Tag Archives: OS X

Security – Adware with Java 8 Update 40 Installation

Java was developed by Sun Microsystems and first released in 1995. Since Oracle Corporation acquired Sun in 2010, the development of Java programming language has continued.  While Java can be freely
downloaded and installed on your Mac, it recently has begun to carry some undesirable baggage.

Beginning with Java 8 Update 40 for the Mac, Oracle has begun including a version of the Ask.com browser toolbar. This is generally considered Adware and has only been found on the Windows version of Java previously. Adware like this is considered by most to be a form of malware (malicious software).

The latest Java installer now adds the Ask toolbar to both Safari and Google Chrome by default. A user can opt out of the installation, but only if they are paying close attention while Java is being installed.

If the Ask toolbar gets installed, uninstalling Ask is straight forward. For Safari go to Safari >> Safari Extensions. For Chrome, the Ask toolbar can be removed directly from the toolbar’s help menu.

NOTE: This will only affect you if you have installed Oracle Java onto your Mac!


See my other Mac OS X and Security articles


Security – FREAK

FREAK is a newly discovered security flaw affecting both the iOS and OS X versions of Safari, as well as other web browsers. This vulnerability enables an attacker to force the browser to use a weakened, 512-bit form of encryption. FREAK is an acronym standing for ‘Factoring RSA-EXPORT
Keys’. This flaw has been around for years and was just exposed by security researchers March 2, 2015. Specifically this vulnerability is with TLS/SSL (i.e. HTTPS) servers and clients.

This flaw left iOS and other devices vulnerable to attack when visiting what were thought to be secure web sites. The flaw actually was caused by a cold war US government policy that forbade export of strong encryption. The export restriction was lifted in the late 1990s, but the browser code was never updated.

Once an attacker breaches the browser, they can then steal passwords and other personal information. Using this man-in-the-middle mode of attack, they can also attack the site being visited by taking over elements on the site’s pages. The researchers estimate that more than 35% of HTTPS sites world wide are vulnerable.

Apple has indicated that a fix for Safari will be available in the next week or so.

UPDATED 4/22/15 – See Security Now episode #498 for a more detailed description of FREAK.

UPDATED 3/10/15 – Apple Security Update 2015-002 1.0 applied patches that close this vulnerability. The vulnerability was resolved by removing support for ephemeral RSA keys.


See my other MAC OS X, iOS and Cyber Security articles


Mac OS X – Disk Analyzer Pro

I came across Disk Analyzer Pro which is currently available for Free from the Mac App Store. Disk Analyzer Pro, developed by Systweak Software, is a tool for analyzing your disks and determining what can be removed or archived to save space. Up until recently the Jaipur, India based company has been targeting the Windows market with it’s range of utilities. It helps you identify the largest files and folders, you can also find and remove any duplicate files.

Mac OS X - Disk Analyzer ProDisk Analyzer Pro provides a report of disk usage by file type. You can browser through the files listed and identify where they are located on your disk. The tool also helps you to identify obsolete files for removal. Disk Analyzer Pro is a great tool to help you find ‘clutter’ and remove it from your disks. This can be a helpful tool when you are trying to free up boot disk space when tuning up your Mac.

Pros

  • Free application
  • Able to sort reported files by age and size
  • Able to identify and remove obsolete files

Cons

  • Company new to OS X platform
  • New product for the Mac

See my other Mac OS X articles


FOSS Under Mac OS X – Scribus

Scribus is a cross-platform (OS X, Linux, Windows, and BSD) desktop publishing (DTP) program that began development in 2001. Scribus is the Open Source answer to commercial programs such as QuarkXPress and InDesign. Scribus can be used for layout, typesetting and file preparation for professional grade image setting equipment. It can also be used to create animated and interactive PDF presentations and forms. Scribus is a good tool for creating everything from small newspapers, brochures, newsletters, and posters to business cards.

FOSS Under Mac OS X - Scribus1Scribus supports most of the common bitmap formats such as TIFF and JPEG. Vector graphics can also be imported. Text in the OpenDocument and HTML formats are easily imported. Other text formats can be imported, but loose some of their embedded style information. There are many different templates provided to get you started on the type of document you want to create.

FOSS Under Mac OS X - Scribus2Scribus does not have the polish or power of the commercial software tools, but for most jobs it will get the work done quickly and efficiently. Since the tool is free, it is always worth downloading and trying it before you commit to an expensive commercial product. The product reviews on SourceForge rate Scribus 4.8 out of 5.

