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Growling Back at Snow Leopard – Symantec Addresses Security Concerns

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Among the squeals of joy at the release of Snow Leopard last Friday come cries of protests over security concerns.

Security was a number one objective of software engineers as they redesigned the system’s firewall and revamped the security pane on OS X 10.6. The log-on password function now has a time-delay option, the location services can be turned off, and the firewall is more effective and customizable. Deep down in the guts of the security system is tougher defenses against memory corruption, especially heap memory.

The loophole comes with the upgraded anti-malware tool. All downloads must pass the scan for the Mac-busting viruses OSX/Puper, COD Ghosts and OSX/IWService. However, since Macs are inherently more virus-protected than PCs, the launch of a new anti-malware scan may be tantamount to opening the door for a slough of new Mac-targeted viruses. Snow Leopard News

What this means is that the malware problem may just be the tip of the iceberg. Industry leader, Symantec, spoke out on a variety of concerns in Leopard. The main problem is the one just mentioned: Leopard’s malware tool. Their concern is that the “File Quarantine feature only offers basic malware detection capabilities to ghost mp maps. It is not a full-featured antivirus solution and does not have the ability to remove malware from the system.”

Either Mac is resting on the laurels of past security successes, or they plan on getting really busy real soon by issuing daily security updates to the File Quarantine. But updates are only good if users accept them. Since the updates are not automatically updated for Macs, users must manually choose to update them, which leaves them vulnerable to malware attacks in the meantime.

Symantec also cites problems with Snow Leopard’s Internet security, which gives malicious files loopholes through the firewall and access to sensitive information like the ghosts multiplayer maps. To begin with, the firewall must be manually turned on in order to filter out the Internet bad guys. Also, the list-based modern warfare 3 phishing protection offered by Snow Leopard is shortsighted, since it will necessitate frequent updates. And, again, the update option doesn’t happen automatically.

If Mac’s security concerns get any more public attention or if they go unaddressed in perks, the company will face growing security challenges. After all, Mac’s grandiose claim is its impenetrable defense system and resistance to viruses.

Or perhaps it’s all part of a grand marketing scheme by Symantec MW3 perks to boost sales for their Mac Security package. Still, it leaves the rest of us with questions, too.

Snow Leopard Going On Sale This Week

For those who’ve been excited about Snow Leopard, your wait is just about over. This week, Apple plans to announce Mac OS Xv10.6 (Snow Leopard). They’ve unleashed a press release to make it all official-like:

Apple to Ship Mac OS X Snow Leopard on August 28

CUPERTINO, California—August 24, 2009—Apple® today announced that Mac OS® X v10.6 Snow Leopard™ will go on sale Friday, August 28 at Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers, and that Apple’s online store is now accepting pre-orders. Snow Leopard builds on a decade of OS X innovation and success with hundreds of refinements, new core technologies and out of the box support for Microsoft Exchange. Snow Leopard will be available as an upgrade for Mac OS X Leopard® users for $29.

“Snow Leopard builds on our most successful operating system ever and we’re happy to get it to users earlier than expected,” said Bertrand Serlet, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “For just $29, Leopard users get a smooth upgrade to the world’s most advanced operating system and the only system with built in Exchange support.”

To create Snow Leopard, Apple engineers refined 90 percent of the more than 1,000 projects that make up Mac OS X. Users will notice refinements including a more responsive Finder™; Mail that loads messages up to twice as fast;* Time Machine® with an up to 80 percent faster initial backup;* a Dock with Exposé® integration; QuickTime® X with a redesigned player that allows users to easily view, record, trim and share video; and a 64-bit version of Safari® 4 that is up to 50 percent** faster and resistant to crashes caused by plug-ins. Snow Leopard is half the size of the previous version and frees up to 7GB of drive space once installed.

For the first time, system applications including Finder, Mail, iCal®, iChat® and Safari are 64-bit and Snow Leopard’s support for 64-bit processors makes use of large amounts of RAM, increases performance and improves security while remaining compatible with 32-bit applications. Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) provides a revolutionary new way for software developers to write applications that take advantage of multicore processors. OpenCL, a C-based open standard, allows developers to tap the incredible power of the graphics processing unit for tasks that go beyond graphics.

Snow Leopard is the only desktop operating system with built in support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, and it allows you to use Mac OS X Mail, Address Book and iCal to send and receive email, create and respond to meeting invitations, and search and manage contacts with global address lists. Exchange information works seamlessly within Snow Leopard so users can also take advantage of OS X only features such as fast Spotlight® searches and Quick Look previews.

Mac OS X Server Snow Leopard, the next major release of the world’s easiest to use server operating system, will also go on sale Friday, August 28. Snow Leopard Server includes innovative new features such as Podcast Producer 2 and Mobile Access Server and is priced more affordably than ever at $499 with unlimited client licenses. More information and full system requirements for Snow Leopard Server can be found at www.apple.com/server/macosx/.

