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Mac Security: Making life harder for those with evil intent

Posted on by Mike Evans

It is nearly ten years since I abandoned Windows and bought my first Mac. Better security that came with Apple's computers was one of the most compelling reasons for the change and I took some comfort in the fact that in 2005 Macs were still a niche product. There were so few of them out there, relatively speaking, that most of us believed hackers and malware artists were less likely to target us rather than the soft underbelly of the PC world. This could have been so But, even then, OS X was inherently more secure, requiring a password before the installation of any application for instance.

A lot has changed in those ten years. Mac sales are booming, there is no longer an "Apple premium" and Macs are now reasonably priced, albeit at the higher end of the market. With this success has come more danger as criminals find it lucrative to target OS X as well as Windows. Despite this, many Mac users still do not use virus-protection software because it is intrusive and can undoubtedly cause unpredictable problems.

That said, Mac users tend to be more technically aware and take other steps to operate in as safe an environment as possible. There are some things that every Mac user should do to protect themselves and their computer; they are simply implemented and should be high on everyone's list.

Topher Kessler, writing in Macworld, highlights four security options that we should all know and implement:

While OS X is relatively secure by default, there are some additional steps you can take to ensure the data on your Mac is only accessible by you, even if your Mac is stolen.....Overall, while Apple can do very little to prevent your computer from being stolen, OS X does its best to protect the data it holds as well as offers a chance that you can pinpoint its location. With these options enabled, you can be sure your Mac's data is as safe as possible, with little to no inconvenience for you

You can read the full article here. But Toby's four points are all absolutely essential to your computer's wellbeing and your protection from identity theft or worse:

  1. Enable the OS X firewall
  2. Enable FileVault
  3. Manage your passwords effectively and securely
  4. Lock your computer and enable Find My Mac

Most readers will already have taken these steps, as I have. In particular, FileVault, which encrypts your internal disk (or connected external disks) is an essential protection. It means that even if your computer is stolen and the disk removed for inspection (to circumvent the login lock), data cannot be viewed. I've been using FileVault for many years and have not had the slightest problem. It just works, silently and efficiently.

Similarly, password management is vital. I employ 1Password, as do most savvy Mac users. Not only does it encourage you to create really secure and unmemorable passwords, it manages the whole kit and caboodle brilliantly. All you need to unlock this potential is, as the name says, one password. This should be secure but something you can remember and it should under no circumstances be used elsewhere. 

In addition to Topher's four cardinal precautions, you need to be aware of the security risk that comes with using your Mac in public, particularly on free wifi networks. "Free" often means unmanaged and, if you leave the door of your computer ajar, nasty people could gain access to your data while you are sipping your latte. 

Christopher Breen addresses this problem in another Macworld article. He discusses ways to exclude intruders, particularly by turning off sharing that you might have enabled for a specific reason in the past, and the nuclear option of paying for a VPN (virtual private network) account.

These days, though, I tend not to use public wifi because of the various security scares. With fast 4G cellular networks available in larger cities, it now makes more sense to stick with your phone or iPad's mobile service and enable a hotspot to feed your Mac. In most cases, 4G is actually faster than most public wifi services. Christopher also recommends this and you can read all his advice here.

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Speakers: A portable Bluetooth speaker for Christmas?

Posted on by Mike Evans

Here's a nifty idea for a quick Christmas present. 9to5 Mac has published an excellent review of portable Bluetooth speakers just in time to point you in the right direction. It's reviews like this that make consumer choice that much easier.

Read the full review here

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Preparing your Mac for a serious bit of travel

Posted on by Mike Evans

We all have our own travel checklists and making sure my laptop is catered for always comes high on mine. Arriving in a strange country with no charger, for instance, is a major disaster unless you have an Apple store around the corner. But there are many other things you ought to do before travelling and Harry Guinness has produced a valuable Tuts+ tutorial on getting your laptop ready for the road. Here's just one thing most of us overlook:

If you’re away and the Mac goes missing—whether it’s been lost or stolen—you need to make it easy for anyone who finds it to contact you. One of the best ways to do it is to use a custom lock screen message. Anyone who opens the Mac will see it.

Read the full article here

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Free wifi, no strings, no passwords, hotels as they should be

Posted on by Mike Evans

Few people have a good word for hotel wifi systems. They are either fiendishly complicated to access, thanks to hoteliers' fretting over losing a megabyte of data to non guests, or they plain just don't work. 

This weekend I am staying in an hotel in central Aarhus during the 50th city festival, a photo assignment for MacFilos. This place has perhaps the best hotel wifi I have experienced anywhere in the world. It is free, of course, but unusually there are no passwords, no silly time-limited chitties to obtain from reception. It's just like being at home and the signal is loud and clear, at least in my room. 

Why cannot all hotels just accept that wifi is nowadays essential and that it should be free, as easy to access and as reliable as hot and cold water.? We have a long way to go until this principle is universally accepted, but Aarhus is showing the way.  

