility for signing, sending, and managing important documents, whether from a desktop, iOS, or Android mobile device. Through integration between Adobe Reader and Adobe EchoSign eSignature service, users can gain real-time visibility into the signature process and status of contracts, giving end users the assurance that their signed documents have been received, can be easily organized and managed.

eSignature in Adobe Reader

Available immediately, Adobe Reader X (version 10.1.3) for desktop offers new signature functionality with Adobe EchoSign that lets users choose how they want to electronically sign a document, either by drawing their signature or by adding a typed or cursive signature. Also available today is the latest version of Adobe Reader for mobile, which now lets users electronically sign a document by simply drawing their signature, making it easy to conduct business while on the go. The new capabilities for smartphones, tablets and desktops include:

Ink Signature Tool

Users can electronically sign a document by hand-drawing their signature with their finger on a touchscreen.

Send for Signature Users can connect to Adobe EchoSign to get others to sign documents electronically, enabling senders to track and manage the status of documents online. In addition, signed contracts are archived in the cloud, making it easy for users to retrieve documents from anywhere, at any time, via a Web browser.

Adobe Reader for mobile also adds new features that let people interact with PDF documents directly from their iOS or Android devices. These include:

Annotate

Users can choose the Highlight, Strikethrough or Underline annotation tools, and drag over any text to easily markup text.

Comment Users can add Sticky Notes anywhere on a PDF document. Just choose the Note tool, tap, and add the comment.

Forms Fill Users can fill out simple PDF forms, save them, and forward them on to the recipient.

These new capabilities complement the wide range of features already available in Adobe Reader for mobile including viewing PDF Portfolios, password-protected PDF documents and Adobe LiveCycle rights-managed PDF files; and opening and viewing PDF files from email, on the Web or from any application that supports the Open In function. The highly intuitive user interface provides an efficient PDF viewing experience regardless of the device.

eSignature in Adobe Reader

"The days of printing, signing and faxing back signed documents are numbered. With Adobe Reader and EchoSign, were making it easy for anyone to send important contracts to customers so that they can quickly and easily sign and send them electronically and get the deal done faster," says Kevin M. Lynch, SVP and GM, Acrobat and Document Services, Adobe.

Adobe Mobile Reader 10.2 is available free on the iOS app store and Google Play. Adobe Reader X (version 10.1.3) is also available for desktop download.

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