Security

Advertising

One thing I have been fascinated by in recent weeks is online advertising. Now most of us, particularly Millennials having grown up constantly bombarded by advertising in some form, have pretty negative feelings towards online advertising. Whether it's an auto-playing video on a website, pop-ups or big flashing banner saying that we are the 1,000,000th visitor to the site and have won a prize. It is getting to the point now with some sites that you now have to work to find the genuine content on the page and not the ads. 

Apple has now created a huge buzz around ad blocking by adding ad blocking capabilities to iOS 9. This coupled with a report by Cyphort that says that advertising malware (adverts that either open up multiple windows, reassign home pages or install unwanted toolbars) has tripled in the last year, would lead any sane person to at least consider using an ad blocker. This has even led some cellular carriers to look at blocking ads at a network level. Shine, a company that works with carriers to block ads, claims that ads can use up to 50% of a customer's data plan. So combine the nuisance of ads appearing and interrupting a user's connection with content and the potential cost linked to mobile data, it could easily be inferred that adverts are a blight on the internet that needs to be removed. 

For a long time I took a cynical view that anyone who posted adverts on blogs, articles or videos was just trying to make as much money as possible. This made me steer clear on anything that had sponsored or ad attached to it, but a recent pop up on ‘Cult of Mac’ had me thinking differently. 

Cult of Mac Ad Blocker.jpg

Some websites rely on advertising to pay for their content, and worryingly, it is usually those who do impartial reviews. This leads me to begin to worry that soon all the content on the web will be backed by someone who has a vested interest in a positive outcome or linking content to making a sale. This becomes even more worrying with the growth of native advertising, advertising that is specifically designed to look like website content. This has had to be made more visible by the words ‘Ad or Sponsored by’ being attached to the content, this differentiates it from genuine site content. John Dvorak sums up native advertising nicely when he describes it in economic terms:  

Think of it this way. You are a magazine publisher. You have a writer who will write a complete and lengthy review of the iPhone 6s. You have to pay $1,000 to the writer for this review. Or Apple hires the same writer, pays that person $1,500 to write the review under company supervision and then pays the magazine $2,500 to run the review as a native advertisement. What would YOU do if you ran the magazine? Compound your decision with the knowledge that the New York Times does it.
— John C. Dvorak

So this leaves us in a position where advertising is jumping out at us from all over the place which is ruining our interaction with content but in a lot of cases the advertising is funding said content. So how do we as consumers of content respond? I believe there are two simple responses. 

Firstly use the power of the click! Sites can only realistically sell advertising space if they gain a lot of traffic - if you are finding that particular sites are becoming a nuisance then avoid them. Find content providers who advertise responsibly or don’t advertise on their site at all. If you find a content provider you particularly like support them, by sharing on social media or some sites allow you to donate towards their content. 

One particularly good example of responsible advertising that was pointed out to me was daringfireball.net. They use an ad company called ‘The Deck’ who are particularly fussy about what ads will get shown across their network. They take this to the point that they won't advertise a company unless they have paid for and/or used their product. This ensures that ‘The Deck’ only advertises quality and appropriate products, a breath of fresh in an industry that it so often categorised by space being sold to the highest bidder not necessarily the best product. 

Secondly, use an ad blocker. I personally don’t feel it is right that should you browse onto a website that is packed full of advertising that you should be inadvertently be supporting that. As the Cult of Mac pop up shows that you can support websites by whitelisting that website in your pop-up blocker - which is exactly what I did.  

4 keys to Mac security

In our previous article we looked at the arguments for and against legislating encryption. We thought it would be good to look at a few things that you can do to help keep your Mac secure.

Mac OS X by default is relatively secure but there are a few extra things that you can do to make your Apple Mac more secure, particularly if it is stolen. As MacBooks get lighter and online services become faster and more capable, being able to work from a coffee shop or any other public place become far easier. However with your computer in this public environment it becomes more vulnerable, not just in terms of network security but also to physical attack. Here are 4 built in mac features you can enable to give you greater protection.

1. Enable the Firewall

This is particularly a good idea when using a public network as at home your router’s firewall should give you sufficient protection. To enable your firewall go to the security and privacy system preferences pane, click on firewall and unlock the page by clicking on the lock in the bottom left hand corner. Once unlocked you can click ‘Turn On Firewall’ - the standard option is suitable for most purposes, but if you want more options you can click on the firewall options which allows you to set up per application settings, enable stealth mode (which hides you computer from outside access attempts) and a setting to block all connections.

 

2. Enable FileVault

FileVault is a utility that encrypts your whole hard drive, including system files, applications, caches and other temporary files which may contain sensitive data. The FileVault is great at securing your data should your Mac be stolen. While your drive is locked (when your Mac is shut down) all the data is scrambled. This stops unauthorised third parties recovering the data either through ‘Target Disk’ mode or removing your drive and connecting it to another machine. 

To enable FileVault you need to go to Security and Privacy in system preferences and select the FileVault tab. Once unlocked using an Administrator user name and password you can click Turn On FileVault. You will then be asked to select which users can unlock the disk, you can add more at a later date if needed. Once you click continue your Mac will begin to encrypt the drive, if you have a large mechanical drive this can take several hours to complete.

3. Password Management

We often use numerous online services a day. For each one of these services ideally we should have a different password for each one and creating a strong password for each one often means a ridiculously long string of letters numbers and special characters. Fortunately OS X has a solution built in called Keychain.

Keychain is enable by default to store various passwords for online sources, email accounts, sharing services, and many other authentication routines. Anytime you see a check box for saving your password or prompt in Safari this is Keychain storing your password in a special encrypted file. 

You can manage your Keychain using the Keychain Access utility. In the preferences of the Keychain Access utility there is a handy little option to display the Keychain status in the menu bar. This puts a small lock icon on the menu bar which when clicked gives you the option to lock the keychain. This is helpful if you walk away from your computer and don't want anyone who can sit at your computer to have a access to online services you may have stored the password for in your keychain. 

If you have an iCloud account you can also enable Keychain Sync which will sync all the data stored in your keychain across your devices. So if you store login details on your Mac they will be accessible on your iPhone.

 

4. Locking and Locating

There are a couple of final options that are useful to enable to help protect your Mac. 

Firstly it is a good idea enable the ‘Require Password’ option in the general tab of the Security and Privacy panel in system preferences. Also setting it to a shorter time or immediately means that your system is secure quicker after it goes to sleep.

Secondly enabling ‘Find My Mac’ in the iCloud system preferences will allow to log into iCloud.com or use the Find My iPhone app to locate your device. This great if it is stolen and also allows you to remotely lock the computer or remotely wipe the device. 

Unfortunately there is little Apple can do to prevent your Mac from being stolen but OS X has lots of features built in to help the protect the data on your Mac if it does get and also gives you chance to possibly retrieve it using Find My Mac.