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ExtraBITS for 7 March 2016

In this week’s gathering of the ExtraBITS, the Apple/FBI case continues to simmer, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights speaking out in Apple’s favor in its battle with the FBI, the San Bernardino District Attorney saying something unbelievably stupid, and Amazon removing encryption from Fire OS but quickly reversing course in the face of customer outrage. In other news, Kirk McElhearn explains how to slim down iTunes, Serenity Caldwell draws a review of the Apple Pencil, Apple blocks the first case of Mac ransomware, Apple support takes to Twitter, and Backblaze updates us on hard drive reliability.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Stands with Apple Against FBI -- Apple has yet another ally in its battle with the FBI over iPhone encryption: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Zeid has advised U.S. authorities to proceed with caution in attacking encryption, warning that the case could have serious global ramifications for human rights. “In order to address a security-related issue related to encryption in one case, the authorities risk unlocking a Pandora’s Box that could have extremely damaging implications for the human rights of many millions of people, including their physical and financial security,” Zeid said. “I recognize this case is far from reaching a conclusion in the U.S. courts, and urge all concerned to look not just at the merits of the case itself but also at its potential wider impact.”

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San Bernardino DA Makes Truly Stupid Claim in Court Filing -- Some things are so stupid you just can’t let them go. In a court filing, San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos said that “The seized iPhone may contain evidence that can only be found on the seized phone that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino’s infrastructure.” Clearly, the DA should drop his day job in favor of writing science fiction where “dormant cyber pathogen” might actually mean something. In an interview with Ars Technica, prominent iOS security expert Jonathan Zdziarski said, “This reads as an amicus designed to mislead the courts into acting irrationally in an attempt to manipulate a decision in the FBI’s favor. It offers no evidence whatsoever that the device has, or even might have, malware on it. It offers no evidence that their network was ever compromised. They are essentially saying that a magical unicorn might exist on this phone.”

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Amazon Removes Encryption from Fire OS Then Reverses Course -- As Apple and the FBI butt heads over encryption in the iPhone, Amazon quietly removed local data encryption from its consumer Fire devices, initially explaining that customers weren’t using it. After backlash from security-conscious Fire users, Amazon quickly reversed course, promising to bring local data encryption back in an update due “this spring.” Since Amazon has filed an amicus brief supporting Apple in its battle with the FBI, it seems most likely that different departments within Amazon weren’t communicating. Until Fire OS is updated, avoid storing confidential information on a Fire device.

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How to Focus the iTunes Interface on Music -- If you’re overwhelmed by the complexity of iTunes, and long for the days when it was a relatively simple music player, check out Kirk McElhearn’s guide to simplifying the iTunes interface. Kirk walks you through hiding unwanted features in order to make the iTunes interface more accessible for playing music.

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A Review of the Apple Pencil, Drawn with an Apple Pencil -- Drawing on her considerable talents, iMore’s Serenity Caldwell has posted a full review of the Apple Pencil, created entirely with the Apple Pencil itself. The review isn’t your usual text-and-screenshots article, but instead a giant hand-drawn comic of Caldwell’s own sketches and commentary. She calls the Apple Pencil “the best digital tool I’ve ever used,” illustrating the point with numerous examples.

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Apple Blocks First Mac Ransomware Attack in Hacked Transmission App -- Version 2.90 of the Transmission BitTorrent client came with an unwanted feature: the KeRanger ransomware, which may be the first bona fide ransomware for the Mac. Three days after being installed, KeRanger begins encrypting files, and affected users must pay a ransom of 1 Bitcoin (about $400) to get their files back. Thankfully, Apple and the Transmission developers worked quickly to mitigate the attack. Apple revoked the stolen certificate used by KeRanger, so it will no longer work on Macs protected by Gatekeeper, and the Transmission Project has updated Transmission to 2.92, which automatically removes KeRanger if it’s present. If you have Transmission installed, update it immediately, and if you’ve turned off Gatekeeper for any reason, turn it back on by going to System Preferences > Security & Privacy and selecting Mac App Store and Identified Developers under Allow Apps Downloaded From. And keep good backups!

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Apple Launches Support Account on Twitter -- If you’re having trouble with an Apple product, you can now tweet @AppleSupport to get help via direct message. So far, Apple’s Twitter team has been quick to respond, having replied to over 2,700 tweets by the second day of the account’s existence. Although we have been critical of Apple’s software quality of late, the company has done a great job recently of expanding its support options, adding live chat and the @AppleMusicHelp Twitter account.

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Backblaze Publishes 2015 Hard Drive Reliability Stats -- Cloud backup service Backblaze has once again shared its internal statistics on the reliability of hard drives in its data center. In the cumulative failure data dating back to April 2013, Western Digital’s drives had the highest rate of failure, at around 7 percent, while HGST’s had the lowest, at just over 1 percent. However, when looking at 4 TB drives, which now comprise 75 percent of Backblaze’s drives, Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital hover around a 3 percent failure rate. HGST 4 TB drives are again the best, with a failure rate under 1 percent, but Backblaze stopped buying those drives because they were replaced with more expensive models.

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