Intego Mac Security Podcast

When Should You Not Update Your Mac to the Latest Version of macOS? – Intego Mac Podcast Episode 336

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“Update-a-phobia”. When do potential bugs in new system software updates outweigh the safety of new security patches? Apple faces a class action lawsuit that complains about its iCloud and backup limitations. And what will the iOS landscape look like if Apple has to permit third-party app stores throughout the world?

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Transcript of Intego Mac Podcast episode 336

Voice Over 0:00
This is the Intego Mac Podcast—the voice of Mac security—for Thursday, March 21 2024.

This week’s Intego Mac Podcast security headlines include: “Update-a-phobia”. When do potential bugs in new system software updates outweigh the safety of new security patches? Apple faces a class action lawsuit that complains about its iCloud and backup limitations. And what will the iOS landscape look like if Apple has to permit third party app stores throughout the world? Now here are the hosts of the Intego Mac Podcast, veteran Mac journalist, Kirk McElhearn and Intego’s. Chief Security Analyst, Josh Long.

Kirk McElhearn 0:47
Good morning, Josh. How are you today?

Josh Long 0:49
I’m doing well. How are you Kirk?

Kirk McElhearn 0:50
I’m doing just fine. Do you know what today is?

Josh Long 0:52
What is today?

Kirk McElhearn 0:54
Today is March 20. It is the Spring Solstice. We are officially in Spring or it’s sometime today. We will officially be in Spring. But didn’t you tell me that there’s something else today? Some kind of anniversary?

The 20th Anniversary Macintosh was announced twenty-seven years ago

Josh Long 1:04
Ah, well, I know that this week was the anniversary the 27th anniversary of the Apple 20th Anniversary Macintosh.

Kirk McElhearn 1:14
27th anniversary. Okay, that’s a big round number, isn’t it?

Josh Long 1:18
Yeah. It’s not the most round number. But you know, if you haven’t heard of the 20th Anniversary, Macintosh, this is a little piece of Apple history. It was in kind of an awkward point in Apple’s history where I think Steve Jobs had just come back. And Gil Amelio was the CEO, right? (Yeah, I think so.) And so they had this weird Interplay on stage, and it was a whole thing. But the 20th Anniversary Macintosh is kind of interesting in design, because it had a flat screen with, by the way, a very small LCD screen. And it was vertical. So it’s sort of similar in some ways to the modern flat screen iMacs, except obviously, it had a significantly smaller screen. And kind of a weird design. It was it was, I guess, futuristic in a way. If you consider that eventually, Apple would move to all the components being put into the screen, like we have with the iMac today.

Kirk McElhearn 2:18
Yeah, it was actually released on March 20 1997. And we’re recording on March 20th. So boom, it’s the day. The interesting thing about the 20th Anniversary Mac. It was a limited edition. So I’m looking on Wikipedia, it says it was initially predicted to cost $9,000, the price was reduced to 7499. In the middle of the machine’s lifespan, Apple dropped the price further to around 3500. And finally, upon discontinuation in March 1999. it was set to US1995. That’s a big drop. And this was a limited edition. So that means that people didn’t buy it. Not many people buy it. I knew someone who had it in France, someone I worked with, and it was cool. He liked it. Now, there was this story about a direct to door concierge delivery service with someone in white gloves. And I don’t know if that actually happened or if it happened to everyone. But when you think about it did presage the iMac. It was, as you say, a flat screen. I’ll link in the show notes to the Wikipedia article. It had a flat screen it had a keyboard with a trackpad that went into the keyboard, the keyboards kind of hokey. It was just basically a PowerBook keyboard that they put on a normal keyboard. It wasn’t a desktop keyboard. It had a remote control. It had a subwoofer. It had speakers built in and had a CD player built in. It was quite advanced for the time. But I want to say it was ugly. It was really ugly.

Josh Long 3:40
Yeah. And part of the reason why it had such a small screen is the way that it was designed, it had these two speakers that went along each side that went from top to bottom. And so both of the sides were these giant speakers, right. So like they were trying to really make this the, you know, the modern, you know, it’s got better audio than most computers have built in. And yeah, but they really had to sacrifice a lot on that screen though, right, especially by today’s standards. Like we look at the screen and we go oh my gosh, like people use the screen that size. That’s crazy.

