Apple Needs To Implement Stronger Authentication For iCloud; Google Can Be A Great Teacher On This!

Before Mac OS X Mountain Lion roared its way into the market, iCloud was already a stir.  After Mac OS X Mountain roared its way into the market, iCloud is even a bigger stir.  iCloud is now more integrated into Mac OS X ecosystem evermore than before.  iCloud is better now as it allows so many more apps to have the option of saving data in the cloud.  One example would be TextEdit.  If you open up TextEdit on Mac OS X Mountain Lion, you would see a finder gladly greets you and asks you if you want to create a new document in iCloud or on the Mac itself.  This way, TextEdit clearly presents you the option of saving data in the cloud.  Many more apps on Mac OS X Mountain Lion are implementing this approach for iCloud too.

It’s great that iCloud is evermore readily available for many more apps on Mac OS X Mountain Lion, because it’s definitely a convenience for Mac users to be able to save data on the cloud for syncing and safekeeping (i.e., to recover when local data cannot be recovered).  Nonetheless, can one’s data be secure on iCloud?  Just recently I had read “The Dangerous Side Of Apple’s iCloud” Forbes article, and this daunted on me that if one isn’t too careful — one might save important information in iCloud and such information can totally be leaked by being hacked as iCloud’s password protection isn’t exactly strong at the moment.  Unlike Google which has 2 step password verification, iCloud only requires a user to enter password once to access iCloud data.  To add the insult to an injury, although iCloud does encrypt the data during the transit of data and on the iCloud itself, the encrypted data can still be decrypted easily as long the evildoer has the correct password which can be used to unlock the data from iCloud.

Then there is another issue of trust.  Can we trust Apple to be honest enough to not take a peek at our data?  Sure, the data are encrypted on iCloud, but is there a way in which Apple can ensure us that their employees won’t try to decrypt our data at will?  Perhaps, this is a concern for using any third party cloud service and not just only with Apple, because once the data reside on the cloud — such data are truly beyond our control (i.e., no longer in the control of the data owner).  Nonetheless, I think when one encrypts the data before sending such data onto iCloud, one might be able to sleep better even though one knows Apple is way more trustful than some unknown and untested third party cloud services.  This is why, one needs to keep TrueCrypt in mind even when Apple does assure one that iCloud is encrypting all data on Apple’s iCloud servers.

To end this blog post, I must say iCloud is a lot more attractive than ever before.  I definitely think iCloud is worth it, because it’s so integrated into Mac OS X Mountain Lion and onward (i.e., I hope it would be so integrated into Mac onward).  Knowing that you can always recover your data from the apps that are supported by iCloud is definitely a peace of mind when it comes down to that one extra layer of data redundancy.  You never know how unreliable the state of your data are until your data become unrecoverable, and by then everything is just too late.  Obviously, even with iCloud, one can never have too much data redundancy, therefore it’s still wise for one to backup their Mac to an external hard drive with the usage of Time Machine, regularly.  This to ensure and insure one in the case of having one’s iCloud account being wiped out by a hacker — just as how Forbes had mentioned how Mat Honan had his iCloud account wiped out by a hacker.  To really end this article, I wish Apple actually implements or at least giving Mac users a choice of implementing 2 step password verification, just like how Google is doing it now.

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Upload Any File To iCloud, But You Got To Manually Rename The Upload File Correctly!

iCloud

iCloud (Photo credit: BasBoerman)

I barely use iCloud, because I prefer Dropbox, Pogoplug (i.e., software only so it would turn a computer into Pogoplug device), Ubuntu One, CrashPlan, and FreeNAS (i.e., I prefer to virtualize FreeNAS until I can set up a proper physical FreeNAS box).  This is why I know so little about iCloud.  In fact, the only time I use iCloud is when I hit the iCloud button which allows me to backup my iPhone and iPad to free iCloud account (i.e., as this writing iCloud gives 5GB free storage space).  According to the video right after the break, iCloud isn’t allowing users to upload specific files from their Mac computers to iCloud, therefore you can’t really use iCloud as how you have been using Dropbox.  I’m perplexed why this is the case, but anyhow the video right after the break will show you how to upload any file to iCloud — it seems to me like a lot of work.  (Just stick with Dropbox instead?)