Pros

  • Free Open Source Software
  • Supports common bitmap formats
  • Vector graphics can be imported
  • Uses XML-based file format, easily manipulated with scripts (Perl, Python, etc.)
  • wide array of document templates

Cons

  • Does not support native file formats of other DTP programs
  • Limited text import
  • Documentation could be better

See my other Mac OS X articles


Mac OS X Tip – Alternative Disk Icons

I was reading the OWC blog post describing their weekend deals and happened to click on the ‘TechTips’ tab to see what they offered. The article at the top of the page caught my eye “Quick Tip: How to Change Your Drive Icons in OS X“. As I had recently upgraded my Mac Mini adding a SSD drive as the boot disk, I thought this would be a good way to provide visual differentiation between the two drives that now appear on my desktop.

I remember doing this some years ago on a now dead Macbook with custom icons that came with an issue of the now defunct MacAddict magazine. The OWC article includes a link to a page of custom disk icons that you can use. OWC also has an article on how to “Create Your Own Custom Icons in OS X 10.7.5 or Later” if you want to
try your hand at creating the icons.

Mac OS X Tip - Alternative Disk IconsChanging the disk icon was a simple exercise. I went to the OWC icon page and copied (clicked on image then Command-C to copy) the icon for the “OWC Mercury Electra 6G” which is the model of drive that I had recently added. I then selected the disk icon I wanted to update on my desktop >> File >> Get Info. When that window opened, I clicked on the disk icon in the upper left corner, then pasted (Command-V) the new icon into place.

Now I have a custom icon for my boot drive that easily distinguishes it from by data drive.


See my other Mac OS X articles


Tuneup Your OS X Mac – Hardware Upgrades

I have written other articles about how you can “Tuneup” your Mac to make it run a little more efficiently. This article will focus on the ultimate “Tuneup” for your Mac – upgrading the memory and boot disk (the disk that you are running OS X from).

Now, I have to preface this article by saying that not all Macs can be upgraded. Some, particularly the latest Macs, have soldered-in components that do not allow for upgrades. To find out if your Mac can be upgraded you can look up your particular Mac model at the OWC web site, or visit this page strictly targeting memory upgrades.

The Problem

I started out the Tuneup series saying that my Mac Mini has seemed to be running slow. I have applied the many tweaks I have outlined in the other articles of the series, but I finally made the decision to make the ultimate upgrade – expanding the system memory and replacing the boot drive with an SSD.

My Mac Mini originally had 4GB of RAM, which worked OK as long as I did not have too many Apps open. I have also needed to do something about my original 500GB disk drive. As I mentioned in the first article of this series “Tuneup Your OS X Mac – Part 1“, maintaining a minimum of %10 free space on the boot drive is desired for optimum performance. This has required that I repeatedly remove files to get the free space I needed. The disk is also at the low end of the performance scale, running only at 5400 rpms. As I discussed in my “Mac OS X – Adding an External Disk Drive” article, the faster the disk access time, the faster the system performs. A disk running at 5400 rpms does not have fast access.

Upgrading the Memory

I ordered 8GB of memory from OWC and, following the provided instructions, quickly opened up my Mac, removed the old memory DIMMs and replaced them with the new 8GB DIMMs. I closed up my Mac and rebooted it. Rebooting took a fraction longer, most likely for the additional time required for POST to run with twice the memory.

Operation after the upgrade was remarkably faster. All applications seemed snappier, and the system did not slow down once I had a dozen or so tabs open in Safari. I was also able to open more Apps simultaneously without the system slowing down. I ran with my system like that for most of a week and felt very satisfied that adding RAM made a huge improvement.

Adding the SSD Hardware

This past Saturday I undertook the task of opening up my Mac Mini and adding a second disk, a 60GB SSD I had purchased from OWC. The first thing I did was to run Time Machine to make sure that I had
an up-to-date backup of my system.

The process of installing the SSD was a little more complicated than simply upgrading the memory, as the Mac Mini had to be disassembled down to the primary components. The printed instructions that accompanied the SSD from OWC provided detailed, step-by-step directions with pictures of each step. Disassembly, installation and reassembly took a little over an hour.

I did find that the Airport Antenna did not fit back into place as it should due to the SATA control cable from the SSD preventing the original disk drive from seating fully into place (a topic I plan to follow up on with OWC Support), but the components were all held into place and the bottom cover easily went back onto the Mac Mini.

Configuring the System for Two Drives

I rebooted, and the new drive showed up. I then used Disk Utilities (Go >> Utilities >> Disk Utility) to format (Mac OS Extended (Journaled)) the new drive. I first tried to manually drag and drop all but the ‘User‘ folder from the old disk to the SSD to make it bootable. The files appeared to all copy over, but the system failed to boot from the SSD.

