How Do You Protect Your IPhone From Wirelurker When They Don’t Know What It Does?

I’m reading the tech news.  In reality I read it about every day and far too much of it is out there.  Your mind may haze up from time to time, and that’s normal.

There’s a new virus out there that they’re calling “Wirelurker”.  The big problem is with this one is that they are still figuring out how it works and what it does.

The group that discovered the virus, Palo Alto Networks, let out a rather gloomy press release.  Basically, it said that you’re probably already infected and even if you didn’t get infected it will get you anyway through use of chargers or your Mac.

Huh?

Apparently it started as a rather fringe infection vector.  People who Jailbreak-ed their iPhones and connected up to a third party app store called Maiyadi, in China got it first.

Chinese third party software.  Probably not the safest out there.

What it did was to rewrite the apps that ran on the iPhone and add code to it that caused the virus to replicate and move onto the next victim.

So someone stepped out of the Walled Garden that Apple made and they got caught, end of problem, right?

Nope.

It infected their Macs, and moved on.  It also infected any other iOS devices plugged into the machines such as iPads and iPod Touch.

The recommendations are one of the broadest that I have ever seen for avoiding this virus.

This is the first time I saw a third party app store used as an illustration of a safer app store.  They recommend that if you do use third party apps, make sure it is the Cydia app store and only go to trustworthy sources.  Problem there is that you never really know since those third party app stores aren’t really looking into the source code like Apple does.

They say don’t even plug it into a charger that you don’t know about and don’t use any non approved sources.  Since the virus is so stealthy you won’t know that your charger is infected until later – but basically that lets the rest of the windows world in.

There’s a vulnerability with the USB devices that you have in your house.  More accurately the USB devices you will buy to replace the ones you have now.  Plugs, cables, and chargers.  It can be rigged to push a virus into whatever it is connected with.  While this particular threat hasn’t been seen in the wild, yet, give it time.  Yes, it’s doom and gloom and fear mongering, but give it time.

Thinking about a new charger?  Better make sure that you spend the extra money and get it from a recognized source. 

If the whole charger thing is questionable, their stated concern is that if you have an infected iPhone on your network, the virus will walk back to the next phone that is connected to the network via email servers and the like. 

Once it is in your phone, it can theoretically grab your address book and spam your contacts thereby sharing the fun.  This is one of the first “traditional” viruses to hit the iPhone platform.

The Apple Myth of No Viruses Here was built because they have the reputation of “vetting” or looking over and analyzing the software that sits on their own app stores.  If you remain in the Walled Garden, all will be well.  That is the theory and for the most part, up until now, it works.  However since the infection vector is from outside of the walled garden and you have to go outside the garden to update or charge the phone, you will have a vulnerability.

The solution will be that Macs and iOS devices will need to run a virus scanner.  Once the virus definitions are kept up to date, this will clean out the problem. 

If it sounds familiar, welcome to the Windows world. 

Once the signature to the virus is found, it will get out to the Windows based virus scanners and that should clear it up as well.

But it isn’t there yet, so stay tuned.

Bottom line is that if you have an iOS device, make sure you stick with Apple’s App Store and stay tuned.

What did you do with your old Smartphone

After reading this article on Lifehacker, I was left smiling.

So very much bile and grief.

Ok, so you have a smartphone.  It’s older than your contract.  Get it unlocked.   You can even do that with your AT&T Phones.  Mostly, anyway.  There are some phones that are simply hardwired to be with the company you got it from.

My being the king of electronic repurposing, there area a lot of uses that you can get out of the little beasts.

You will want to remove the SIM.   That’s the little chip that tells the phone to talk to the cell towers.  If you managed to get it unlocked, you still can use it for “Old Times Sake” or just give/sell/pass it on to someone else.  But that SIM is required in the new phone to make it work like a phone.

Some of the things I use my hand-me-down smartphones for are:

One of them is unlocked.   I use it when my “real” phone is dead.  Swap in my SIM and now I’m back on the air.  You can even use it when you’re in a bad neighborhood so you don’t lose the “good phone”.

Load it up like an iPod and walk around listening to the same tracks over and over because I can’t stand having iTunes on my laptop phoning home every couple hours.   At least that is easier to deal with on Android.  Fewer programs to “manage” my music preferences.

