Severe Java Vulnerability in Mac OS X

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a huge hole in Mac OS X’s security in regards to Java that has been there for some time and remains unpatched. This Java exploit is proven to work 100% of the time on all browsers and operating systems that are unpatched, but both Linux and Microsoft Windows are patched. Apple, as yet, remains open and vulnerable.

After learning of this, I quickly wrote some directions on how to disable Java in your web browser on OS X (we’ll be adding more operating systems and browsers later) and how to install both Firefox and NoScript to protect yourself in case you do need to use Java on occasion.

I’ll be honest here, OS X really isn’t that secure. If you use a Mac, be sure to disable Java or at least install NoScript. Otherwise you’re just leaving yourself open to attack.

As for me, I’ve now got Ubuntu 9.04 installed in a virtual machine running a second firewall, NoScript in Firefox, and a few other security hardening measures. Nevertheless, I still worry about this stuff.

Linux vs. OS X? Why are we even talking about this?

I read an article recently on ZDNet about 10 things Linux does better than OS X which was accurate, insightful, and altogether correct. It was also pretty damned irrelevant.

You don’t have to go far on the Internet to find what we like to call a “fanboi” or “zealot,” defending their chosen pile of software against all comers. I don’t know if it’s because people are insecure in their choices or because they are trying to convince themselves, but a lot of writers on the ‘net will take up arms if you choose to use a software package different than their chosen avatar. This is nowhere more prevalent than when it comes to operating systems.

To be fair, you don’t see many Microsoft Windows zealots because, let’s face it, there’s not much to defend there. They’ve got 80% or more of the personal computer market, and while their OS isn’t great, it gets the job done most of the time. Those who use it don’t really need to say anything to defend their software, they just have to point at the numbers.

But Apple and Linux certainly have their fans, of the mouth-foamy type, and it boggles my mind. I don’t particularly like Microsoft Windows, but I can see where it is sometimes necessary, and the same goes for the other operating systems. I love Linux and it’s a great OS, and I’m really enjoying using OS X on my MacBook.

An article like the above-linked 10 things Linux does better than OS X can be helpful when deciding which OS to run, but the problem is that articles and opinions like these are usually held to be normative. That is, they are trying to say, “Here are ten things that Linux does better than OS X, therefore Linux is better than OS X.” It’s absurd.

The truth of the matter is that different jobs call for different tools. If I was a construction worker, hitting a nail with OpenOffice.org would fail. If I was handling very sensitive data that needed to be kept secure, yeah Linux would be best. But if I needed to work with advanced spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel 2007, Microsoft Windows would be the only operating system for me.

Personally, I was looking for high battery life, a good writing program, and a lightweight notebook, which led me to the MacBook. I recognize that Linux has some superior characteristics, but not for what I needed. I don’t need the most secure operating system ever, it doesn’t affect my writing one way or the other if my OS is open source, and the abundance of software available for Linux doesn’t make a difference in this case. It didn’t have Scrivener, so it was out.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ve got to use the right tool for the right job, so a better article might be, “Given X, here’s the best OS and here’s why.” That is, of course, if you can be bothered to wipe the foam away from your mouth and say something worthwhile.

How to lock the screen in Mac OS X

One of the things I missed when I switched to this MacBook was the easy ability to lock my screen. When I leave my desk at work, I desperately do not want some hooligan sitting down to write the president of our university an email, asking for a pony while using my account. Gnome, the user interface I prefer with Linux, has screen locking available from the logout window pretty easily, and in Windows I just have to perform the three-finger-salute (alt+ctrl+del) to get a Lock Screen button. But there was nothing obvious in OS X to mimic this functionality.

Rob at work showed me how to lock the screen on OS X server, though, which is identical to OS X for the desktop, so I thought I’d share.

Step 1: Opening the Keychain Access utility

Keychain Access can be reached through the Utilities folder or by typing "keychain" in Spotlight.
Keychain Access can be reached through the Utilities folder or by typing "keychain" in Spotlight.