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Vodafone Euro Traveller goes further but costs rise

Posted on by Mike Evans

Vodafone has extended the benefits of its popular EuroTraveller scheme to eight distant lands although the cost has risen. As a frequent traveller around Europe I now take full advantage of Vodafone's existing EuroTraveller plug-in which, for £2 a day allows you to roam without worrying about costs.  With EuroTraveller, whatever deal you get in Britain—in my case this includes unlimited calls, unlimited texts and 8GB of monthly data—can be used also in other European countries. 

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Common sense breaks out at EasyJet

Posted on by Mike Evans

Following the Federal Aviation Authority's relaxation of rules governing the use of on-board electronics last October. airlines are slowly waking up to reality. Only last week on a four-hour European flight I got the same old nannying, telling me to turn off all devices before takeoff and landing. Now, very gradually, things are beginning to change. Latest airline to ditch the old nanny-plane philosophy is British budget carrier, EasyJet:

The clear instructions from EasyJet leave us all knowing where we stand. Note the emphasis on "flight safe mode". It has always been perfectly safe to use mobile devices provided airplane mode has been selected. The problem is that it is impossible for flight staff to check every device to make sure, hence the blanket ban. Even in the past there have been many phones in hand luggage that have been left switched on and not in airplane mode. No one checks and, I feel sure, many mobile phone users do not even know how to access airplane mode settings. So, in effect the ban was at best a face-saving operation for airlines. They went through the motions, however ineffective, just to prove they were cautious and protective of passengers.

  Here is what EasyJet say you can use on their flights. Just when you thought you had seen it all, now prepare for your neighbour in 23b to whip out his Braun and scrape away at his beard for ten minutes.

Here is what EasyJet say you can use on their flights. Just when you thought you had seen it all, now prepare for your neighbour in 23b to whip out his Braun and scrape away at his beard for ten minutes.

The new rules are welcome. The relaxation on in-flight Bluetooth is especially useful since up to now I have been unable to use my iPad with a keyboard during flights. What puzzles me, however, is that it is not possible to use Bluetooth with airplane mode switched on. The obvious solution is to disable the network and wifi but leave Bluetooth active. How many passengers will do this? More to the point, how many will know how to do it?

Which brings us back to the crux of the issue: The whole set of precautions against the use of wireless devices on board aircraft is flawed and has probably been unnecessary for years. If phones, iPads and computers are such a risk to flight safety they would be banned absolutely. Security would have confiscated them, switched them all off and placed them in the hold. Since they are not, and since policing by flight staff is impossible, why have we been inconvenienced for so long?

 

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European data roaming gets ever cheaper

Posted on by Mike Evans

 

Vodafone has reduced the charge for its Europe-wide Euro Traveller service by 33percent to only £2 a day. Using this option, UK Vodafone subscribers can use their full home allowance of calls, texts and data when visiting any other European country. Euro Traveller, even at the previous £3 daily charge, was always a good deal since competitors still restrict data, for instance, often to a paltry 25MB per day. 

Vodafone's reduced price, which is valid until the end of August, is evidence of a race to the bottom in roaming. As from later next year the EU is banning roaming charges and the entire Union will become, in effect, a home zone. This will make it unnecesary for frequent travellers to keep a stock of pay-as-you-go SIM cards for various countries.  

Roaming charges outside Europe can still be excessive and we should all be wary. But there are bundles and packages you can buy from your service provider. Vodafone, for instance, charges a flat £6 per day (provided you are registered for the service) but with restricted usage, including only 25MB of data. Fortunately it is becoming increasingly easy to pick up local cards with cheaper data and calls in most countries, including the USA and China. 

Travellers to Europe should note that it is essential to register for the Euro Traveller package before setting off on a trip. Otherwise excessive roaming charges will apply. The good news is that you need do this only once and you are then covered for all future trips. Fourteen pounds for a week's holiday browsing is acceptable, until it becomes zero pounds next year, and this is the one of the reasons I stick with Vodafone.

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Meet and Seat: A truly dreadful idea from KLM

Posted on by Mike Evans

  Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ user and you are fair game when you venture abroad with KLM

Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ user and you are fair game when you venture abroad with KLM

Probably the only place you can now be free from "social networking" is on a plane. I savour the hours of peace, without even a phone call, text, email or friend request. And I don't feel obliged to chat to the guy in the next seat if I don't want to.

All that could change if Dutch airline KLM's Meet & Seat programme takes off.  It allows you to check out social profiles of other passengers and plonk yourself next door to someone with similar business interests. Does anyone, I wonder, think this is a good idea. It sounds just about as appealing as Russian roulette.

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Choosing exactly the right MacBook for you

Posted on by Mike Evans

Rob Griffiths' dilemma, outlined in MacWorld:

There was my main iMac, which I love. Then there was my “power” laptop, a mid-2010 15-inch MacBook Pro (with the 1680-by-1050 display and a recently installed 750GB SSD), which I love. And there was my “light” laptop, a mid-201211-inch MacBook Air, which I love (and which replaced an older 11-inch Air). So what was the problem?

