You’ll sleep better after this update
Jeff Carlson alerts readers to an urgent encryption security update and discusses a useful app for those wanting to access one or more Macs from an iPad.
Special to The Seattle Times
When an operating-system update is released, it’s generally good practice to wait for a few days to see if any unexpected bugs have crept in (and, of course, make sure you have good backups).
But I’m making an exception and turning that advice on its head. Last week Apple released important security updates for the software that runs Macs and devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
The problem stemmed from a small programming error that had big implications. Because of an extra line of code, a connection using SSL/TSL (a standard for encrypting data between two points, such as from your computer to your bank’s website) was not actually secured. That left devices open to attackers who could retrieve the data between the two points.
To apply the update on an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 7, go to Settings > General > Software Update to install iOS 7.0.6.
On a Mac, click the Apple menu and choose Software Update to download and install OS X 10.9.2 Mavericks. If you’re running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or OS X 10.7 Lion, the issue doesn’t affect you.
However, running Software Update will reveal Security Update 2014-001, which addresses a host of other security vulnerabilities. Apple has apparently stopped updating Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and earlier versions for security vulnerabilities.
(You also can find those updates as stand-alone downloads at support.apple.com/downloads/, which also includes a 10.9.2 Combo update if you haven’t already updated to version 10.9.1.)
Not coincidentally, Apple released a white paper detailing the security aspects of iOS (images.apple.com/iphone/business/docs/iOS_Security_Feb14.pdf).
The OS X 10.9.2 update delivers several other improvements, such as long-awaited fixes to the Mail app for issues that have vexed users (and your humble columnist) for months. It also adds FaceTime audio and, as a result, the ability to block numbers or email addresses to the Messages app.
Access to other Macs: Speaking of making connections, I’ve recently adopted a new method of accessing and controlling other Macs. That sounds nefarious, but it’s rooted in a real need.
First, I’m responsible for four Macs at my house (laptops for my wife and me, plus two Mac minis I use for testing and hosting media files) that aren’t always in front of me. In fact, the Mac minis are both connected to one monitor that’s usually powered off.
When I’m at my Mac, I use Stefan Klieme’s $1.99 ScreenSharingMenulet (www.klieme.com/ScreenSharingMenulet.html) to quickly access the built-in Screen Sharing app in OS X.
However, I’m finding myself more often needing to connect to a computer when I’m not at my Mac. For example, while I was at my daughter’s swim lesson with just my iPad recently, I realized I needed to email some files to an editor. The files were stored in my Dropbox folder, so it was possible to use the Dropbox app to generate links and ask the editor to download the documents. But since it was my fault that I’d forgotten to attach the files in the first place (sadly, a common occurrence) I didn’t want to make more work for her.
So I fired up Edovia’s Screens app ($19.99, edovia.com/en/screens.html) and in a few seconds I was controlling my MacBook Pro via the iPad.
The interface in Screens is clean and straightforward, but most important it just works, in my experience. It uses the oft-used VNC (Virtual Network Computing) network protocol to share and control the computer, but a free ScreensConnect utility installed on my machines removes the friction of making sure the appropriate network ports are open and routable from outside my network.
That fact alone makes Screens great for connecting to other computers, like those owned by my parents and in-laws. In the past, controlling my mother-in-law’s computer for troubleshooting involved coordinating a screen-sharing session in iChat and Messages. I also occasionally used LogMeIn (logmein.com), but the company recently ended its free access, and I didn’t use it enough to justify upgrading to a paid-service tier.
Now, I can pop in and check on something when my mother-in-law has a question, even in the middle of the night when I’m up late.
Screens also connects to Windows and Linux PCs, and works on the iPhone as well as the iPad (though I prefer using the latter for its larger screen real estate). A separate Screens app for the Mac ($29.99) offers the same functions; it’s not useful when I’m on my home network, but great if I need to connect when I’m at a coffee shop or elsewhere with my MacBook Pro.
Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.
About Practical Mac | Jeff Carlson
Mac owners, this is for you. Practical Mac explores Apple's new software offerings, hardware upgrades and more. Appears every other Saturday.