Blog

Computer Literacy: Privacy and Security for Seniors

Slides for presentation (PDF, 670K)

This free two hour seminar (one hour for presentation, one hour for questions) will focus on basic privacy and security issues facing computer users. While the topic is of interest to all computer users, particular attention will be given to the needs of seniors. The presentation will focus on basic configuration issues and consumer choices that computer users should make in order to protect their privacy, and the security of their computer and reputation.

The presentation will mainly focus on choices and behaviors, with just a light touch of fundamental technology basics. Both Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS operating systems will be covered.

The seminar will be held at Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 Blake Avenue, Sequim, Washington. Admission is free to everyone.

Computer Literacy: Privacy and Security for Seniors

October 1, 2022, 1 to 3 p.m.
Trinity United Methodist Church
100 Blake Ave., Sequim, Washington

Sponsored by SMUG, https://strait-mac.org/

Questions? Write straitmac.vicepresident@gmail.com

Generic Apple Event

Apple has announced they are having an Apple Event on September 7, starting at 10 a.m. PT. Unlike previous streamed events, there is no special phrase or graphic to hint at what is to come. Instead, you get this sparkling star cluster,

Apple event star cluster
An apple-shaped star cluster, or possibly a black hole. Hard to tell.

Presumably, the event will be the usual quarterly announcement of Apple iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches. But the lack of graphical and textual hints is something of a mystery. Maybe this is an unreleased photo of some section of the universe, captured with the James Webb space telescope. Maybe it is the patterned formed by throwing darts at an Apple sticker. Maybe it is a time-lapse aerial photo of an autonomously driven Apple car driving around the Cupertino campus.

You can stream the event on September 7 and find out.

Security Updates for August 2022

At our August meeting, I mentioned that everyone should have their Mac (iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, etc.) updated as soon as updates came out. Several individuals publicly or privately said they didn’t want to do that, saying the update interfered with what they were doing, or they preferred to do it later. The problem: the vast majority — as in “with few exceptions” — fail to get around to it “later,” and are one or more steps behind in doing updates.

As an example: one member recently had their data drive crash. This bothered, them, but not too much: they used Time Machine to constantly back up their Mac, and thought they could recover quite a bit of information by just recovering data from their Time Machine backup. Except: in examining the Time Machine backup drive, it had never been used. Ever. Nothing was written to it since the time it was formatted in 2017. And, of course, the Mac hadn’t had a security update since 2017, either.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and: have your Mac install updates as they come out. It is easy to do: go to System Preferences > Software Update, and check the box (if it isn’t checked already) for “Automatically keep my Mac up to date.”

Automatically keep your Mac up to date with security updates by making sure this check box is, in fact, checked.
Automatically keep your Mac up to date with security updates by making sure this check box is, in fact, checked.

As long as your Mac is awake and connected to the Internet, it will check periodically and install updates as needed.

Why mention this now: in August, Apple released a number of critical software updates, for Safari, for Apple Watch Series 3 (an older Apple Watch), for macOS Monterey, and for many iPhones and iPads, dating back to the iPhone 6, and even the 7th generation iPad touch. “Critical” in this case means: failing to install the update could compromise your Mac, Watch, iPad, or iPhone.

If you want to know when security updates come out, you can subscribe to a mailing list, run by Apple, that mails out notices. Apple maintains a number of mailing lists,

https://lists.apple.com/mailman/listinfo

and to subscribe to the Security Announce mailing list, go to this page,

https://lists.apple.com/mailman/listinfo/security-announce

Type in your email address in the space provided, and an optional password (there is no real need to enter a password), and press the button marked Subcribe,

Enter your email address and press the Subscribe button.
Enter your email address and press the Subscribe button.

That’s it. Apple will send you an email when they release a security update. But — you should still set your devices to update automatically.

And then there is Zoom

Unfortunately, Apple’s security updates only cover Apple software and hardware. SMUG uses Zoom for meetings, and Zoom, while relatively easy to use, has a very checkered past when it comes to security — and privacy. Most users never bother to update Zoom, and have never gone through the (extensive) preferences to make sure their individual security and privacy are protected. Many Zoom updates are released to fix stability and usability problems, but quite a few address critical security issues, such as one released in mid-August. You can read about it here:

https://www.macworld.com/article/832415/zoom-flaw-root-access-update-5-11-6.html

As an ironclad rule, you should check for a Zoom update every time you launch Zoom. Every time. Sometimes, Zoom will have more than one update a day, which means: every time you launch Zoom, check for an update.