If it sounds familiar, it is. For several years I was addicted to the 11in MacBook Air. I have owned three of them and two are still around, performing faultlessly. I loved the go-anywhere portability and light weight. Even the small screen I could live with and the latest Air served as my main computer even when travelling for up to a month.

Then I realised that most times when I travel I would take the Air and park it on a desk and there it would stay until the return flight. For day-to-day computing I was becoming more and more content to use an iPad. I began to see the Air as restrictive. In particular, as a keen photographer, I missed a built-in SD card and I felt I really could do with more processing power and a better, larger screen. 

Just over a year ago I caved in and bought a specced-up 15in MacBook Pro with retina screen. It became my desktop computer and my travel companion, despite the unaccustomed size and weight. After an 11in Air you really know you have a computer in your bag. But I now have my processing power, I have the convenience and speed of the internal SD card slot and I also value the two Thunderbolt ports (one feeds my old Cinema Display at home, so I really do need that second port). With its 16GB of memory and 512GB SSD drive, the Pro has never been found wanting. And I just love the large retina display which is a delight, particularly when I am stuck abroad for weeks on end. No longer do I have to compromise.

I kept the latest 11in Air in commission. For some months, I would take it on shorter trips and, occasionally, out for walkies in my backpack. But single-day outings became less frequent. While working with two or even more computers is pretty painless these days, thanks to iCloud and Dropbox especially, there are always some small niggles when you pick up a computer that hasn't been used for a week or two.

Eventually I started taking the bigger computer even for short trips. I now use the MacBook Pro exclusively and the Air is sitting in the cupboard, unused but certainly not unloved. Every time I power it up I face a barrage of updates and I am wondering why not to sell it.

Where from here? I have more of less come to the same decision as Rob Griffiths.  When it comes time to update in the Autumn I will replace the 15in MacBook Pro with the smaller, lighter and more totable 13in Pro. Like Rob, I've spent some hours playing in the Apple Store and, all things considered, the 13in Pro is just about the ideal tool for someone who wants just one computer for all purposes. My only caveat is that I will wait to see what announcements Apple makes during the year but, for the moment, I favour the smaller MacBook Pro. 

 

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Mobile Bliss: Enter the 30-second charge

Posted on by Mike Evans

  When my electric car appears I am unlikely to stray more than 30 miles from the comfort and convenience of my little electric umbilical cord on the drive. I can dream, however.

When my electric car appears I am unlikely to stray more than 30 miles from the comfort and convenience of my little electric umbilical cord on the drive. I can dream, however.

As I await delivery of my 120-mpg electric Nissan Leaf, my thoughts are now increasingly concentrated on battery charging. Battery technology is the only thing holding back the adoption of electric vehicles (apart from the obvious one of the price premium, but that problem would right itself in time). I will be lucky to get a range of 85 miles from the Leaf and, already, my scheming brain is toying with improbable tasks such as driving from London to Manchester and back. I hear that Nissan dealers offer a 30-minute charge, so in theory I could cover the 200 miles to the north by navigating from one dealer to the next. Once there, though, I might never get the car back to London except on the back of an RAC low-loader. 

This is all fantasy, of course. I will probably never venture more than 30 miles from the comfort of my little home charging port and I will be content because 90 percent of my car mileage is local. All this makes the Nissan both a niche product and an expensive vehicle, suitably only as a second car. This is a pity.

There is hope, however. A new system could be offering a 30-second iPhone charge by the end of 2016. Just imagine how this would transform the usability of all mobile devices. And scaling up the system, just possibly, could help with the greater task of charging my car. One day soon, I firmly believe, there will be a sudden breakthrough in battery technology, not just in charging times but in terms of power storage. I can't wait, although spare a thought if you see my white Nissan stranded on the hard shoulder of the M6. My trusted Mophie Power Station wouldn't cope with that. 

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No fares please as cash gets off the bus

Posted on by Mike Evans

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From later this year it will no longer be possible buy a ticket on a London bus. Transport for London reckons that under one percent of travellers now use cash. The other ninety-nine use Oyster cards, contactless payment or pre-paid tickets from machines at bus stops. From personal observation (I am an incorrigible bus addict) this is probably a good assessment. The person who fumbles with cash to buy a ticket while the rest of the queue is outside in the rain had better have a thick skin. It's all a sign of the times and I can now believe pundits who say that cash will be extinct in a few years' time. 

Time was when I would fume in line at Starbucks when the customer in front tried to pay for a skinny latte with a credit card. Now, with increasing use of no-PIN-needed cards for small purchases, we are beginning to realise that it is actually quicker to pay by card than by cash. Roll on the day when I can pay for everything by waving my iPhone in the air.

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