Security researcher to illustrate MacBook batteries’ vulnerabilities to malware

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Date: Monday, July 25th, 2011, 04:19
Category: battery, News, security

In the category of “weird but interesting and mildly disturbing”, a prominent security researcher has discovered a vulnerability in the batteries of Apple’s MacBook line of portable computers that could allow hackers to ruin the batteries or install malware on them that could corrupt a Mac.

Per Forbes, Charlie Miller, a renowned white-hat hacker who works for security firm Accuvant, plans to reveal and offer a fix next month for a MacBook battery vulnerability he has discovered. Miller uncovered default passwords, which are used to access the microcontroller in Apple’s batteries, within a firmware update from 2009 and used them to gain access to the firmware.

Apple and other laptop makers use embedded chips in their lithium ion laptop batteries to monitor its power level, stop and start charging and regulate heat.

During the course of his tests, the researcher “bricked” seven batteries, rendering them unusable by rewriting the firmware. Of more concern is the possibility that hackers could use the vulnerability to install difficult to remove malware, or, in a worst case scenario, cause the batteries to explode.

“These batteries just aren’t designed with the idea that people will mess with them,” he said. “What I’m showing is that it’s possible to use them to do something really bad.” According to him, few IT administrators would think to check the battery, providing hackers with an opportunity to hide malicious software on a battery that could repeatedly implant itself on a computer.

Miller admitted that he hasn’t tried to blow up any batteries, but he did say it might be possible. “You read stories about batteries in electronic devices that blow up without any interference,” he noted. “If you have all this control, you can probably do it.”

Another researcher, Barnaby Jack, who works for antivirus software maker McAfee, also looked into the battery issue a couple years ago, but said he didn’t get as far as Miller did.

Miller, who is a regular winner of security contests demonstrating Mac, Safari and iPhone exploits, has notified Apple and Texas Instruments of the issue. Despite requests from several other researchers not to proceed, he plans to unveil the vulnerability, along with a fix he calls “Caulkgun,” at the Black Hat security conference next month.

“Caulk Gun” will change a battery’s default passwords to a random string of characters. While the fix will prevent hackers from breaking into the battery, it would also block any future firmware updates from Apple.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Perian 1.2.3 released

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Date: Monday, July 25th, 2011, 03:39
Category: News, Software

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Late Tuesday, the Perian team released version 1.2.3 of Perian, the open-source QuickTime components effort that allows QuickTime to support and play a variety of additional formats beyond what it would normally be able to handle.

The new version makes the following fixes and changes:
– AVI, FLV, and MKV file formats.

– MS-MPEG4 v1 & v2, DivX, 3ivX, H.264, FLV1, FSV1, VP6, H263I, VP3, HuffYUV, FFVHuff, MPEG1 & MPEG2 Video, Fraps, Windows Media Audio v1 & v2, Flash ADPCM, Xiph Vorbis (in Matroska), MPEG Layer II Audio.

– AVI support for: AAC, AC3 Audio, H.264, MPEG4, and VBR MP3.

– Subtitle support for SSA and SRT.

– Some Fraps videos only displayed black.

– Workaround checks for Front Row stopped being effective.

– Fixed compatibility with web video playback.

– Worked around System Preferences crashing during an update on 10.6.

– Further fixes to Matroska import.

Perian 1.2.3 is a 3.4 megabyte download and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later to install and run.

Apple to release Mac OS X 10.7 upgrade on USB thumb drives for August, will retail for $69

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Date: Thursday, July 21st, 2011, 12:51
Category: News, Software

If you’re hankering for your version of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion on a physical medium, Apple has announced that the company will release the on a USB thumb drive through its online store in August, but at a cost more than twice the price of the Mac App Store.

Apple revealed on Wednesday that Lion will be available on a USB thumb drive through its online store “later this August.” It will carry a price of US$69, or more than twice the US$29.99 cost of downloading Lion from the Mac App Store.