Security advantages need to be thoughtfully weighed against anecdotal bug reports when updating system software

Kirk McElhearn 4:19
Well, people today who don’t remember the early Macintosh and particularly the Macintosh Plus, which was kind of the one that broke out, don’t remember what it was like to use such a small screen. It’s almost embarrassing when you look at design of later Mac’s because the screen itself takes up less than half of the space of that vertical slab. Anyway, it’s a weird anniversary. It’s not around number you’d mentioned this to me before the show because you saw at some place. We’ll do a special episode on this for the 30th anniversary. So stay tuned in three years. So we’ve had more than 68 vulnerabilities in macOS Sonoma 14.4. And we talked about this in the last episode. And some people have come out and said you shouldn’t upgrade to MacOS Sonoma four 14.4 And I saw this on Twitter, I believe it was yesterday, you were reacting to a MacRumors article said, don’t update, don’t update, it’s bad. And you were saying, Well, it’s kind of bad not to. And this has actually brought up some interesting questions of, let’s say you have mission critical software, should you not update if it breaks. And that’s the problem here is that it breaks a number of things, including Java. But you’ve got security risks. So how do you balance the need to run certain software on a computer and the security risks of not updating?

Josh Long 5:33
That’s right, some people are actually recommending that you avoid upgrading to MacOS Sonoma 14.4, including the company, Oracle, which makes Java and they’re telling people don’t upgrade, you won’t be able to run your Java apps. Not that there’s probably a lot of people running Java apps. But you know, maybe in an office environment, maybe you’ve got some legacy app that or some cross platform app, that’s maybe an internal app that you use at your company, and they just decided to write it in Java, so that it would run on a bunch of different systems. You know, but Java is not shipped with macOS for a very long time. And it’s not common that you would install Java on your Mac today. So I don’t think that particular thing affects a lot of people. But you also have articles like MacRumors, that are kind of almost implying that you really shouldn’t even upgrade in the first place because of these five bugs.

Kirk McElhearn 6:31
Just for those who don’t understand, please explain the difference between Java and JavaScript.

Josh Long 6:36
Ah, yes. Okay. So they’re entirely different things. In spite of the name. JAVA script is a scripting technology that runs in every browser. Every modern browser has JavaScript. Usually, it’s enabled by default, because most web pages use JavaScript to render a lot of things on the page. And also to make side components and you know, buttons and things like that work properly. Menus and, and other things like that typically use JavaScript as well. Java is an entirely different thing. It’s a programming environment that is used to make apps that run cross platform. And it was very popular decades ago, it’s not as commonly used anymore. And most modern apps today, typically apps will we use some other cross platform code base or environment instead. But Java is still around, and you can still get apps that are coded in Java that run cross platform. So you could basically take a Java app and run it on a Mac, or run it on a Windows PC or wherever you want to run it. Well, except for iOS, of course.

Kirk McElhearn 7:43
And you’ll go back in time, and it will look like 1995.

Josh Long 7:47
Yeah, Java apps do not look very modern. But that’s the one thing that they’ve got going for them is that they work cross platform.

Kirk McElhearn 7:53
Okay, we’re going to link to the MacRumors article. And I want to point out one thing, it talks about iCloud Drive, how it destroys saved versions. So you may not even know this, but your Mac saves versions of files when you save it. And you can go back and look through the versions. And this is a very useful feature that really, Apple never talks about people should know about. This is a problem if you have optimized Mac storage turned on. And this is something that is definitely not recommended. The idea of optimized Mac storage is you can put a lot of your files in iCloud and not have them in your Mac and only download them when you need them. But this leads to all sorts of problems with files that are called packages, which an application is a package it looks like a single item. But inside there’s a lot of stuff. And there are apps that create files that are packages, and all the elements might not download when you’re using optimized Mac storage. And this can cause issues, I would recommend to not use it, I would recommend that if you have too many files on your Mac, that you need to put some in iCloud put them on an external drive because this has always been a problematic feature.