I fixed the issue by downloading the App Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) and configuring it to copy all but the ‘User‘ folder over to the SSD. CCC was smart enough to check what was already in place and just copy over those files that were missing. In my case, this was about 3.87GB of additional files. When that was done I tried booting from the SSD again and it went smoothly. On my desktop I saw two disks, the new SSD boot drive ‘Mac OS X‘ and the old disk ‘Macintosh HD‘.

Tuneup Your OS X Mac - Hardware UpgradesNow that I had the SSD configured as the boot drive, I configured my user account (Apple >> System Preferences >> Users & Groups >> unlocked the panel so I could make changes >> Control-clicked on my account >> Advanced Options) to use the old disk for my user ‘Home‘ directory. I clicked on the ‘Choose’ button for the ‘Home directory’ field and then picked the ‘Home’ directory for my user from the folders on the original disk.

Rebooting, my account had all of the information from the old disk in the ‘Home’ directory. All worked well, but as I continued to use my system I found that some of the normal folders listed in the Finder window were pointing to the empty ‘Home’ directory on the SSD instead of the ‘Home’ directory on the old disk like I wanted.

To remedy this I used a little “Unix magic” learned from my 20 years of Unix/Linux System Administration work and resorted to a Command Line Interface (CLI) fix. I opened a terminal (Go >> Utilities >> Terminal) and entered the following command:

pwd
/Volumes/Mac OS X/Users/jpurvis

The ‘pwd‘ command displays the path to the current working directory, in this case the ‘Home’ folder for my user account. Unfortunately, that path is for the newly created folder on the SSD that I just installed. My user data was on the old drive. I didn’t want to have to fix the problem in detail, so I replaced the ”Users‘ folder on the SSD with a symbolic link to the ‘Users‘ folder on the old drive. In the terminal window I entered the following commands:

cd .. /..
sudo mv Users Users.bak
sudo ln -s /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Users  Users
sudo chgrp wheel Users
ls -l Users
lrwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel  27 Feb 23 16:42 Users -> /Volumes/Macintosh HD/Users

What did these CLI commands do? The ‘cd ../..‘ moves up two levels in the directory structure to the ‘/Volumes/Mac OS X‘ folder. Then the ‘sudo mv Users Users.bak‘ temporarily invokes root or superuser privileges to rename the folder ‘Users‘ on the SSD to ‘Users.bak‘. I used the command ‘sudo ln -s /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Users  Users‘, again with root privileges, to create a symbolic link to ‘/Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Users‘ on the old disk. This done there is now what looks like a directory ‘Users‘ on the SSD, but in reality any references to it are redirected to the ‘User‘ directory on the old drive. With ‘sudo chgrp wheel Users’ I updated the ‘group’ ownership of the folder to ‘wheel’ to match that of the original ‘Users‘ folder. The ls -l Users‘ simply confirms that the link is in place with the correct ownership.

I should note that every time you use ‘sudo‘ you will be prompted to enter the user password. This command lets a normal user run a command as the root user. This feature is built into OS X to allow users to perform various administrative tasks. BE CAREFUL running commands as the root user!!!! You can easily render the system inoperable if you do not know what you are doing. 

I rebooted and now with the symbolic link in place, everything worked as it should.

Results

I think that the results were spectacular. Everything worked much
faster. Apps take a fraction of the time to start up.

I had run a very simple measurement prior to the upgrade to give me some measurement of improvement. I manually measured the time it took the system to boot up and present the login screen. This isn’t a very deep test, but it gives a quantitative indicator of what the upgrade to an SSD provides. I ran that test after the new memory was installed and after the SSD had been installed. The results are shown below.

Configuration Time to boot
Original system, 4GB RAM, 5400 rpm 500GB boot
disk
76 sec.
System upgraded to 8GB RAM, 5400 rpm 500GB
boot disk
84 sec.
System upgraded to 8GB RAM and SSD boot disk 24 sec.

 

The 60GB SSD, now my boot drive, has almost 24GB (about %40) of
free space. This should provide the free space needed for efficient operation and keep me from having to repeatedly prune large files. Once I remove all but the ‘Users‘ folder from the old drive, I will gain about 35GB of free disk space. That will leave me with the system and applications on a small, fast dedicated drive, and a separate internal data drive for my user files.

One Post-Upgrade Issue

I went to run a Time Machine backup a day or so after I had completed adding the SSD, only to find that it kept failing. A little investigation revealed that Time Machine gets confused when an existing single drive is split into separate boot and data drives. I reformatted the external 750GB drive I use for Time Machine backups and ran a fresh backup. The new full backup ran properly and took over 8 hours to complete (in great part due to the USB 2.0 controller on my Mac Mini and having to make the initial backup of 456GB of files), but now Time Machine backs up both internal drives.