In theory, you can have Zoom automatically check for updates in the Zoom preferences,

Check the box to have Zoom automatically update itself.
Check the box to have Zoom automatically update itself.

However, even when the box is checked, performing a manual check sometimes finds a new update.

Perform a manual check for updates, and install them, every time you launch Zoom.

Useless clickbait tips

This entry talks about useless clickbait, but there are some useful tips on screenshots at the end. First, the useless clickbait.

While reading news stories on my iPad, I was presented with two different advertisements offering bizarre suggestions for how to block advertisements on my iPad. Yes, advertisements on how to block advertisements.

These useless advertisements had one real purpose: they were designed to make me curious, and click on the advertisement — in order to see more advertisements. I did not click on the ads.

But I did take screenshots, because they were funny. The first ad:

Most iPad users didn't know how to block ads (do it now!).
Ad blocker? Carpet cleaner? Finger exercise pad? We may never know.

Let us give this some thought. This illustration is suggesting you can block ads by:

  • Turning your iPad screen down and pressing it into your carpet. This works: you won’t be able to see the ads! Or anything else, but yes, you won’t be able to see the ads!
  • Or another possibility: this is a still image, but it might require more action. You might want to rub the iPad back and forth across the carpet. If there is any sand or grit on the carpet, it might scratch up the screen, which will make the ads harder to see. This could be considered an ad blocker of sorts. Also: a great way to damage your iPad.
  • Yet another possibility: this could be part of a larger image, and if you were to zoom out, maybe you would see the user crouched down like a sprinter, waiting for the starting gun to fire. The iPad itself is serving as a starting block, or, to stretch a point, an ad blocker.

As it seemed unwise to click on the link (not to mention silly), we may never know exactly what was intended.

The second ad:

Most iPad users didn't know how to block ads (do it now). An even sillier advertisement than the first.
Here’s how to block ads on your iPad! Or is it even an iPad?

The first thing to note is that this is explicitly PAID CONTENT. Some entity paid to insert this advertisement into a news page, and again, is advertising a way to block advertisements. But consider:

  • Is this even an iPad? That looks like a USB-C port in the center, but none of the iPads with USB-C ports have a bottom edge that looks anything like this.
  • Exactly what is the Q-tip doing? Is it removing gunk from the USB-C port? Maybe the USB-C port has ear wax? It isn’t clear how that can block ads.
  • Maybe the Q-tip is inserting ear wax into the USB-C port to block ads? You wouldn’t expect iPads to promulgate ads through a USB-C port, but then you wouldn’t normally stick a Q-tip in them, either.

After giving this photo several days of thought, the ear wax removal explanation seems to work best, even though it makes no sense. Again, it seemed unwise to click on the ad, so the explanation will remain a mystery.

Screenshots? You can take screenshots on an iPad?

One question you might have: how do I take a screenshot on an iPad? Apple has a support document that describes the process (it is easy): https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT210781

Another question many people have: where does the iPad put the screenshots? The support document reveals this tidbit, too, at the bottom of the page.

You can also take screenshots on your iPhone: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT200289

While it is a little trickier (you need to make a change to the Watch settings on your iPhone first), you can even take screenshots on your Apple Watch: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204673

Screenshot of an Apple Watch.
This Apple Watch screenshot shows the current time, including seconds, and (the four corners, top to bottom, left to right) a button for recording voice memos; a weather forecast with temperature range; a button for Strava, an app to record walks, runs, bike rides, etc.; and a button to display Activity (steps, exercise, stands). In the interior, the upper icon in the center will display blood oxygen level, the one on the right displays the current tide at Dungeness Landing, the bottom center shows the time in London, England, and the one on the left triggers the Breath app, which guides you through breathing exercises. There are millions of possible ways to customize the Apple Watch, most of them far less complex.
Apple Watch screenshot showing date, time, outdoor temperature and weather, location, and a view of what the earth would look like at that moment from space.
A more simplified Apple Watch screenshot showing date, time, outdoor temperature and weather, location, and a view of what the earth would look like at that moment from space. The icon at the top is subtly suggesting that the wearer should be in bed.

Firefox in decline

The past 30 years has seen an interesting storyline with respect to web browsers. The first web browser I used was a terminal program that read World Wide Web pages as text. The first GUI web browser I used was Mosaic, back in 1993, created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. Netscape Navigator followed this in 1994, and was quite fancy compared to Mosaic. I played with Microsoft Explorer when it came out in 1995, but a) it required Windows and b) it was very buggy.