For users who do not have broadband access at home, work or school, Apple is also offering customers the ability to download the multi-gigabyte install at its retail stores immediately.

Those who opt to buy a new Mac won’t need to worry about downloading Lion from the Mac App Store, as all new computers sold by Apple will come preinstalled with the next-generation operating system. That includes already released devices, like the latest MacBook Pro and iMac, as well as Wednesday’s newly released hardware: MacBook Airs and Mac minis.

Apple releases iTunes 10.4 update

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Date: Thursday, July 21st, 2011, 04:38
Category: News, Software

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Among everything that was released and updated Wednesday, Apple also released iTunes 10.4, the latest version of its multimedia/jukebox application for Mac OS X. The new version, a 74 megabyte download, offers the following fixes and changes:

– iTunes 10.4 is now designed for OS X Lion. You can now use iTunes with OS X Lion’s new Full-Screen App capability, which allows you to use iTunes and other apps without distractions. Navigate between your full-screen apps with a simple gesture.

– iTunes is now a 64-bit Cocoa application on OS X Lion and includes a number of important stability and performance improvements. Some iTunes plug-ins may no longer be compatible with this version of iTunes. Please contact the plug-in developer for an updated plug-in compatible with iTunes 10.4.

iTunes 10.4 requires Mac OS X 10.5 or later to install and run.

Apple premieres Mac mini without optical drive

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Date: Thursday, July 21st, 2011, 03:59
Category: Mac mini, News

It’s not the end times, but it is a change.

For the first time ever, Apple’s new Mac mini models, released on Wednesday, lack an optical drive for CDs or DVDs, as the Mac maker continues to move away from physical formats like discs.

Per AppleInsider, Apple boasted in unveiling the new Mac mini hardware that the systems were “designed without an opitcal disc drive.” The company noted that the Mac mini can access optical drives on other PCs and Macs, and also works with the MacBook Air external SuperDrive accessory.

While the new Mac minis lack optical drives, they did gain Apple’s new high-speed Thunderbolt port, allowing it to connect to high-performance storage devices, RAID arrays, and the new 27-inch LED Thunderbolt display.

Apple began to move away from optical drives in its Mac lineup in 2008, when the first MacBook Air was released without any built-in disc reader. But the Air remained a relatively niche product in Apple’s lineup until 2010, when the product was redesigned to be thinner and lighter, and was expanded to screen sizes of both 11.6 inches and 13.3 inches, all at a lower price.

For those who bought last year’s MacBook Air, the notebook came with a USB reinstall drive for its built-in Snow Leopard operating system. Its inclusion eliminated the need for any optical media to restore the system.

Apple is moving away from legacy formats in favor of digital downloads, and is pushing its own Mac App Store as the default way to obtain software. Apple’s new operating system upgrade, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, launched on Wednesday exclusively on the Mac App Store.

If you’ve snagged the new Mac mini and have any feedback to offer, let us know in the comments.

Adobe releases Photoshop Elements 9 via Mac App Store

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Date: Wednesday, July 20th, 2011, 04:15
Category: News, Software

Amid all the hubbub about the arrival of Mac OS X Lion, Adobe has released a version of Photoshop Elements 9 for the Mac App Store.

Per MacCentral, the offering is Adobe’s first foray onto the Mac App Store, which many of Apple’s competitors have chosen to avoid.

The US$79.99 consumer-focused photo editor lacks the Adobe Elements Organizer that the version on Adobe’s website has, but otherwise has the same features. The 1.02GB download requires Mac OS X 10.6.6 and is available only in English.

According to Adobe, Photoshop Elements 9 is meant to “complement iPhoto” by offering more advanced photo editing tools, such as Group Shot, Panorama and Style Match Photomerge.

The software giant recently brought some of its Photoshop tools to iOS with a series of iPad apps. In addition to the Photoshop Express tool, Adobe offers Eazel, Color Lava and Nav apps for integrating with Adobe CS5.5.