Download a copy of Magic Jack for emergencies.  You can make free phone calls in the US using your Wifi and this software.

I keep one on the nightstand for when I wake up.  Since the “regular” phone is on charge, I turn this thing on and use it to check up on Radar/Weather/News/etc. 

Internet Radio is great when you have a wifi-only no-longer phone smartphone.  I use a program called TuneIn and can listen to all those streams or radio stations from outside of the house when I’m tired and want something new.

No, this isn’t earth shattering news.  But it is better than tossing it in a drawer and then in the trash in a few months.  May as well use the thing, after all you paid for it, and really you paid quite a lot for it.

New iPhone Connector Means Wrong Time to buy a Dock

If you have your eyes on a shiny new iPhone accessory and are thinking about an upgrade to the next phone, the iPhone 5… hold on to your wallet for a while.

In fact, don’t buy that dock until a month after the next iPhone comes out.   Rule of thumb of course.

Apple makes their money by staying “proprietary” but when you’re the 800 pound gorilla, your proprietary standards become what the market uses.

It’s been “leaked” by the technical press and the blogs that the next iPhone will come out with all sorts of features and specs.  Some are true, some are false.  One feature that has been confirmed already is a new connector for the bottom of the phone.  

Sure, that’s a small detail, but it’s an important one.   I see iPhone Docks for all sorts of purposes, from the very simple to the most complex.   Standing pylons that you can plug your phone into and have it act as a speaker system to fill the room with sound from the songs or streams you have on your phone are great, but if you buy it and they change things, you’re not going to be so happy.  Of course most audio docks have a place for you to plug your phone or non-Apple device into it using the headphone jack, and that’s what you’ll be limited to in the future with your current device.

I can hear one person in particular saying “But they don’t last THAT long, do they.”.  He is right, electronics aren’t built to last “that long” unlike my 1956 Blaupunkt Hi Fi that has tubes in it that are older than I am, but that isn’t really the point, is it?

The rest of the world, Android and Windows Mobile, use a standard connector.   It’s a “micro” version of the USB connector that we all know and love.  That Micro USB connector has a problem in that it is very small which means it snaps comparatively easily – be gentle with it, they don’t like to be slapped around.   Nobody does, but with an electronic connector a simple shock means that you could be at the end of your relationship with your prized device.

Apple steadfastly refuses to be standard.  So they have their own “standard” connector.  It’s an Apple thing, I guess that’s why I am writing this on an HP laptop.   Sure they make beautiful equipment, but you have to pay for an expensive warranty and buy into their whole mindset of use it and return to the Genius Bar to have it fixed.

For the “suburban types” who don’t want to learn how to repair or build their equipment, this is fine if not preferable.  Personally I prefer to know I am not limited by “standards”.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

Ok, so you’ve heard by now, Apple‘s co-founder Steve Jobs died from Pancreatic Cancer yesterday.

To put it mildly, he’s an interesting character.  A Game Changer.

As Barack Obama said it, “The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family, and all those who loved him.”.

I’m sitting here listening to a classical music station on an old iPhone that someone gave me.  No, I don’t use it as a phone, more accurately I use it as a computer.   That in itself is a statement of the power of the phone/platform/computer itself.  I have a Windows laptop on my lap using what was originally derided as a ripoff of the Mac platform.  The current Windows 7 look and feel is very similar to that of the Mac OSX.

I’ve also got a serious case of Mac Envy.  It happens when you know what the other guy has, but can’t “justify” the expense.   That “Apple Distortion Field” hasn’t convinced me to run out and spend $1100 for a Mac Book Air, the machine I truly want since a similar Windows PC would cost significantly less and frankly, money is very tight.

The Mac is, however, the machine I recommend to semi-technical users who are open to trying something different and don’t want to have to go through the fiddling around that you have to do to get a windows machine to purr.  My own laptop has a software problem that is stopping it from shutting down cleanly – it’s an annoyance that some day I’ll try to fix and is caused more from my insistence of using the machine like a server or a desktop machine than a laptop tool.

If I can mess up a Windows PC, no matter how slightly, think of the wonderfully weird things a non technical person can get into with just the right virus mix!