There were lots of Mac web browsers, such as MacWeb (1994), OmniWeb (1995), Cyberdog (an extraordinarily innovative web browser from Apple, in 1996), Opera (1996), iCab (1998), Mozilla (based on Netscape Navigator, 1998), Safari (2003), and then…

Firefox, introduced in 2004, offered an “extensible” framework through plug-ins. Plug-ins had to follow certain protocols, but could be written by anyone. Initial plug-ins did useful things (checked to see if page links were valid, for example), but they soon ventured into the frivolous (changing the default language of a page to something random, or played Pong, with or without human help, etc.). Plug-ins proved to be very popular, so popular that users complained that they were slowing down Firefox, usually because users added far too many plug-ins, making visiting a web page a battle between plug-ins doing time-consuming, and frequently competing, things.

Soon, other browsers started allowing plug-ins, though some, like Apple, were very cautious, stressing instead speed, privacy, and security. More competition arrived in the form of AOL Explorer, Camino (an offshoot of Mozilla and Firefox), and, in 2008, Chrome.

Chrome was interesting as it was built using WebKit, the same framework that is the foundation of Safari. As Chrome was published by Google, and Google, though their search engine, had a vast knowledge of how the World Wide Web worked, developers soon found Chrome very attractive, and Chrome gradually gained an ever-growing market share. Meanwhile, Safari, expanding out from the Mac to also incorporate iPhone and iPad, rapidly became the most popular browser in history.

Firefox, once the darling of web developers, fought to keep its market share. Adopting some of Apple’s goals, Firefox started emphasizing speed, security, and privacy. But Chrome kept gaining market share, especially after it was released on Android, and it gradually displaced Internet Explorer on Windows. Microsoft tried a comeback, releasing a new browser, Edge, based on Apple’s WebKit, in 2015. This didn’t make much of a dent, and Microsoft released a new version of Edge, built on Google’s Chromium, in 2020.

Meanwhile, Firefox continued to decline. A few weeks ago, this snippet appeared on Slashdot:

Is Firefox OK?

The answer is: no. Firefox is still plunging in popularity.

For what it is worth, I have installed on my Mac Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge (yes, there is a Mac version). The three I used the most are Safari, Chrome, and Apple’s Terminal, for looking at obscure and technical things.†

Firefox, if it isn’t dead yet, is at most a footnote of a bygone era.

† To use Terminal as a browser, launch it, then type in:

curl [URL of site]

as in:

curl https://strait-mac.org

Expect pages and pages of hypertext to flow past at high speed, interspersed with things you can read in English.

Apple WWDC22 announced

WWDC is short for World Wide Developer Conference, and the 2022 edition will be virtual, starting with a keynote at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on June 6.

While the Developer Conference is aimed at programmers for the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Macintosh, HomePod, etc., the opening keynote usually generates quite a bit of news with short presentations on where Apple is in the marketplace and some announcements of new and different things. Plus: there are demos of new technologies, with a random game or two thrown in.

It is free: https://developer.apple.com/wwdc22/

WWDC22 logo

Questions and answers

One of our members suggested I post a link to Macworld’s 911 column. This has been an ongoing series where subscribers to the magazines ask common questions, and Macworld posts answers. The answers are well written, and (usually) very good. Here is a recent collection:

https://www.macworld.com/article/228117/your-top-questions-to-mac-911-and-some-answers.html

Sometimes the advertising gets in the way, but the writing is down to earth.

A tip: if you ever try to do something on your Mac or iPad or iPhone and can’t figure out how, back off a bit and try to think of the task more generically. In other words, don’t try and obsess over what you are trying to do at that particular moment but, rather, think of what other people might do with whatever tool you are using. Sometimes you may find that you are using the wrong tool, and another tool is a better choice. Or you might decide this is the right tool, but you are approaching the problem from the wrong perspective.

Such as: someone wrote to me a few weeks ago convinced that they had a virus. Their Mac wasn’t working, and everything was very slow. The answer was less scary and less intrusive: the hard disk was full. Not absolutely crammed, but too full to work reliably. (To even use a web browser, you need several gigabytes — sometimes tens of gigabytes — worth of free disk space). Copying stuff off to another drive freed up space, and the computer was faster and more reliable.

Cable, connector, and adapter confusion

Cable, connector, and adapter confusion

One of the most common questions I’ve received over the years comes in two forms:

  • I am trying to connect [something to something else] and don’t know what cables I need.
  • I am buying a new [iPhone, iPad, Mac] and need to connect it to [my old printer, my old external drive, an arc welding machine] and don’t know how.