First, open up the Utilities folder. You can get to this by either hitting Command+Shift+U with the desktop (Finder) selected, or by opening Finder, browsing to the Applications folder, then double clicking on the Utilities folder.

Step 2: Opening the Keychain Access Preferences

Reach the preferences window through the menu bar at the top of your screen.
Reach the preferences window through the menu bar at the top of your screen.

Once you have Keychain Access opened up, you’ll see the Keychain Access window on your screen. You can ignore this, because what we really want to get into are the Keychain Access preferences. To reach these preferences, click on the words Keychain Access at the top left of your screen and then select Preferences from the drop-down menu.

Step 3: Modify Keychain Access Preferences

Check the box labeled Show Status in Menu Bar.
Check the box labeled Show Status in Menu Bar.

All we need to do in this window is check the box labeled Show Status in Menu Bar. Once completed, go ahead and hit the red button (X) at the top left of this window to close it. You can also close the main Keychain Access window.

Step 4: Lock Screen (if so desired)

You can now lock the screen by clicking on the padlock icon at the top right of you screen.
You can now lock the screen by clicking on the padlock icon at the top right of you screen.

You can now lock your screen by using the padlock icon at the top right of you screen, located on the menu bar to the left of the clock and other icons.

How to modify System Preferences in OS X

System Preferences

Apple’s OS X operating system has a centralized system preferences window akin to the Control Panel in Microsoft Windows, and while it can be easier to navigate and use (after you get used to it), saving those preferences is a little less obvious. There are no “Save” or “Apply” buttons, and there often isn’t any indication that your changes have been saved. The key is to know how it works and, like all things Apple, just drink the Kool-Aid and trust.

Essentially, preference changes are made as you click the button and make your modifications, but they don’t take effect immediately. Instead, you need to back out; often, closing the window isn’t sufficient.

So, the steps go something like this:

  1. Open System Preferences from the Apple logo at the top left of your screen.
  2. Pick whatever it is you would like to change (Sharing properties, your dock, accounts for password change, etc.)
  3. Make the changes.
  4. Hit the Show All or Back button at the top left of the System Preferences window.

Now your changes have actually been saved and you can continue with your day. Congratulations!

How to force a copy in Mac OS X when Finder freezes

musicsmall

Soon after getting my shiny new Mac, I wanted to transfer all of my music to the laptop. I have my music stored in a few different places (my work computer, home computer, and iPod), but while the music is identical in all locations, it’s also not in Mac’s favourite format. That is to say, it’s not where iTunes can magically whisk it into its happy bosom. I use Rockbox on my iPod, and both desktop computers have Linux.

Rockbox allows an iPod to essentially be used as any other external storage device, with all the music just sitting in folders; most of my stuff is in FLAC or MP3 format. Upon plugging it in and trying to copy everything over in Finder, however, it just stalled after a while and I had to Force Quit Finder.

So I mounted my Music file over the network from my desktop computer. I got further doing it that way, but eventually an error appeared. Usually it claimed that a file already existed, which is kind of silly since I was copying onto a vanilla Macbook!

Thankfully, Mac OS X is built on a Unix core of terminal goodness, so I went into the Utilities (Go –> Utilities) and opened the Terminal. From here, you can use a command to copy everything from the source location to your destination, forcing it to blow past errors and recreate files when necessary.

To do this, use the following code:

cp -RfXv /root/source/* /Users/username/Music

Of course, you can change the source and destination as necessary. Let me explain the different options used in that line of code.

  • cp is the command for copy in the Terminal.
  • R is for Recursive, and will force the copy command to not only hit folders, but all of the subfolders and items within.
  • f forces the command to copy everything without stopping for errors.
  • X tells cp to overwrite existing files
  • v puts the command into verbose mode, so you’ll see a scrolling list of the files being copied. This way, you can be certain that it’s humming right along.

For my source, I had connected to my Music folder on my desktop using Samba, so it was /Volumes/music. And of course, you’ll need to replace “username” in the target with your own Mac username.

If you have any questions, just leave a comment below. I’ll do what I can to help 🙂