The environment that a Mac has is instantly recognizable to someone who is used to using a Windows PC, and comfortable immediately.  There are some things it does better, and lets face it Apple machines were almost always just a better looking box than the directly comparable Windows PC.

To stop the flame wars of Mac Vs PC, the reality is that most of what 90% of us do today are on a browser or could be so the operating system is secondary.  In fact, that sleek looking Mac could run Windows if you decide you don’t want that OSX thing running.  

If you did, I’d do more than raise an eyebrow at you and probably cast aspersions at you loudly.

If you were on the fence about being a “Switcher” and going with a Mac, that extra money you spend on the hardware is a good investment.  They tend to run longer with fewer problems these days, and Steve’s “departure” won’t change that.  The new CEO, Tim Cook, was running things behind the scenes for years so the direction of the company won’t stray too quickly.   Besides, you probably won’t have that new machine from the mostly white store with a fruit logo ten years from now.

Although you just may.  They are built to last, as are many Windows based laptops from premium product lines.

If you want to know the future of the whole Mac OSX line, take a look at the iPhone’s operating system.  All big icons and touch sensitive.  My laptop is a touch sensitive machine, but since it runs Windows, it does it badly.  I hardly ever use the touch screen.   The experience on an iPhone or iPad is amazing.  Windows will be playing catch-up on the next version of Windows 8.

So for now, I’ll stick with my old iPhone and continue listening to the Sousa march on my headphones.  Mixed approaches are the best – pick what fits your needs.  After all, that mindset is what built that company from a garage to the largest computer company today.

Why I Won’t Switch to a Mac – iTunes

Get ready, rant begins in …

I was given a new-to-me iPhone.  It was a nice gift, works “well enough” and since I do not intend to use it as a phone, I don’t mind that it is an “older” phone.  iphone 3GS.   I intend to use it as a portable internet radio and an iPod.

Mind you I have an iPod, and have since 2006.  The problem is that while I’ve had the iPod, I have managed to avoid using iTunes.

Why I have avoided iTunes is because when I got the iPod back in 06, the software was so invasive and so heinous that I swore off of it.  There are alternatives.  I have gone ahead and installed something called “Rockbox” onto my iPod Video 30GB.  Rockbox is one of the best alternatives, and allows you full control over the look and feel, the placement of music, and even will run some software on it.  I think there is a version of Doom that will run on the thing, but I use it for the excellent equalizer and file management.  The wikipedia page for the software goes into deep detail, just consider that you’re not locked into Steve Jobs’ Walled Garden completely.

See, I’m A Manual Kind Of Guy.  I’m the first one to complain when someone’s doing too much for me in software.  In fact, I’m not alone since there are web pages dedicated to bad autocomplete in text – which ironically usually happens on the iPhone.

Ok I’ve gotten the phone hooked to the cable.  I knew I had to put a copy of that near-virus iTunes onto a computer.  Why not put it on the old Mac G4 sitting in the corner that isn’t really being used?  Great Idea!  It was a craigslist find and I got it free from a really nice lady in South Beach.  Putting it to use means that I’d have a reason to use it.   It has been helpful, I’ve used it as a server and an internet radio before I got annoyed that I couldn’t hear the speakers in the front room, but it really never got to be something I heavily used.   Desktop computers in small houses in South Florida are not a good idea.   Laptops sell heavily here and I migrated onto one almost as soon as I moved here.   WAY TOO SMALL.

But I had it and finally got it started.  It runs surprisingly fast for a machine that Steve Jobs thinks is horribly obsolete.  It’s just a desktop running OSX Tiger.

Tiger is the second problem – I would have to upgrade the Operating System to OSX Leopard (10.5.8). 

Remember the saying:  “There is no such thing as a free puppy”?

My free puppy of a shiny well treated iPhone is now presenting me with a choice.  Either:

  1. Upgrade the 6 year old Mac to run OSX at a cost of roughly $100 or
  2. Install iTunes on a windows machine.

I wasn’t going to spend the money, this was simply going to be a handheld radio or a very light note taker.  I don’t use a smart phone for a reason, and that is probably what I’ll write about on another day. 

I gave in.  I have my old Daily Driver of a laptop.  It is an Acer Aspire running Windows 7.  I moved the server function off of the old Mac when I got the little HP I’m writing this from in a trade for 3 days worth of computer work in Key West.