Josh Long 8:57
Another issue that people were worried about with Mac was Sonoma 14.4 Is that apparently some people are having connectivity issues with USB hubs, which can also include sometimes monitors that have their own USB ports built in. Even though it’s not called a hub, it’s just a monitor. But that functionality is basically a USB hub. So it’s a way that you can plug in a USB device and have it work with your computer, even though it’s actually your monitor that’s connected to your computer. Another thing is supposedly some printer drivers are becoming corrupted in some cases. So if you’re worried about those things, I would say read the MacRumors article. If you haven’t upgraded yet, then read the MacRumors article and you can kind of wave for yourself whether you think it’s worth getting all the security benefits including by the way too known exploited vulnerabilities that were patched in 14.4 or whether you might want to wait until 14 point 4.1 comes out, which presumably will fix a lot of these bugs.

Kirk McElhearn 9:59
There. isn’t worth spending time on this is every time there’s a major update, people say, don’t update for this reason that reason. And you always need to weigh the security versus the problems you may have. It’s hard to rollback an update unless you’ve made a backup or have a time machine backup, and you can reinstall everything before, but you shouldn’t just say, Oh, I’m not going to update because someone’s saying there’s problems if, if you don’t use Java, don’t use optimized Mac storage, and all these things, these known problems won’t affect you.

Josh Long 10:30
And more often, I see people say this, whenever there’s a brand new iOS version that comes out, so like when iOS 17, came out there, like, should you upgrade to iOS 17? Well, yeah, da, Will, you’re gonna get tons of new features, you’re gonna get tons of vulnerability fixes that are never going to be back ported to iOS 16. And you should always upgrade basically, you should always upgrade to latest major new version of an operating system. And there are occasionally issues where yes, there might be a few bugs. But if there are any bugs, they usually get worked out within a small version, or two. So like, for example, a point one or point one update will often fix those kind of bugs. And so typically, you don’t really need to worry about those kinds of things when you’re upgrading to a major new operating system, especially on an iPhone or iPad.

Apple now provides a Manuals, Specs and Downloads webpage

Kirk McElhearn 11:23
Okay, we want to give a shout out to a new Apple, a new section of Apple’s support website, it is the “Manuals, Specs and Downloads” page, it is at and finally, Apple has organized all this stuff, by device type, so Mac, iPad, Apple TV, etc, including software. And if you click on software, you see things like iOS 9 and iDVD, you can literally download I DVD 7.1 point two, which must be 20 years old, you can download a version of iTunes 9, more than just that it’s got manuals and tech specs. And sometimes you want to know the tech specs of a device, whether it’s an old one or a new one. This will help you perhaps identify an old device that you have. Look at this, all the iPods are listed every one from I want to say from the first one, if I click show more, yep, every single iPod is listed down to the very beginning. So either if you need documentation for new Apple stuff, and Apple has been in recent years doing these wonderful user manuals online, that are formatted, so you can read them on any device, iPhone, iPad, or iMac. So if you need to use a manual, you can get it. But if you want to look at some apple device history, you can look back at all the devices here and find out the tech specs. And you know, I’m going to see if I can find the 20th anniversary Mac.

Josh Long 12:44
By the way, this is actually a really fun page. And so I would recommend checking this out. Even if you don’t really care about reading all the dorky nerdy details about the devices. It’s still really fun to browse through this. By the way, they have a section called Vision. It’s not called Vision Pro. It’s called Vision and they list one product they’re called Apple vision Pro. You know what, this is not the first time that Apple has hinted that they’re probably working on some non Pro versions of Apple vision. So yeah, I would expect that at some point in the future, whether it’s this year or next year, I don’t know. But Apple is probably working on a non pro version of Apple vision.

Kirk McElhearn 13:23
Okay, we’re gonna think about that while we take a break. When we come back, we’re gonna have some more Apple news.