For its part, Apple opened the Mac App Store for business in January with the release of Mac OS X 10.6.6. The company has moved aggressively to make the digital storefront the primary source for Mac software, as evidenced by Wednesday’s Mac App Store-exclusive launch of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

If you’ve snagged the new version of Photoshop Elements and have any feedback about it, let us know.

Apple confirms Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Migration Assistant update for Mac OS X 10.6 systems

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Date: Wednesday, July 20th, 2011, 04:53
Category: News, Software

Things to do today: Upgrade your operating system to Mac OS X 10.7.

Per AppleInsider, Apple confirmed that Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will launch on the Mac App Store on Wednesday.

The company also released Migration Assistant Update, allowing users to prepare their Mac for the update to Lion through the Mac App Store. The update is a 312kb download available via Software Update or direct from Apple.

“This update addresses an issue with the Migration Assistant application in Mac OS X Snow Leopard that prevents transfer of your personal data, settings, and compatible applications from a Mac running Mac OS X Snow Leopard to a new Mac running Mac OS X Lion,” the official description reads.

Apple has been holding off on the introduction of new Mac hardware until it finally releases Lion. The company had not previously not offered a specific launch date for the operating system, only promising that it will become available on the Mac App Store for US$29.99 at some point in July.

Signs of an impending launch continued appear as the week went on, with Lion said to have arrived at Apple retail stores on hard disks this week for installation on demo machines, and photos of promotional materials at third-party stores.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and if you have any feedback about the upgrade experience, please let us know.

Apple posts $7.31 billion profit for third quarter

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Date: Tuesday, July 19th, 2011, 13:44
Category: Finance, News

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A combination of record iPhone and iPad sales combined with continued growth of its Mac business pushed Apple to reported sales of US$28.57 billion and net profit of US$7.31 billion for the three-month period ended June 25, 2011.

Per Macworld, the sales and profit figures—both quarterly records—increased last year’s third-quarter performance by 82 percent and 125 percent, respectively. Apple reported earnings of US$7.79 per share, which beat analyst estimates of $5.85. Analysts had also been looking for Apple to reach US$24.92 billion in sales for the quarter—a figure the company topped by nearly US$4 billion.

“We are extremely pleased with the momentum of our business,” chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer told analysts during a conference call to discuss the earnings report on Tuesday. Oppenheimer noted that during its 2011 fiscal year, Apple has recorded US$35 billion in year-over-year revenue growth and US$9.5 billion in year-over-year earnings growth—increases of 78 percent and 99 percent, respectively.

Apple says it sold 20.34 million iPhones during the just-completed quarter, a 142 percent increase from the phones it sold during the same period last year. That’s also the most phones Apple has ever sold during a quarter, topping the 18.65 million mark set just three months ago.

The iPhone racked up strong sales despite Apple skipping its customary summer introduction of a new model, after releasing the iPhone 4 in the summer of 2010 and the iPhone 3GS the summer before that. The last new iPhone released by Apple was a CDMA version of the smartphone compatible with Verizon’s wireless network; that model came out in February. The long-awaited white version of the iPhone also shipped in April.

Apple sold 9.25 million iPads during the third quarter, the first full quarter of sales for the iPad 2, which arrived in March. Apple says its iPad sales topped last year’s figures by 183 percent. It also set a new record for quarterly iPad sales, besting the previous mark of 7.3 million during the 2010 holiday shopping season.

Mac sales rose 14 percent from last year, with Apple selling 3.95 million computers. That’s a record for the third quarter, Oppenheimer said. Growth of Mac sales also outpaced market-research firm IDC’s forecasted PC market growth by more than four times, Apple pointed out.