Mac OS X Update

“New software is available for your computer,” according to the dialogue box that hailed Tuesday’s release of OS X 10.5.7, the latest improvement on the current Mac OS X. So, Mac OS X User, if you haven’t clicked on the little jumping globe icon in your menu bar, you should probably go ahead and do that now. Successfully completing the download will mean that you are completely up to date with Mac’s latest software, but please note, the update could take a while to download.
Mac OS X  Update
Any update that changes one digit that is three decimal points down the line isn’t going to be earth-shaking, so don’t expect a totally new OS. After all, Apple has almost run out of big cat names. (Can you think of any after cheetah, puma, jaguar, panther, tiger, and leopard? Maybe lion is next; who knows?)

Generically, the update contains improved security and some fixes to little bugs, plus better integration with certain hardware. Thus, nearly all the updates are things that you probably won’t notice unless you are carefully digging deep into the structure of the OS (e.g., the BOM file).

From a more detailed perspective, here are just some of the changes:
- RAW image improvement, which better integrates third-party digital cameras
- Smoother video playback for Macs with the Nvidia chip
- Fixed bugs that occasionally prevented access to third-party networks (e.g., Yahoo and Gmail)
- Smoothed out some potential conflicts with the Dvorak keyboard layout
- Refinement of Dashboard widgets, specifically Movies, Weather, Stocks, and Unit Converter
- A change to the printer removal options from the Parental Control Systems Preferences

As mentioned, the update will not be a huge change for any current Mac user, so you can continue to use your new update with ease. Just leave yourself enough time to download the update. Some users noted that this is Mac’s biggest update yet (in terms of byte size).

Microsoft releases free Office Mac trial version

Despite being released more than a year ago, Microsoft’s Office: Mac 2008 now comes in a trial version. If you don’t have a copy of the near-ubiquitous office suite on your Mac, you can now download a full and complete trial copy to play around with. If you decide to keep it, no need to visit a store — you can purchase a license key over the Internet and keep using Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Entourage without interruption.

Office Mac team member Marshall Nam announced the new trial offer in a post to the Mac Mojo blog on Microsoft’s Mactopia site yesterday morning. Touting many of Office 2008′s new features like SmartArt graphics and Word’s Publish view, Nam explains that the trial includes the latest version of the full office suite, with all the “improvements and enhancements” made in the last few updates.

This is a welcome move for new Mac users looking to check out the competition. Apple has included a free, 30-day trial of its iWork suite on new Macs for a while now, so Microsoft might be trying to counter Cupertino. Sales might be down, or Microsoft might be seeing increased competition from iWork on Google’s online office suite. Nam does state that the Office Mac team has been “heads-down working on the next version” of the software, so perhaps another major version is coming — for desktop Mac OS X, or maybe for the iPhone.

Either way, the new trial is a great way to see if Office 2008is something you want to purchase. The Office trial is available for download here.

Chrome for Mac OS X: progress is slow, but steady

When Google launched its heavily-buzzed Chrome browser for Windows back in September, the company promised that Mac and Linux versions were coming soon. In the six months since, Google has kept relatively quiet about the non-Windows versions while making steady progress behind the scenes.

In a long, in-depth article, Ars Technica’s Erica Sadun gives an overview of the current state of Chromium, the open-source software project on which the commercial version of Chrome is based. Besides providing a lengthy technical overview of the project and several videos of the code in action, Sadun interviews several key Googlers involved in the project to get a sense of the company’s philosophy and approach to Mac development.

One thing that comes through in the article is that the Chromium team’s approach to cross-platform development is distinctly different than the Firefox team’s. They are seeking to integrate the browser as deeply as possible with each target OS, rather than build an app that is easily ported to multiple platforms by being a good citizen of none. Chrome for Mac will utilize native widgets as well as core technologies like Keychain, the system address book, and Spotlight.

Sadun also reports that Google is working very closely with the WebKit project to make improvements. Since WebKit is used by Nokia, KDE, and Google’s own Android OS, these changes and bug fixes will extend well beyond Chromium. Indeed, Senior Software Engineer Amanda Walker told Ars Technica that the company’s “longterm goal is to help make all WebKit projects better.”

The article also contains Sadun’s instructions for downloading and compiling a copy of the pre-alpha Chromium source code. Anyone adventurous enough to do so might get a preview of the most advanced Mac browser coming in the next year. The rest of us will just need to wait — a beta release is rumored to be coming this fall. Then the face of Mac browsing will change once again.

Time Capsule and Airport Get Security Fixes in Latest Update

For those who use Airport, or Time Capsule have probably already downloaded the latest firmware update. If you haven’t then here are some of the fixes released in the firmware:

-The IPv6 Neighbor Discovery Protocol implementation does not validate the origin of Neighbor Discovery messages. By sending a maliciously crafted message, a remote user may cause a denial of service, observe private network traffic, or inject forged packets. This update addresses the issue by performing additional validation of Neighbor Discovery messages.

- An out-of-bounds memory access issue exists in the handling of PPPoE discovery packets. By sending a maliciously crafted PPPoE discovery packet, a remote user may be able to cause an unexpected device shutdown. This update addresses the issue through improved bounds checking

- When IPv6 support is enabled, IPv6 nodes use ICMPv6 to report errors encountered while processing packets. An implementation issue in the handling of incoming ICMPv6 “Packet Too Big” messages may cause an unexpected device shutdown. This update addresses the issue through improved handling of ICMPv6 messages.

If you want more detailed descriptions, or to download the update you can visit the support page, here.