Voice Over 13:30
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Class action lawsuit hits Apple on iCloud storage limitations

Kirk McElhearn 14:45
So in the first part, we were talking about iCloud with this problem with MacOS Sonoma 14.4. A couple of weeks ago Apple was hit with a class action lawsuit about the iCloud five gigabyte limit and iPhone backup restrictions. I don’t know how many times I’ve said on this podcast that Apple needs to increase that five gigabyte limit, which Apple’s had since 2001, when they introduced iCloud, and don’t you think people have more files and lots more photos in the library and more devices that own more devices. And one of the reasons for this lawsuit is that you have no choice other than iCloud to backup your devices. And you have to pay Apple for additional storage. So if you have, I want to say Dropbox or something else or your own server, you can’t backup your devices on why now you can still backup an iPhone or an iPad by connecting it to a computer, right? But it’s not the same. It’s a manual process somewhat longer. I know all my devices backup overnight to iCloud, and I don’t have to worry about it. But I do agree that there should be either more storage or there should be a way to backup to other areas because we use the word monopoly, they have a monopoly on how you can backup your iPhone and iPad if you don’t have a home computer. And that five gigabytes. I mean, it hurts if you have one device. It’s not enough if you have 10 devices. Well, 10 If you have three or four devices, which many of us do, it’s useless.

Josh Long 16:08
I do think that Apple should definitely increase the minimum storage. Five gigabytes is really ridiculous, especially if you have more than one device. five gigabytes just just is not going to cut it. And you know, at the same time, does it really make sense to me that people are suing Apple over this?

Kirk McElhearn 16:29
Not really well, there’s a certain amount of opportunism here, right. But it is a way of bringing this to the fore, you know, Apple being hit with all these requirements by regulatory agents in the EU are making people look a lot more closely at things like this. And this is sort of monopoly, you can only backup the files to our thing. And you got to pay if you want enough storage, when you think about it. The free tier is five gigabytes. The next tier up at 50 gigabytes is 99 cents a month, they’re nickel and diming people to get that 50 gigabytes, they can’t be making that much money. But anyone who seriously cares about their data is going to be paying that extra buck a month, which is kind of ridiculous. Now, if you do have an apple one subscription, then they roll it in. So that’s a different story. But it’s like it’s forcing people to pay a buck a month, just for something they shouldn’t have to pay for. All right, rant over. So we talked about the Cyber Trust Mark back in August in Episode 303. And this is a security mark that is a different organization. It’s voluntary, both of them. But it’s going a step further than the cyber trust mark with a number of requirements.

Voluntary standards labeling comes closer to fruition

Josh Long 17:38
You have this is sort of weird, because now we’ve got a couple of basically competing standards, even though they claim to not compete with each other. The CSA is the Connectivity Standards Alliance. And then you’ve got also the US Cyber trust mark. That’s the one that we talked about before. And so they’re supposedly not competing with each other. But this new one goes a step further taking all of the US Cyber Trustmark requirements, and adding some additional baseline cybersecurity features that they’re going to be looking for from similar programs that they’re so they’re kind of adopting some of the ideas from Singapore and Europe some of the standards that they have, and sort of bringing them all together and trying to make one unified, Mark, I guess. So you could potentially use the new Connectivity Standards Alliance mark, instead of the US Cyber Trust Mark, because it incorporates more things into the standard.

Kirk McElhearn 18:34
My question is how many people are going to care, because if you go on Amazon to buy a smart bulb, or a camera or something, you may not pay attention to any of this. And particularly if you’re not seeing a physical product, you may not know if this exists now, retailers like Amazon will have to specify that this exists. So consumers know about it. But most people, you know, we’re we’re talking as Amazon just watched their spring sales or whatever, five days of sales, and there’s all sorts of dreck on sale, and tons of smart home devices from Chinese knockoff companies. And I’m sure that none of them are secure and tons of them are going to sell well.