I briefly tried to install it onto a virtual computer so I could reload it from backup but backing up my virtual computer would have taken another hour and I wasn’t going to follow through with that.

First, install the software.  That was pretty simple, I surfed (with a cringe) http://www.itunes.com and downloaded the dreaded software,  It wanted me to install something called Ping for social media, no thanks since I have the blogs and the websites, I’m busy enough with unpaid work. 

The software installed without a hitch. 

I plugged in the phone and that was where my fun started.  By fun I mean something akin to having my teeth drilled on without novocaine.

iTunes immediately sensed the phone, helpfully downloaded the latest updates and then presented me with its statistics.  In those statistics I had found that it had a phone number assigned.   Next step, research how to remove the SIM from the phone. 

On the iPhone, there is a teeny little hole for you to put in what I call the “Precision CD Extraction Tool”.  Basically get a paperclip and bend it to fit the hole and push down lightly but firmly enough to make the SIM slide out.   The hole is next to the earphone jack on my phone.

Take the SIM out and set it on the coffee table to give to the person who gave me the phone. 

Plug it all back together and iTunes now says no phone number.  *whew* I didn’t want this to become yet another “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”.

So I walked into the bedroom, got ready for the shower, and begun trying to convince the app store to download the Digitally Imported free radio app.  This was where Apple Annoyed Me … again.

You see, the vast number of people do not use their iPhones the way I do.  I want to use it as a teeny little laptop and tiny little radio.  I don’t want to pay for services or software.  I want freebies!  So now when it presented me with a window demanding personal information, I started cursing at the phone.   I did however fill in email, birthdate and year, address, and told it “None” for my credit card. 

I did not want to buy anything by accident.  They call that “Butt Buying” like when you sat on your phone and had it call your 92 year old Aunt in Lake Ronkonkomo on Long Island in New York at 2AM.

Sorry Betty, I will make sure it’s locked!

After I keyed all of this in, slowly since I am not used to the whole soft keyboard experience (I’m a touch typist), it told me that my password MUST have one capital letter.  Great, “Annoyance number 10” means that I have now a NEW password to remember.   Write that one down and put it on a sticky pad under the server laptop…

It then created an account with Big Brother Apple and told me to go to the email account I gave it in the set up for a link to create the account.

I yelled at the software, the phone, and tossed it onto the bed while I climbed into the shower.

Apple, I Am NOT a Fan.

When I got out of the shower, I found the link and it effortlessly went through and validated me.  I was then able to download the DI.FM applet and now have it sitting proudly on my phone.  It is playing Trance now.

After all of that I guess I’ll have to see what this thing is all about.  It does see my wifi network so I can use it as a browser and a Skype Phone.  I am one of around 20 people in the US that use Skype, and since it’s purchase by Microsoft, it will most likely get more important.  It’s quite good software, I use it as a voice phone and a video phone on my laptop and with a good friend (Hi Carter!) we created a one of a kind business between here, the Delaware Shore, Philly and New York.  Great experience being a CIO out of my living room I will say.

Oh and the phone?   It works well enough.  I just need to tilt it to the side so everything is just a little bit bigger!

I Am Why Radio Died

As I sit here, I am listening to Christmas music on a radio station in St Lucia in the Caribbean.  I had changed over from an excellent Soca Radio Station in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  Earlier I was listening to a Disco internet station broadcasting from London, UK.

During the week I also listen to Stephanie Miller for Progressive Talk.  I have to listen to Green 960 in San Francisco, California in order to do this. 

When I want contemporary dance music, I hop onto www.di.fm and I have my choice of dozens of music formats.

So why do I do all this?  Why are all of these channels, plus my Sirius subscribed channels all programmed into our Logitech Squeezebox Classic?

Simply put, Radio in the US Stinks.  The RIAA and Clear Channel have killed it.  The internet made it possible for people to leave broadcast radio stations behind. 

Why is that all important?  Billions of dollars were lost when the new markets of internet radio were created.  With a little effort, I can listen to a Souskous radio station in the Congo.  It’s an African music format that most people in the First World haven’t ever heard of so why not listen to it from it’s home?

