Securing your Dessert

(C) Depositphotos / belchonock

I have a joy/frustration relationship with Apple.  Their products are amazing and have changed my life, and at the same time some of their design decisions and choices are user hostile (dongles).  Their software usually just works, but when it doesn’t, well, you get Siri. On one point though, their heart – and code – is in the right place, and that’s with security and privacy, so kudos Apple: Mojave certainly isn’t a barren desert – it’s a good dessert when it comes to security and privacy.

In their upcoming releases, Apple is doing a number of things to dramatically improve security and privacy.  Safari will now take steps to prevent ‘fingerprinting’ by returning only generic configuration information, and by blocking the tracking embedded in comments and social media buttons.  They’re also removing social media account integration into the OS.  Both those are big changes that provide passive protection against invasive tracking.

Other changes include a really nice password API for tools like 1Password(my password manager of choice and recommendation).  The built-in tools are ok, but I’d rather have a purpose built solution, and Apple’s now putting that choice into our hands. There’s camera and microphone warnings, end-to-end facetime encryption and a lot of other small refinements too.

One of the more controversial changes is that they will now block USB data access starting one hour after a passcode was last entered.  That renders Greykey and similar devices useless – it’s a class-protection feature, rather than whacking the specific bug currently exploited.  Without getting into the policy issue of law enforcement back doors – after all math is hard and unforgiving (that’s why gravity is not just a good idea, it’s the law) – this is a protection that we all want. Why?  Because it’s only a matter of time before a Greykey is stolen and reverse engineered.  Then we get a dark-web service ‘Send us the stolen device, and we’ll send you the data back’.  No thanks.

What else would I like to see?  An option to, after initial connections (e.g. to a captive portal), change my DNS servers to Quad 9 or for further tracking and malware protection (I recommend Quad 9 by the way).  Split DNS would be even better – use the network provided one for local traffic, but a standard one for all other queries.    While we can do that on home routers, it’s a real problem when on cellular data.

I’d also like to see an iOS application outbound firewall.  I really don’t want my games sending data back, and while I can block it on cellular, I can’t on wifi.  That’s been an outstanding request in their queue for years.

A bigger stretch (because the content providers would probably freak out) as a separate paid service, would be an iCloud based VPN that ‘just works’ to protect against ISP eavesdropping, tracking, and HTML injection.  The ultimate would be an Apple search engine that doesn’t monetize search data.  Just please don’t have Siri do it, or we’re likely to get a Beatle’s album when we’re looking for information on apple pie recipes J.

Seriously, Apple’s gone a long way to making security consumable by everyone, not just those who have the time and inclination to follow (or build) their own recipe.  Kudos to the company, and particularly to Tim Cook for building a business model of serving customers instead of exploiting consumers. That’s a big reason why I recommend Apple  products to my family and friends – secure apple pie makes a great dessert.

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