Josh Long 19:11
And the other problem that there is with something like this is that it’s voluntary. So you don’t have to put this label on your product. And so some people may have a very secure product and just haven’t either, you know, they’re not aware of it, or they didn’t really think people, consumers would really care about it. And so they just didn’t stick the label on their product. And so you may have a product that has better security than somebody else who has decided to stick this label on their product. And then of course on marketplaces like Amazon, you very well may have knockoff products that put a fake label on their product. And it’s not actually cyber trust or CSA verified or whatever. It might actually just be putting a fake label on there and they might get away with it for quite some time before Amazon decides that this is a real problem, and they got to kick them off the store.

Kirk McElhearn 20:05
I think when we talked about this in August, we suggested that there needed to be a database online, so that you could confirm products, that every product has a barcode, right, and a QR code. So you can go to this government website or whatever that was sold the products. The problem is, it’s only certain people who are going to be aware of this. But the security conscious people who are aware of this will pay attention to it. And those are the ones who care the most. And that will slowly snowball into more businesses using this, I hope. Personally, I don’t buy cheap, Chinese knockoff smart lightbulbs, I buy Philips Hue, just because I’ve got a Philips Hue system. And I’ve had it for years, supposedly these these light bulbs should outlive me, by the way, so I may never need any again. But when you’re looking for some new device, this could be a differentiator for people who are security savvy, right?

Josh Long 20:57
Even if you have a label on your device, like there needs to be some way that you can look up to see whether that exact product actually has that certification, right. And so probably this is going to be a QR code. So you scan this with your phone, and then it takes you to a website. Or maybe if you have an app install that would open directly in an app and give you some more details. There’s an HDMI certification by the way that has its own custom app, and you use that app to scan the label. And so they could do something kind of like that. But the problem with this is that if you’re scanning a QR code, it You know, chances are it’s bouncing you to a website. And what if somebody sticks a little sticker over the top of that QR code and you didn’t notice that you’re actually scanning a malicious QR code. It’s just like QR codes are a whole mess of their own, that I kind of wish weren’t part of this equation. But at the same time, it’s also important to be able to look up that information for yourself and verify that you know, this manufacturer is going to be releasing security updates for their product through a given date, at least you want to know that ideally, before you buy one of these products.

Why is Apple hesitant to permit Android-like app loading on iOS?

Kirk McElhearn 22:10
Okay, we’ve been talking about the DMA, the digital markets Act and the European Union that rolled out recently, and we’re linking to an Article Nine to five Mac entitled Apple worries DMA has lowered the cost of iPhone exploits. And they talk about an interview with Gary Davis, Apple’s data protection officer, who is saying things like what we’re concerned about, and what can also be read in the white paper, a link to that in the show notes is that the costs for an attack on iOS could decrease. That’s because of the the new potential ways to attack users. This can be done via alternative marketplaces or alternative payment methods. It’s possible we’ll see attacks we’ve never seen before. The costs of developing an iOS exploit are still very high. Our team at security lab is trying to make those quests higher and higher. So it isn’t worth it for attackers to target iOS. Now, are there any models of smartphone operating systems where third party app stores exists? And people can download apps and sideload them? And there hasn’t been an app apocalypse? I’m scratching my head. Josh, can you help me here?

Josh Long 23:12
Isn’t there like something called Android? I feel like yeah, there’s something like that that exists out there. And they’ve had the ability to have not only third party app stores, but also you can download an app from a website, you can download an app on your computer inside loaded onto your phone. Apple’s making some interesting arguments here, basically. So what it really boils down to you can compare the iPhone to both of the Macintosh or Mac, right. And you can also compare it to Android phones. They’re very different things. And but I kind of understand like the desire to kind of compare it to both things like if you’re a Mac user, you know that you can download an app from any source. Yeah, that also means that there’s the possibility of malware. But you can’t do that on an iPhone, you’ve never really been able to do that on an iPhone. I would argue that kind of technically, when the iPhone first came out, the first way that you could install third party apps was web apps that you basically went to the website, and it said, Oh, hey, you can put this on your desktop. And then it would be just really a, what we call today progressive web app, right? That’s essentially what third party apps were back in the day on iOS, back when it was iPhone OS, I think is what they call it at the time. And so you kind of have something like that. But it’s entirely different from an actually downloading an app that runs code directly on your device, not through a web browser, and is able to use system calls and other things like that. So sideloading apps really, it gives apps a much deeper integration with the features that the operating system has.

