Use Dropbox to Troubleshoot Family Macs
The Flashback malware that infected more than half a million Macs creates the kind of situation that’s ripe for confusion by friends and family members who aren’t technologically savvy. (See “How to Detect and Protect Against Updated Flashback Malware,” 5 April 2012.) When news bubbles up to the mainstream media, those of us who help manage these remote Macs often get calls or email messages asking for help.
Apple last week released an update to Java that removes the malware, so anyone who runs Software Update can protect themselves against the threat (see “Apple Releases Flashback Malware Remover,” 12 April 2012). But before that update was released, I wanted to check my family members’ Macs for infection, something made much easier thanks to Dropbox. Whether you want to share family photos or troubleshooting utilities, the process I describe here makes it easy to distribute files among many Macs, even if they’re not all yours.
I wanted to send Marc Zeedar’s Test4Flashback application, which could tell immediately whether Flashback has infected a system, to the iMacs owned by my mother and mother-in-law. I’d previously set up Dropbox on both of their systems, and created a “Jeff” folder on each shared with my Dropbox account. Getting the app to their machines was a simple matter of copying it to each shared “Jeff” folder on my Mac. Dropbox then synchronized the file to the “Jeff” folders on their computers (and since I did this in the middle of the night, I wasn’t disrupting either of them — and the program is tiny).
The next day, I called my mother and asked her to run the app; her iMac was not infected. For my mother-in-law’s iMac, I connected remotely using a LogMeIn account I’d previously set up and ran the app myself; her iMac was also Flashback free.
Dropbox is ideal for transferring files like this to family members, and better than sending email attachments — which could get caught in email filters — or attempting file transfers via iChat. Here’s another example: Instead of directing my mom to Apple’s support page to download AirPort Utility 5.6 (the version prior to the current AirPort Utility 6.0, which wasn’t recognizing her AirPort Extreme), I downloaded the installer myself and copied it to our shared Dropbox folder.
And since Dropbox offers 2 GB of free storage space, it doesn’t cost a thing. In fact, with last week’s news that Dropbox was increasing the amount of storage it gives for referrals, you and your friend can both benefit (see “Dropbox Referral Bonuses Doubled to 500 MB, Retroactively,” 4 April 2012).
Sometimes, especially when you are troubleshooting, it’s easiest to have the tools you need appear magically on the other person’s computer so you can get right to solving the problem instead of getting hung up on the particulars of downloading files or utilities. Dropbox excels at this magic, and frequently makes my life easier.
Another way of using Dropbox for distributing files to people without a Dropbox account or shared folders is to put the file into Dropbox's "Public" folder and then email your contacts the link that downloads the file. All they have to do is click the link in the email and the file will download immediately. They don't need a Dropbox account. If I want to distribute a group of files this way I enclose them in an archive so they form a single file. Be aware that anyone with the link can download that file so don't use this approach with anything sensitive.