I want to recommend two resources, one (almost) free and one that costs money. First, the (almost) free one: MacTracker. MacTracker is a database of Apple devices (desktop and laptop and server Macs, cameras, displays, iPhones, iPads, Newtons, printers, watches, major pieces of software, etc.) with dates of when they were introduced and discontinued, what software they came with and what software they are compatible with, what ports they have, etc.

You want to know what kind of ports you can find on a Macintosh Performa 600? MacTracker will tell you it has a DB-15 display port and a DB-25 SCSI port, which means it can’t be connected to any modern equipment; even the keyboard and mouse use ADB connectors incompatible with anything used today.

A MacBook Pro from 2008, on the other hand, does come with USB ports, but they are USB 2.0 ports, far slower than the USB-3 or Thunderbolt 4 ports used on a MacBook Pro from 2021. The 2015 MacBook also has a VGA port for external video, incompatible with the 2021 model using HDMI for external video.

You can get MacTracker for your Mac from either the Mac Tracker website,

https://mactracker.ca

or from Apple’s Mac App Store,

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/mactracker/id430255202

You can also get it for iOS (both the Mac and iOS versions contain the same information) from the iOS App Store,

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/mactracker/id311421597

I say it is “almost free” because the developer, who has been working on MacTracker for decades,

https://mactracker.ca/20-years/

has devoted vast amounts of time and energy to this endeavor. Say nice things to him; he’s Canadian.

Knowing what ports your Mac or iPhone or Newton has is only half the battle. The next challenge: cables and adapters. It is possible to plug (some) iPads into an external disk drive, but getting the right cables and adapters can be a challenge. An example: I recently could not understand why my Thunderbolt RAID would not work with my new M1-powered Mac mini. I ran a cable between the two, and it fit perfectly, but nothing happened.

The problem? I was using a USB-C cable, which looks almost identical to a Thunderbolt 4 cable. But while the connectors look the same, the USB-C cable lacks the chips inside the connectors that make them Thunderbolt 4 cables. Thunderbolt 4 cables are backward compatible with USB-C, but you can’t use a USB-C cable to connect two Thunderbolt 4 devices. There are also critical speed differences:

  • Thunderbolt 4 to USB 2.0 device (with adapter): maximum of 480 Mbps (in theory, 48 megabytes per second)
  • Thunderbolt 4 to USB 3.1 device (with adapter): maximum of 10 gigabytes per second
  • Thunderbolt 4 to USB 3.2 device (with adapter): maximum speed of 20 gigabytes per second
  • Thunderbolt 4 to Thunderbolt 4 device: maximum speed of 40 gigabytes per second

Once I grabbed the right cable, my Mac mini was very happy with the RAID, and the RAID was impressively fast. Fortunately, I both knew what the problem was, and I had the right cable.

If you lack such experience, I highly recommend you get a brand-new book, Take Control of Untangling Connections. While I haven’t purchased the book, the publisher has a free preview of the book,

and it looks like the perfect reference for those who haven’t spent half a century plugging computer equipment into things. The book is $9.99, and you can purchase and download a copy (in PDF, Kindle, or iBooks format) in one step:

https://www.takecontrolbooks.com/untangling/

 Not only does it tell you which cables do what, it also offers advice on how to reduce cable clutter. My personal record: I had a Mac IIfx once upon a time that had 11 devices plugged into it. One computer, 11 devices. The computer and peripherals spilled off the desk and onto two adjacent tables. Just periodic dusting was a major technical exercise.

Knowing what cables can be used to connect devices is critically important if you want to add a scanner or printer or external disk drive or you are trying to migrate older devices to a new machine. Invest in some reference material; it can save you tremendous amounts of time, and money.

Scams and the war in Ukraine 🇺🇦

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in an explosion of online scams, both from opportunists trying to divert donations to their own pockets as well as scams by Russian and Russian-allied hackers. DomainTools, a computer security firm that analyzes security threats at the domain level (strait-mac.org is a domain, cnn.com is a domain, whitehouse.gov is a domain), has tracked a rapid rise in the number of domains that mention some variation of “Ukraine,”

https://www.domaintools.com/resources/blog/threat-monitoring-newly-created-ukraine-related-domain-names

While not all such domains are scams, a surprising number are, and there are hundreds of them that try to mimic legitimate domains engaged in disaster relief, refugee issues, humanitarian relief, and other perfectly legitimate purposes.