Recently, Apple has come under criticism for its handling of a series of security issues. Apple is also known for maintaining a stoic silence in the face of public outcry, then releasing a new product or update to wipe away the world’s concerns. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see Apple announce a major new security initiative: Apple SecurityCare.
Similar to AppleCare, SecurityCare is an add-on service available with the purchase of any new Mac, AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, or Time Capsule. All new Macs and AirPort base stations come with 90 days of free coverage, with 3 years of extended protection available. As with AppleCare, prices vary based on the particular Mac. While tiered pricing makes perfect sense for AppleCare, it’s hard to see the same correlation justified for security issues, and we suspect the move is to maintain consistency in the product lines.
Although not yet available for the iPhone or iPod touch, Apple stated that SecurityCare will be available with the iPhone/iPod touch 3.0 release later this year. Normal iPods won’t be covered, since there is essentially no security risk for them. For Macs, SecurityCare is available only for those running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later.
Apple describes SecurityCare as a “premier security service, offering unparalleled, personalized security support.” Breaking out of the traditional paradigm of subscription-based security products such as antivirus software, SecurityCare is instead a full service offering that doesn’t require additional software. Covered devices will be securely configured by a SecurityCare specialist to minimize the risk of a successful attack.
This includes proper user account and firewall configuration, software updates, setting up secure sharing and wireless, and locking down other system settings. It also includes proper configuration of Time Machine backups, assuming the customer has (or purchases) a Time Capsule or external hard drive. MobileMe subscribers gain additional support, including spam filtering, email-based antivirus filtering (on the MobileMe servers), and Back to my Mac configuration support. Apple also states that the SecurityCare specialist activates certain parts of Leopard’s Parental Controls and Apple Remote Desktop to increase security and support remote security management. After the initial configuration, Apple will remotely monitor these systems for any signs of security lapses.
An Apple spokesperson stated, “With SecurityCare we are changing how people think of security. Rather than relying on limited software, Apple SecurityCare provides ongoing, proactive support that takes security concerns out of the hands of Apple customers. Users shouldn’t have to become technical security experts, and Apple now provides customers with a worry-free computing experience.” Apple guarantees an immediate response if any security problems are detected, and complete remediation. “Our SecurityCare Specialists won’t rest until your Apple product is completely restored and safe to use by the entire family.”
As part of the announcement, Apple also revealed that it is dramatically expanding its security team to more proactively manage potential security issues, saying, “Apple’s new Security Response Center redefines the industry standard for managing product security. Our team not only responds to security issues, but works proactively to prevent them from occurring in the first place.”
Although Apple is sparse on details about what exactly SecurityCare entails, information is slowly leaking from some pre-release SecurityCare testers. “I thought I might have accidentally downloaded a Trojan Horse program,” said one tester, who asked to remain anonymous, “so I posted a question in an online forum. Within minutes this shiny silver sports car pulled into my driveway, and two guys wearing jeans, black turtlenecks, and ski masks walked right into my house, pulled my mouse out of my hand, and fixed everything. I couldn’t believe how fast and efficient they were!”
Another SecurityCare tester stated, “It was wild. I’d taken my Mac to the Apple Store to get a printing problem resolved, but they totally locked down my computer before I left, for free. Then, when I went to a local Starbucks and connected to the wireless network, an aluminum sports car pulled up, an antenna popped out of the roof, and next thing I know my wireless connection was locked down. Although I think they may have also deleted all my porn.”
Other testers report similar incidents… once they encounter a potentially risky security situation, a brushed aluminum sports car that many believe is a customized all-electric Tesla appears, and a pair of Apple security experts resolve the situation. Some people complained about the aggressive, yet efficient, nature of these encounters. “I know they’re supposed to keep me secure, but did they really have to cut my Internet connection with wire clippers?” one source asked. Another tester explained, “There I was, just engaging in a little late night file sharing, when in the reflection of my new glossy-screen iMac I saw someone standing behind me. He said, ‘Sir, put the mouse down,’ took over my computer, and now I can’t get to BitTorrent anymore”.
A source within Apple also revealed SecurityCare subscribers will soon be offered a Pro upgrade that will come with a personal bodyguard to protect you in line at Apple Stores during Apple product launches.
[Editor’s Note: In what we hope is unrelated news, security researchers Charlie Miller and Dino Dai Zovi have not been seen since shortly after the release of their new book, “The Mac Hackers Handbook,” which includes a foreword by TidBITS Security Editor Rich Mogull. Mr. Mogull filed this article from an undisclosed location via carrier pigeon.]