Kirk McElhearn 24:59
So here’s a very important distinction on the Mac, you can download apps from anywhere and run them now, you can download unsigned apps, apps where it the developers made them without a developer’s account, you kind of have to run through hoops to be able to run them. But it’s entirely possible. It’s not like a hack. But one of the differences on the Mac is that you can install Intego Virus Barrier X9 and be protected from malware. On the iPhone, you can’t install anything to be protected from malware. Now, if they’re talking about the possibility of these web apps or other apps with third party app stores, being malicious and not offering any way to protect against it, then that seems to be that they’re missing a beat here.

Josh Long 25:40
This is kind of a big problem right now, with iOS, especially now that we’re moving into this new world where in the EU, you can get apps from other sources, right? Right. Now, Apple is not required to allow you to install an app from any source. Like in order to get an app from a third party source you have, they have to have an app store that’s approved by Apple. And then you can get an app from that third party app store. There’s no way right now, to get some Well, no officially Apple sanctioned way right now, I should say, to get an app from any other source besides either Apple’s official app store, or specifically in the EU, a third party app store that’s been approved by Apple.

Kirk McElhearn 26:29
And I think that other countries, having seen what the EU is done, are likely to follow in their footsteps. Now Apple has developed a whole complex system, we’re going to link to this white paper that Apple has released, which is entitled, complying with the digital markets act, Apple’s efforts to protect users security and privacy in the European Union. It won’t be long before regulators and other countries see this and say, well, Apple’s already figured this out. They don’t have to do any work for us to impose this. And I’m thinking of the United States. And I’m thinking of maybe some other countries who might want to not see Apple having this stranglehold on iOS, and, you know, androids not being attacked for this new European Union, because they’ve been open, as you say, for years. And they’ve third party app stores, and you can download apps from websites. It’s just a matter of time before this takes off every learn Apple is going to have to relent.

Josh Long 27:19
Well remember, you can also have antivirus software that protects your entire system on Android, because it’s an open platform. And because Google doesn’t put arbitrary restrictions on categories of apps, you can actually have antivirus software that protects your entire device on the Android platform. You can’t do that at all on iOS. And Apple’s argument against this has kind of been well, there’s no malware for iOS, because we vet all the apps and we make sure that there will never be malware available for iOS because we run the app store, or now, because we personally vet all these apps before they are available to you even if they’re outside of Apple’s preferred policies, we may still be able to get things like individual files, scanner, malware scanners, or from third party app stores, you may be able to get things like emulators, Gameboy emulators, etc. from third party app stores. Apple doesn’t have to agree with the content, because now they do have this notarization process that you have to go through as a developer, where Apple does still manually review it, just to make sure that it doesn’t have malware, and then it can be available in a third party store. But there’s still this problem, though, because we know Apple itself recently has not been doing a very good job of vetting apps. And well, you know, now you’re gonna have third parties that are also responsible for vetting apps. So we’ll have to see but I think at some point, especially if Apple is required at some point, to specifically allow side loading of apps outside of an any kind of app store ecosystem, then we’re going to get to the point where it’s really really going to be necessary to have third party antivirus available on iOS.

Kirk McElhearn 29:15
Okay, that’s enough for this week. Until next week, just stay secure.

Josh Long 29:19
All right, stay secure.

Voice Over 29:22
Thanks for listening to the Intego Mac podcast, the voice of Mac security with your host, Kirk McElhearn and Josh Long. To get every weekly episode, be sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts, or subscribe in your favorite podcast app. And, if you can, leave a rating, a like or review. Links to topics and information mentioned in the podcast can be found in the show notes for the episode at The Intego website is also where to find details on the full line of Intego security and utility software.

About Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about Apple products and more on his blog Kirkville. He is co-host of the Intego Mac Podcast, as well as several other podcasts, and is a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS, and several other websites and publications. Kirk has written more than two dozen books, including Take Control books about Apple's media apps, Scrivener, and LaunchBar. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →