Is it risky to install iOS, iPadOS, and macOS updates while working from home?

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has put a pause on a lot of things, but it hasn’t stopped Apple pushing out updates. Yesterday saw Apple push out iOS 13.4, iPadOS 13.4, macOS 10.15.4, watchOS 6.2, and tvOS 13.4, updating pretty much everything in the Apple line in one fell swoop.

For people stuck at home looking for something to do, it might seem like a good way to fill a few hours, but at a time when people are being encouraged to work from home and to self-isolate, and during a period when Apple Stores are shut, is it a good idea to be applying patches that could make the device you are relying on for work go flaky?

Being in the UK and under a government-mandated self-isolation lockdown, of course I did downloaded and installed the updates on everything.

But, I’m not carefree. I’ve been bitten by Apple updates in the past. Burned quite hard. Apple has released some terrible updates in the past. So, I did take some precautions before pulling the trigger on the updates.

As a side note, I have updated all my devices — iOS and macOS — and I’ve not yet come across a showstopping bug. Devices all came back to life after the update and nothing obvious seems broken. Battery life so far looks good, as does performance.

#1: Backups

Make sure you have an up-to-date backup, either in the cloud or local. Also, make sure you know how to recover from that backup (here’s Apple’s instructions for iPhone and iPad, and Macs).

If you mess up, you’ll be recovering your device from scratch and that’s going to take time and effort.

You’ve been warned.

Must read: Coronavirus social distancing got you down? Tips and tricks to help you get through it

#2: Take time

You can’t rush these updates. Don’t pull the trigger on them if you have something planned for the next hour or so. Wait until the evening or when you’ve finished for the day.

#3: Start with less important devices

If your main device is your laptop, don’t start there. Also, do one device at a time — don’t juggle between multiple devices. It’s not that urgent.

#4: Wait

Sure, there’s a raft of security updates baked into these updates, and no doubt the bad guys will be looking to leverage the weaknesses in older platforms. But do you have a few days for others to go first and test the waters before it becomes wise to update. And if there’s something catastrophic going on, I’ve no doubt that Apple would get a patch out soon.

#5: If things go bad, turn to support

Whether that be Apple or your IT support at work. Turning to Dr Google is a fast-track highway to a lot of wasted time and a lot of headaches.

Any tips? Let me know below.

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Apple blocks third-party cookies in Safari

Apple Safari

Image: Nobbby

Starting today, with the release of Safari 13.1 and through updates to the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) privacy feature, Apple now blocks all third-party cookies in Safari by default.

The company’s move means that online advertisers and analytics firms cannot use browser cookie files anymore to track users as they visit different sites across the internet.

But Apple says the move isn’t actually a big deal, since they were already blocking most third-party cookies used for tracking anyway.

“It might seem like a bigger change than it is,” said John Wilander, an Apple software engineer. “But we’ve added so many restrictions to ITP since its initial release in 2017 that we are now at a place where most third-party cookies are already blocked in Safari.”

Second browser to block third-party cookies for all users

Apple’s Safari has now become the second browser — after the Tor Browser — to block all third-party cookies by default for all its users.

However, while Apple was quicker to block third-party cookies in Safari, Google is actually the one who pushed browser makers towards making this move in the first place, in a May 2019 blog post.

At the time, Google announced plans to block third-party cookies by default in Chrome and in the Chromium open-source project, on which multiple other browsers are built.

Google released Chrome v80 at the start of February with support for third-party cookie blocking (under the name of SameSite cookies), but the feature won’t fully roll out to all Chrome’s users until 2022.

Microsoft’s Edge, which runs a version of Google’s Chromium open-source browser has also begun gradually blocking third-party cookies as well, but the feature is not enabled by default for all its users either.

Apple’s decision today doesn’t mean that Safari now blocks all user tracking, but only tracking methods that rely on planting a cookie file in Safari and (re-)checking that cookie time and time again to identify the user as he moves from site to site.

Other user tracking solutions, such as user/browser fingerprinting, will most likely continue to work.

A small step forward for web privacy

Nonetheless, this is a major step in the right direction. With Google, Safari, Microsoft, and all the other Chromium-based browsers on board, now, the vast majority of current web browsers block third-party cookies or are on their way towards full blocks.

“This update takes several important steps to fight cross-site tracking and make it more safe to browse the web,” Wilander explained in a Twitter thread today.

“First of all, it paves the way. We will report on our experiences of full third-party cookie blocking to the privacy groups in W3C to help other browsers take the leap.

“Second, full third-party cookie blocking removes statefulness in cookie blocking.

“Third, full third-party cookie blocking fully disables login fingerprinting, a problem on the web described already 12 years ago. Without protection, trackers can figure out which websites you’re logged in to and use it as a fingerprint,” Wilander added.

“Fourth, full third-party cookie blocking solves cross-site request forgeries. This is one of the web’s original security vulnerabilities and discussed in communities like OWASP for well over a decade. Those vulnerabilities are now gone in Safari.”

More on the move and what it means to developers and website owners is available in the WebKit team’s blog post.



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This iOS bug could seriously affect your work from home plans

Apple has acknowledged that a bug exists in iOS 13 Personal Hotspot feature that may cause users to not be able to connect.

The Personal Hotspot feature allows users to use their cellular connection to create a Wi-Fi hotspot that other devices can connect to.

According to MacRumors, Apple has told Authorized Service Providers to expect complaints from users being unable to connect using the feature, and from users who experience data performance issues.

The temporary fix currently offered by Apple is, rather predictably, for users to toggle the feature off and on.

Must read: Coronavirus social distancing got you down? Tips and tricks to help you get through it

In my experience as a heavy Personal Hotspot user, this is not a new issue. While I’ve found this feature to be useful, I’ve also found it to be unreliable at times. This has dated back for me to the release of the feature, and across a large number of iOS devices.

The unreliability of the Persona Hotspot feature is part of the reason why when traveling I prefer to carry a dedicated mobile hotspot, such as the Netgear Nighthawk M1 or M2 mobile routers. These are far more dependable and flexible than iOS’s built-in hotspot feature, and means I don’t run down my iPhone’s battery as quickly.

If you’re relying on hotspotting for your work from home plan, I recommend having a backup.

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Better late than never: Trackpad support is exactly what the iPad needed

Apple’s iPad Pro gets a big update, including official trackpad support
Jason Squared’s Jason Cipriani and Jason Perlow discuss the new iPad Pro, its Magic Keyboard, trackpad support, and what that means for the future of the iPad. Read more: https://zd.net/3dblYed

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Life comes at you fast. In January, after spending a few weeks using Microsoft’s Surface Pro X, I wrote a story detailing which features I thought Apple should borrow from the Pro X and bring to the iPad line. Most of my suggestions involved an improved keyboard experience, more viewing angles, backlit keys, and trackpad support. 

Recently, code in an unreleased build of iOS 14 indicated Apple was working on an iPad keyboard that included a trackpad. 

Then, on Wednesday, Apple announced a new iPad Pro and, perhaps more importantly, that iPadOS 13.4 would add true trackpad support. Also, in May, a new iPad keyboard with a trackpad will go on sale. The only downside? The new Magic Keyboard for iPad starts at $299 for the 11-inch model or $349 for the 12.9-inch version. Yikes. 

But with iPadOS 13.4 adding system-wide support for trackpad and mouse control, you don’t have to wait for the Magic Keyboard to use a trackpad with your iPad. Apple will release iPadOS 13.4 on March 24. 

screen-shot-2020-03-20-at-1-21-03-pm.jpg

Apple, Inc.

I have a beta version of the update installed on my 12.9-inch iPad Pro and have been using a Magic Trackpad 2 for the last day or so, and I have to say: This is exactly what the iPad needed. 

The somewhat hidden mouse support that Apple included in iPadOS 13 in September was half-baked, lacking gesture support and a refined mouse pointer. Even the setup process was buried in the Accessibility settings. 

The current implementation takes full advantage of gestures to quickly switch between apps, go to the home screen, scroll, or select text. Setup is a breeze; if you’ve paired headphones to your iPad, you’ll be able to pair a trackpad or mouse. 

apple-new-ipad-pro-cursor-support-ipados-03182020.gif

Apple, Inc.

As you can see in the animated image above, the mouse pointer changes based on whatever it is you’re hovering over. For example, it will highlight a button that you’re hovering over. Move to a text field, and it turns into a cursor. Slide over an app icon, and the icon gets bigger. 

Apple provided a video walkthrough to The Verge of the gestures you can use on the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad, which also works on the Magic Trackpad 2 I’ve been using. 

But there are hidden features, as well. Moving the mouse cursor to the right side of the screen will bring out any Slide Over apps. Going all the way to the bottom of the screen will pull up the app dock, or if you keep going, you’ll go back to the homescreen. 

I’m still getting used to the new gestures and using a trackpad with the iPad as a whole. For the past decade, I’ve trained my mind to view the tablet as a touchscreen device, requiring taps and swipes at first, then using keyboard shortcuts, and now using a trackpad. 

That said, as soon as I started to use the trackpad, it made sense. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation or questioning whether I should be using the trackpad. 

It’s unfortunate the Magic Keyboard won’t ship for a couple of months still, as the iPad is a portable device and carrying around a mouse or trackpad is cumbersome and inconvenient. Even if I’m only carrying it around my house (something we can all relate to right now, I’m sure). 

I can’t wait to test out the Magic Keyboard in May. It’s exactly what I asked for earlier this year. I only hope it lives up to expectations.

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Windows 10 new design: Microsoft shows off new Start Menu and app icons

New design, more colors: Microsofts gives new look to 100 mobile apps icons
Microsoft also gives Windows 10 a new take on the classic four square grid.

Microsoft has followed up this week’s one billion monthly active user milestone for Windows 10 with a video showing off the new Start Menu without Live Tiles, and new interfaces for File Explorer, calendar, and other apps. 

The video starts with Microsoft’s evolution of the Windows icon and Start Menu over the decades and moves on to show the new Fluent Design recreation of its Start Menu icons – both with and without Live Tiles. 

Microsoft’s Windows Insider team recently showed off how the new Fluent Design refreshed icons would appear on the desktop and Start Menu without the Live Tiles, which have been there since the beginning of Windows 10. 

The new logos are meant to create a consistent look and feel to its apps across Windows 10, macOS, iOS, and Android. The new app logos replace the previous flat squares that worked well with Live Tiles.   

Microsoft’s Windows Insiders team has said that Live Tiles isn’t going away but that Windows 10 will in future let users switch between Live Tiles and app icons – which are the only option on the Windows 10X Start Menu for dual-screen PCs.     

The video demonstrates the difference in how its new icons look within colored squares and without them in the Suggest menu, both in light and dark mode. 

Additionally, the video offers a glimpse of a new look File Explorer, calendar, calculator, and the new Microsoft Edge browser. 

It’s not known when these updates will show up in Windows 10. They’re unlikely to arrive in the Windows 10 2004 (20H1) update, which should be out around May and which retains Live Tiles. It’s possibly they could be part of the subsequent 20H2 update due out in fall. 

Presumably the new designs should start appearing in future Windows Insider previews.  

Microsoft hopes the changes present a visually unified design for the Start Menu compared with what Microsoft says was “a somewhat chaotic color” scheme in the past. 

As for the one billion milestone, Microsoft expected to reach that in 2018, three years after announcing the target, which at that time included Windows Phone. 

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Microsoft to Windows developers: This is why you should use upcoming WinUI 3 release

Windows Insiders: How its feedback shaped Windows 10
The program has over 16.5 million participants.

Microsoft has launched a flashy new website dedicated to WinUI, its developer toolset for building Fluent Design user interfaces for Windows 10 and Windows 10X devices. 

The company took the wraps off a WinUI 3.0 alpha release in November, promising to correct its fumbled Windows app-development strategy. 

WinUI 3.0 is Microsoft’s next-generation user interface platform for Windows and now also for Windows 10X, its OS for foldable PCs like the Surface Neo.  

The new website aims to raise awareness among developers about WinUI 3.0 and answer questions about it. It will be released in preview in the first half of 2020. Microsoft intends to release the WinUI 3 Xaml platform on GitHub as open source.

The WinUI 3.0 alpha started with UWP and will gain WebView. Developers can create new WinUI apps using Visual Studio 2019 project template. It can also be used to refresh Win32 apps, and create new Win32 or UWP apps using .NET Core or C++. Microsoft positions Win32 apps as solely for the desktop while UWP is for multiple devices. 

On the website, Microsoft promises that developers can “future-proof your app with WinUI” for a world with Windows 10 and Windows 10X.

It calls WinUI the future of Windows development that offers “a state-of-the-art UI framework for all Windows apps across both Win32 and UWP”, enabling developers to modernize apps written in MFC, Winforms, Silverlight, and WPF.

“WinUI is powered by a highly optimized C++ core that delivers blistering performance, long battery life, and responsive interactivity that professional developers demand. Its lower system utilization allows it to run on a wider range of hardware, ensuring your sophisticated workloads run with ease,” the company states. 

According to Microsoft, the WinUi 3 Preview 1 will be released at the Build 2020 conference this May, which will include a WinUI win32 preview. The WinUi will reach RTM in “late 2020”. 

The site also highlights that WinUI works with its own Xamarin cross-platform tool, as well as the Uno Platform, a tool for developers to build apps for WebAssembly, iOS, Android, and Windows from a single code base. 

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These popular iPhone and iPad apps are snooping on data copied to the clipboard

People copy all sorts of information to their clipboard. It’s something that we’ve been doing for decades, and it’s a practice that’s deeply ingrained. While most of that information is likely to be mundane and boring, there are times when we copy important information, such as passwords, telephone numbers, or financial details.

When it comes to iOS and iPadOS, Apple has given apps unrestricted access to the system clipboard — called Pasteboard on the iPhone and iPad. And, according to research carried out by Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk, dozens of popular apps are quietly reading the contents of the pasteboard every time they are opened.

That itself is cause for suspicion, but what makes it even more suspicious is that some of these apps — games, for example — do not provide any UI that deals with text, and yet they are accessing the content of the pasteboard every time they’re opened.

Note that apps that accesses the iOS or iPadOS pasteboard can also read what has been copied on a Mac if the user has enabled Universal Clipboard.

Must read: The ultimate MacBook Pro accessory just got cheaper

Interestingly, Bakry and Mysk found that apps can read any data type copied to the pasteboard. The apps that accessed the clipboard on launch only requested text, and ignored other data, such as photos and documents.

The researchers are keen to point out that they do not know what the apps do with the content of the pasteboard, only that they access the data.

The list of apps includes news apps, games, and social media apps, along with more than a dozen miscellaneous apps. Full list available here.

Does Apple see this as a problem? Mysk and the team submitted this issue to Apple at the beginning of the year, but were told that it wasn’t an issue.

What do you think? A potential privacy problem, or a non-issue?

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This Raspberry Pi-powered LEGO robot brute-force attacked an iPhone to find out what PIN codes are blacklisted

Certain PIN codes are blacklisted on iOS. For example, iOS recommends you don’t use 0000 or 0011, but doesn’t have a problem with 0001 or 1001. But what combination of numbers are blacklisted, and does having this blacklist this improve security?

Also, is a six-digit PIN better than a four-digit PIN?

Security researchers Philipp Markert, Daniel V. Bailey, Maximilian Golla, Markus Dürmuth, and Adam J. Aviv decided to find out and enlisted the help of a robot built from LEGO parts and a Raspberry Pi to extract a list of blocked four- and six-digit PIN codes.

The first problem that the researchers had to overcome is that iOS uses rate-limiting to prevent hammering it with PIN codes. However, this protection is not in place during the initial setup process.

Using this information, the researchers constructed a device to automate PIN code entry using LEGO bricks, and a Raspberry Pi equipped with a camera. The “robot,” which is connected to the iPhone via the Lightning port, emulates a USB keyboard. A PIN is entered, and the camera takes a photo of the iPhone screen.

Raspberry Pi-powered LEGO robot

Raspberry Pi-powered LEGO robot

https://this-pin-can-be-easily-guessed.github.io/

The photo is then processed to determine whether the PIN code is allowed or blacklisted.

Must read: The ultimate MacBook Pro accessory just got cheaper

It turns out that Apple has blacklisted 274 four-digit PINs and 2,910 six-digit PINs.

But does this improve security? According to the researchers, no, because the blacklists are too small, and iOS allows users to choose to use blacklisted PIN codes.

“We find that relatively small blacklists in use today by iOS offer little or no benefit against a throttled guessing attack,” the researchers wrote. “Security gains are only observed when the blacklists are much larger, which in turn comes at the cost of increased user frustration. Our analysis suggests that a blacklist at about 10% of the PIN space may provide the best balance between usability and security.”

The researchers also found that six-digit PIN codes not much more effective than four-digit PINs because of the numbers users choose.

“Our study found there is little benefit to longer 6-digit PINs as compared to four-digit PINs. Our participants tended to select more-easily guessed six-digit PINs when considering the first 40 guesses of an attacker.”

The findings, along with with the blacklists, a parts list, and the code to build your own blacklist-extracting robot, can be found at https://this-pin-can-be-easily-guessed.github.io/.

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Apple, Google reject coronavirus apps not developed by official sources

Apple settles lawsuit over slowing down iPhones
The class-action lawsuit in the US claims that Apple artificially degraded iPhone performance to boost upgrades.

Apple and Google are rejecting coronavirus-related mobile apps from independent developers in an attempt to prevent the spread of misinformation. 

While there are developers out there who have been creating applications with good intentions — such as software that shows recent statistics about confirmed cases or impacted countries by pulling data from official sources — a blanket ban appears to have been implemented by Apple. 

As reported by CNBC, a number of developers have had their apps rejected; not because their software was in any way fraudulent or promoting fake numbers or dubious cures, but because the iPad and iPhone maker has decided that “apps with information about current medical information need to be submitted by a recognized institution.”

See also: Hon Hai, Foxconn see February sales fall 18% due to novel coronavirus

This would include establishments such as the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, hospitals, and healthcare regulators, but disbars standard iOS developers. 

A source familiar with the matter told the publication that Apple is specifically focused on where information comes from and “whether the developers represent organizations that users can trust to publish accurate data.”

Some, however, argue that the ban is too restrictive and a tiered system for trusted developers with long, positive feedback records could be more suitable. 

Google, too, has taken proactive steps to stop a potential torrent of apps that would contribute to what the WHO has called an “infodemic” — the spread of misinformation in relation to the coronavirus. 

If you search for “coronavirus” in Google Play, no apps are shown. 

The tech giant’s rules stipulate that apps that attempt to “capitalize on a natural disaster, atrocity, conflict, death, or other tragic event” are unacceptable. 

CNET: Best Apple MacBook deals for 2020: The MacBook Pro costs less than the MacBook Air?

The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a respiratory illness that has spread across 33 countries including China, the US, UK, and Australia. According to the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, there are 95,265 reported cases of COVID-19 globally and 3281 deaths, at the time of writing.

The WHO is concerned that “some countries have either not taken this seriously enough, or have decided there’s nothing they can do” and has urged political leaders to do more to contain the outbreak, arguing that “this is not a time for excuses.” 

TechRepublic: How to adjust iOS 13 settings for better battery life

In the meantime, Amazon is fighting a battle with merchants to prevent price-gouging as concerned individuals clear stores out of hand sanitizer and face masks, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this week that the social network is working with the WHO to “make sure everyone can access credible and accurate information.”

Previous and related coverage


Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0


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What’s on your iOS 14 wishlist?

Windows used to be the operating system that I used the most, then that became macOS, and now it’s iOS and iPadOS. But familiarity breeds a certain level of contempt, and there are no shortages of things that Apple should fix and improve in the platform for iOS 14.

Here’s what’s on my iOS 14 wishlist. What’s on yours? Let me know in the comments.

Must read: You’re using your favorite iPhone and iPad apps all wrong

#1: Focus on reliability

iOS 12 started out bad, as did iOS 13. This is a trend that Apple needs to break. I’d much rather Apple focus on reliability of iOS than add new features to the platform. Without good levels of reliability, using iPhones and iPads becomes a miserable, wretched experience.

#2: Focus on speed

After reliability, speed is important, especially on older devices. While IOS 13 is super-fast on the iPhone 11, it feels kludgy on older devices. Apple needs to address this performance hit that older devices experience, because it makes for a miserable experience for a lot of users.

#3: Revamp the Home screen and Dock

The Home screen and Dock really haven’t changed much since the iPhone was first released. I find it hard to believe that a static grid of icons is the best that Apple can come up with for app icons, and the Dock at the bottom of the screen needs to be more than a spot for icons to appear on all pages. That’s so basic and dumb.

The whole Home screen is so downright basic, and reminiscent of Windows 3.1. Wake up Apple, it’s 2020!

#4: Allow users to change default apps

Sounds like this might actually be happening, and not before time. However, I suspect Apple is doing this not because it would be useful to users, but because the company is concerned about the threat of government intervention.

Whatever the reason, being able to kick Apple’s default apps to the kerb and choose the apps that I want to use would be very welcomed.

#5: Active icons

It’s surprises me that the Clock and Calendar have icons that change, but that everything else it weirdly static on the Home screen.

Why can’t app icons be more like complications on the Apple Watch, and allow important information to be displayed on the icon without having to open an app?

#6: Make Siri smarter

Compared to the competition, Siri is as dumb as a bag of sand. It’s not like Apple doesn’t have the know-how to make Siri better and smarter, so increasingly it feels like Apple isn’t interested in voice assistants anymore, and is happy to give ground to Google and Amazon.

It’s time for Apple to recommit to Siri.

#7: Always-on display for OLED iPhones

For some reason Apple has failed to offer this for its OLED iPhones. Having an always-on display show information such as time, reminders, and important notifications on the iPhone would put it on par with high-end Android smartphones.

#8: Multitasking

The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a display that’s big enough for two apps to run side by side, similar to split-screen on the iPad. This is probably a long-shot wish, but this would be a really useful feature.

#9: Sweat the small stuff

There’s a whole bunch of little tweaks that I’d love to see in iOS 14. For example, being able to set multiple timers would be cool, being able to set alarms based on how long I want to sleep would also be nice. I’d love if call recording was built into iOS, rather than having to rely on third-party apps. Thinking of calls and FaceTime, it would be great if these didn’t feel like they took over my iPhone as much as they do.

Like I said, plenty of things to fix.

Apple will likely show off iOS 14 in June at WWDC, with a beta landing soon after, and the final release being made available when the new crop of iPhones are released in the fall.

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