The quarter saw Apple introduce new iMacs with quad-core processors, improved graphics, and Thunderbolt connectivity. All told, Apple sold 1.15 million desktops, accounting for about 30 percent of the Macs sold during the quater. The company sold 2.79 million portable Macs during the quarter, with the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air driving those sales, according to Oppenheimer.

iPod sales continued to decline from the heights of previous years. Apple says it sold 7.54 million iPods, a 20 percent drop from last year, though Oppenheimer said that was above the company’s expectations. The iPod touch accounts for about half of all iPods sold, according to Apple’s figures.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

VirtualBox updated to 4.1.0

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Date: Tuesday, July 19th, 2011, 05:07
Category: News, Software

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VirtualBox, an open source x86 virtualization project available for free has just hit version 4.1.0. The new version, a 82.8 megabyte download, sports the following list of fixes and changes:

– Support for cloning of VMs (bug #5853, see the manual for more information): full clones can be created through the GUI and VBoxManage, linked clones only through VBoxManage.

– GUI: enhanced wizard for creating new virtual disks.

– GUI: new wizard for copying virtual disks.

– GUI: keep the aspect ratio in scale mode (Windows and OSX hosts only; bug #7822).

– VMM: raised the memory limit for 64-bit hosts to 1TB.

– Experimental support for PCI passthrough for Linux hosts, see the manual for more information.

– Windows guests: Experimental WDDM graphics driver, supporting Windows Aero (bug #4607) and providing
– Direct3D support using a cleaner approach (no need to install the guest drivers in Safe Mode anymore).

– Guest Additions: status of modules and features can now be queried separately by the frontends.

– Networking: new network attachment mode “Generic Driver”, which offers an open plugin architecture for arbitrary and separately distributable virtual network implementations.

– Host-only Networking: fixed host crash in kernels prior to 2.6.29.

– New Networking Mode UDP Tunnel: allows to interconnect VMs running on different hosts easily and transparently, see the manual for more information.

– Experimental support for SATA hard disk hotplugging available with VBoxManage.

– Solaris hosts: New Crossbow based bridged networking driver for Solaris 11 build 159 and above.

VirtualBox 4.1.0 is available for free and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later and an Intel-based Mac to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback, please let us know.

Rumor: Apple slated to release Mac OS X 10.7, next-gen MacBook Air on Wednesday

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Date: Tuesday, July 19th, 2011, 05:49
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor, Software

It’s the rumor mill that keeps life interesting…

Per AppleInsider, Apple could launch both its Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and its widely anticipated Thunderbolt-equipped MacBook Air notebooks on Wednesday.

According to sources with proven track records, the new product launches are set to occur later this week. Specifically, one person said the products would be released on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

The latest details align with what rumors that have been circulating this month, when it reported that new MacBook Air models with backlit keyboards and Thunderbolt ports would launch the week of July 21.

Those details were reaffirmed late last week in a separate report that corroborated other details, including the fact that Apple is expected to do away with the entry-level 64GB solid-state flash hard drive option. Instead, the new MacBook Airs are expected to have a minimum of 128GB in capacity.

The new notebooks, according to Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, are also expected to come with 4GB of RAM as the standard. That extra memory will allow the systems to better run Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple’s next-generation operating system, also said to become available this week.

Apple has been holding off on the introduction of new Mac hardware until it finally releases Lion. Apple has not offered a specific launch date for the operating system, only promising that it will become available on the Mac App Store for US$29.99 at some point in July.

A few weeks ago, Apple began undertaking preparatory measures to unveil Lion. While it was initially believed that the operating system could have gone on sale as soon as last week, there have been rumors of last-minute holdups associated with the logistics and infrastructure related to Apple’s switch to a digital distribution method through the Mac App Store.

The Golden Master of Lion was seeded to developers on July 1. The term “Golden Master” means that the software is viewed as a final build that will be identical to the software released to the general public.

While Lion and the new MacBook Air models are said to be set to launch this week, there has been no specific indication given regarding any other hardware. However, Apple provided its own evidence of a forthcoming refresh to its LED Cinema Display last week, when it posted images on its site showing a Thunderbolt-equipped display with the new part number “MC914.”

Supply of Apple’s white MacBook has also been severely constrained since late June, suggesting a change to the product could be forthcoming. Since then, there has been no indication of an imminent hardware refresh.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.