Summary

The bottom line is you should upgrade your memory to at least 8GB if your system can take it. Likewise, replace your boot drive with an SSD. These upgrades cost below $200 and will extend the useful life of your Mac for years.


See my other Mac OS X articles


Mac OS X – Carbon Copy Cloner

There are many Apps available to make backups of your Mac files, but one, if not THE best is Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) from Bombich Software. This product has been around a long time in the Mac universe, having been introduced in January 2002. This product is not free (it costs $39.99), but a 30-day free trial copy is available from their web site. So why
would you want this App when you have Time Machine?

The biggest reason is that you can create a fully bootable backup of your current boot drive. CCC has a simple user interface that is easy to master. Clicking on the Advanced Settings button will offer more granular control for the experienced user. Backups can be scheduled to occur at times of your choice, and backup only those
directories you choose.

Mac OS X - Carbon Copy ClonerOnce installed you can open CCC, then select the folder or drive to be backed up from the drop-down menu. Then you select the destination. A window to the left of the user interface provides a list of what is to be backed up. This list can be edited to customize the backup.

Pros

  • Creates fully bootable drive
  • Backups can be scheduled
  • Backups are customizable
  • 30-day trial

Cons

  • $39.99 price

I recently added an SSD to my Mac Mini and used CCC to clone my existing drive to the new drive. It was quick and once it was completed, I was able to reboot from the new SSD. I highly recommend this product!


See my other Mac OS X articles


Mac OS X – VirtualBox

Have you ever needed or wanted to have a Windows or Linux machine? Sure you can set up an entire machine with either of those operating systems, but that takes up space. You can set up your Mac to dual boot into either of those operating systems, but then you are
without your Mac while you are using the other system. The solution is to take advantage of virtualization and have a Windows and/or a Linux system running on your Mac.

There are the commercial applications that allow you to do this, VMware Fusion ($69.99) and Parallels Desktop ($79.99). However, I like to stick with the low cost approach when possible and in this case that is Oracle VirtualBox. VirtualBox was originally developed by Innotek GmbH, but was purchased by Sun Microsystems in 2008. Oracle, after acquiring Sun Microsystems in 2010, has continued developing the product.

VirtualBox is a Type 2 hypervisor, so it runs like any other App under OS X. VirtualBox is also cross platform, running on Linux, Windows, Solaris, Open Solaris and FreeBSD in addition to OS X. VirtualBox is still under active development by Oracle. and is free for personal use.

Mac OS X - VirtualBox1To install VirtualBox, just go to the Oracle web site and download the latest version (at the time of this writing, that is 4.3.22). Note that for best performance, you should also download the VirtualBox 4.3.22 Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack from that site as well. Once downloaded, open the DMG file and follow the instructions to install the code for VirtualBox into your Applications folder.

Mac OS X - VirtualBox2Run the application and set up a new virtual machine (VM). You can take the defaults, or set up the VM to your specifications. NOTE: You will need 8+ GB of disk space for each VM you create. You can then install the operating systems (OS) of your choice into the VM. If you don’t have a Mac with a CD/DVD drive, then just copy an ISO image of the OS over to your Mac. You can install directly from the ISO image into your VM.

Mac OS X - VirtualBox3Currently, I have VMs with Ubuntu Linux Workstation, Fedora Linux Workstation and Windows XP. This is a great way to be able to make the occasional use of another OS. I like to do some recreational programming under Linux and I have a couple of very old games that I like to run under WindowsXP. If I have to set up an entire separate
system to get these OS environments, I just do not do it very often. But with VirtualBox, I can have the VM I want up and available in minutes without cluttering up my desk with additional monitors, keyboards and mice.

Pros:

  1. Only have one set of hardware (CPU, disk, keyboard, mouse, monitor) for all of the systems
  2. Data can be easily transferred between systems
  3. Very easy to set up and install

Cons:

  1. Runs slower than if installed on native hardware
  2. Can easily take up a lot of disk space
  3. Can degrade Mac performance if you are simultaneously running
    something on the Mac and the VM

Related Articles:


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Mac OS X Tip – Auto Hiding the Dock

When my only Mac was an 11″ Macbook, I wanted to have every square inch of screen space possible. To recover that very small strip across the bottom of the screen I set up the Dock to auto hide and
only appear when I moved the cursor near the bottom edge of the screen. Even now with a  rectangular 22″ and square 17″ displays connected to my Mac Mini, I still set up the Dock to hide
when not in use. It is amazing how much more space that gives you for your work. You can set the Dock to behave in this manner two different ways – though the System Preferences or through the
command line.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.45.18 PM