What happened was that before the internet age, you were limited to what was broadcast from your nearest cities.  If you were stubborn like I was, you could get a shortwave radio and listen to other nations at night, but that was difficult.  Later when the wrong policy of allowing businesses to buy up a majority of the radio stations in a given market happened, consolidation of music meant that you ended up with 10 radio stations owned by Clear Channel in one given city, and they all sounded the same.  If you wanted variety, for the most part you were stuck.  Those stations that were owned by minorities were bought up and the music became much less diverse, much less listenable, and much more corporate.

An example of that was WDAS FM in Philadelphia.  An EXCELLENT radio station serving the African American Community, it was widely listened to by both black and white folks and was an engine for showcasing black artists and making the beauty of black music to the broader audience.  Clear Channel bought it up and within a year it was… bland. 

I haven’t listened to it since I moved to Florida and would prefer to remember it as it was … before it died.

The internet started up, people started downloading music and the music companies freaked out.  They still haven’t realized that according to most independent groups purchase of music continued to increase and their monopoly continued to give them income.  It didn’t pay the artists any more, but they were getting rich and giving nobody any value.

As radio station property values crashed, the trend was to go to cheaper formats and centralized broadcasting.  All the sudden the contests that were run out of your city were national contests with slightly more money but you had to compete with someone from Idaho and Texas and call a toll free number in New York or somewhere else.  It was completely depersonalized.

So if you’re listening to something that has been dumbed down and depersonalized, why not look for something else.   The final straw was when they pulled the plug on Progressive Talk for me.  There was a very good Progressive Talk station here in Miami.  The so called brains at Clear Channel swapped the format for sports talk.  How many sports stations does one market need?  There are now five.  I guess you listen to a different one each morning on the way to work.

Or you do what most people do, find other ways to get your music or talk fix.

The increase in first MP3 Players like the iPod, then the Smart Phone Revolution meant that you could carry a lifetime of music on your phone and plug it into your car stereo and forget the rest.  I know of people who simply forgo bringing CDs or listening to “terrestrial radio” while driving locally let alone for a long trip. 

Personally I am lucky.  There are three HD radio stations here in the Miami radio market I can listen to to get my fix of in car entertainment so I don’t have to bring along a lot of equipment. 

But for most, Broadcast Terrestrial Radio is a study in how a marketing engine lost it’s own market.  They left their audience, so the audience left the market and demanded iPod compatibility and an “Aux In Port” in the new cars.

So for now, I’m about to switch over to an all trance music station on www.di.fm/trance … care to join me?

Dog Walk? No iPod? No Problem!

I have to walk Mrs Dog three times a day.   I shoot for 3 miles total but she’s not always into a long walk, and sometimes I am not either.  Around here that can mean that I’m outside for a minimum of 20 minutes for the mile, but typically I budget for 30 minutes on the early walks.

A habit I got into while skating was to listen to audio books, and that carried over to the dog walks.  At 610 in the morning there are usually very few people out, and I’ve got those things screwed into my head lecturing me on Roman History, telling me of Trantor with the Foundation Trilogy, or as of late P.G. Wodehouse’s books on “Jeeves and Wooster”.

Except there’s a problem there… the iPod’s batteries ran out.  Oops… better charge that.

Er, I’ll get to that later… let me look at the new shiny object….

What’s that outside the window?

How’s the pool now?  Still draining?

Let me bake some biscuits….

You get the picture.   Ok, I can excuse myself for forgetting the charge one day.   No problem there.  Absentmindedly, I guess it really didn’t mean all that much but I forgot all weekend.   No Jeeves and Wooster today.   Thing is that when you listen to your surroundings you start to hear the music of the city and the sounds of nature.   615AM can be amazingly noisy when those black crows start with their singing, or a flock of parrots wake up in the trees and lecture you.

I’m pretty good about taking the things out of my ears when I see someone so I can hear what they have to say, but when you don’t wear the iPods in something you’ve become accustomed to wearing them in, it brings up how isolating those little earpieces are.   They’re basically the electronic equivalent of a Cone of Silence, or a burqa… you’re there, everyone sees those headphones and ignores your presence unless you make an effort at taking them off and they notice.

Maybe I should find a better place to listen to Jeeves?…. Probably not!  😉