Configuring your Dock through System preferences can be done by opening System Preferences >> click on the Dock icon >> click the box ‘Automatically hide and show the Dock’.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 6.00.30 PM

You can make the same configuration, but actually have a little more control through the Command Line Interface (CLI). Open the Finder >> Go >> Utilities >> Terminal. Copy the following CLI command, paste it into the Terminal and hit the Enter key.

defaults write com.apple.dock autohide -bool true && defaults write com.apple.dock autohide-delay -float 0 && defaults write com.apple.dock autohide-time-modifier -float 0 && killall Dock

This command will take a short time to run. When it is finished, you will get a new command prompt in the Terminal window. The Dock will no longer be displayed unless your cursor nears the edge of the screen where the Dock has been displayed.

In this case I have also chosen to turn off the animated sliding of the Dock up and down. The ‘autohide-time-modifier -float 0’ configures the Dock to instantly pop up or down, which is how I
prefer my screen to behave. If you want to have the animated slidding effect, then just use ‘autohide-time-modifier’ instead.

If you want to return the Dock operation to ‘normal’, then copy this CLI command, paste it into the Terminal and hit the Enter key.

defaults delete com.apple.dock autohide && defaults delete com.apple.dock autohide-delay && defaults delete com.apple.dock autohide-time-modifier && killall
Dock


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FOSS Under OS X – Inkscape

Have you had the need to create a high quality drawing on your Mac? If so, Inkscape may be your answer. Inkscape is a vector graphics editor (similar to Adobe Illustrator) that can satisfy the needs of the professional or the beginner. What sets Inkscape apart is it’s use of SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), part of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards. The software is also cross platform – available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

Whether you want to create a quick sketch, or a near photo quality image, you can do it in Inkscape. Vector design is often the preferred method of image creation for logos, illustrations and art which require high scalability. The Inkscape application is used across a wide variety of industries (marketing/branding, engineering/CAD, web graphics, cartooning) and individual uses.

A wide range of tutorials are included that will guide you whether you are a beginner or a seasoned artist. The list of features that Inkscape includes is extensive, as listed on the Inkscape web site:

Object creation

  •  Drawing: pencil tool (freehand drawing with simple paths), pen tool (creating Bézier curves and straight lines), calligraphy tool (freehand drawing using filled paths representing calligraphic strokes)
  • Shape tools: rectangles (may have rounded corners), ellipses (includes circles, arcs, segments), stars/polygons (can be rounded and/or randomized), spirals
  • Text tool (multi-line text, full on-canvas editing)
  • Embedded bitmaps (with a command to create and embed bitmaps of selected objects)
  • Clones (“live” linked copies of objects), including a tool to create patterns and arrangements of clones

Object manipulation

  • Transformations (moving, scaling, rotating, skewing), both interactively and by specifying exact numeric values
  • Z-order operations (raising and lowering)
  • Grouping objects (“select in group” without ungrouping, or “enter the group” making it a temporary layer)
  • Layers (lock and/or hide individual layers, rearrange them, etc; layers can form a hierarchical tree)
  • Alignment and distribution commands

Fill and stroke

  •  Color selector (RGB, HSL, CMYK, color wheel, CMS)
  • Color picker tool
  • Copy/paste style
  • A gradient editor capable of multi-stop gradients
  • Pattern fills (bitmap/vectors)
  • Dashed strokes, with many predefined dash patterns
  •  Path markers (ending, middle and/or beginning marks, e.g. arrowheads)

Operations on paths

  • Node editing: moving nodes and Bezier handles, node alignment and distribution, etc.
  • Converting to path (for text objects or shapes), including converting stroke to path
  • Boolean operations
  • Path simplification, with variable threshold
  • Path insetting and outsetting, including dynamic and linked offset objects
  • Bitmap tracing (both color and monochrome paths)

Text support

  • Multi-line text
  • Uses any installed outline fonts, including right-to-left scripts
  • Kerning, letterspacing, linespacing adjustments
  • Text on path (both text and path remain editable)
  • Text in shape (fill shape following stroke)

Rendering

  • Fully anti-aliased display
  • Alpha transparency support for display and PNG export
  • Complete “as you drag” rendering of objects during interactive transformations

Misc

  • Live watching and editing the document tree in the XML editor
  • PNG, OpenDocument Drawing, DXF, sk1, PDF, EPS and PostScript export formats and more
  • Command line options for export and conversions
  • Perfectly compliant SVG format file generation and editing

Check out some of the artwork created with Inkscape on their on-line Gallery. If you need to create scalable graphic images, Inkscape may be just what you are looking for.


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