Using FreeNAS With VirtualBox To Create A True Personal Storage Cloud?

FreeNAS

FreeNAS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Besides using third party online cloud services such as Dropbox or Pogoplug, you can always set up your own personal cloud at home.  In my opinion, a personal cloud should not route your data to any third party service, and so even Pogoplug touts as a personal cloud solution — your data still route through their network first.

OK, before we go even further into this post, I should make clear that a cloud can mean many things.  To some people, a cloud should be able to sync things.  To others, a cloud should automate things such as push and pull data — similar to iCloud.  Then there are folks who think cloud as expandable/scalable storage (either automatically or manually).  To me, a personal cloud can be all of the above and more.  Unfortunately, to have a personal cloud to do all of the above and more, one might have to go through a third party cloud service which touts as personal cloud — this to me isn’t truly a personal cloud!

In this blog post, I prefer to create a personal cloud that I host on my own machines.  Although the solution I’m going to talk about isn’t as elegant as iCloud or Dropbox, but at least this solution is somewhat capable of allowing you to interact with your personal cloud as if it’s an unlimited/scalable storage cloud (but manually scalable).  Our solution has to be manually scalable since when we want more storage capacity we have to add more storage means.  When I say more storage means, I mean we have to add either more hardware or to configure our personal storage cloud software to handle larger storage capacity.

So, what is our personal storage cloud solution?  Virtualizing FreeNAS!  Yes, FreeNAS is just a software which specializes in allowing people to create a free network-attached storage server.  When one uses FreeNAS natively (i.e., not virtualizing it), then it’s just a free network-attached storage server solution.  Now, imagining one can install FreeNAS onto VirtualBox, suddenly everything changes as one can begin utilizing FreeNAS as a personal storage cloud solution!

How is the virtualization of FreeNAS can provide us a personal storage cloud solution?  We can always add more virtual hard disks with the largest virtual hard disk size.  At this point in time VirtualBox allows largest virtual hard disk to be around 2 Terabytes.  You might be curious, what if you don’t have enough real disk space to support the humongous capacity (i.e., stringing together many large virtual hard disks under one virtual machine) of virtual hard disks right?  Well, the marvelous thing about virtualization is that you don’t actually have to have exactly the amount of real hard disk space until the virtual hard disks are actually growing that large.  In the worst case scenario, you can always move the virtualization of your FreeNAS onto a system with large enough storage capacity (i.e., move the VirtualBox virtual machine which runs FreeNAS and all of the attached virtual hard disks to a physical system which has larger storage capacity).

Meanwhile, working with FreeNAS in VirtualBox will not harm your real system in anyway, because it’s virtualization!  You can play with FreeNAS in VirtualBox without fear, and this leads to allowing you to understand FreeNAS better (i.e., practice makes perfect).  To tell the truth, I just get to know FreeNAS, therefore I will have to play with FreeNAS a lot more through VirtualBox’s virtualization before I can confidently post an excellent FreeNAS tutorial in thorough detail.

What I know so far about installing FreeNAS with VirtualBox is that it’s easy!  Just make sure that you specify FreeNAS as a BSD operating system type and FreeBSD as the operating system which FreeNAS is based on.  This means FreeNAS is a unix type of operating system, but it’s designed for creating network-attached storage server.  During the setup of a new VirtualBox virtual machine for FreeNAS, don’t forget to configure the settings to add however many additional virtual disks — this allows you with the ability to create storage volumes with specific virtual disks within FreeNAS’s control panel (i.e., FreeNAS graphical user interface control panel which can be accessed through a web browser through a local IP address or an external IP address).

When done installing FreeNAS through VirtualBox, you will see a black screen with scrolling letters and you will see options that you can choose so FreeNAS can be configured — you should pick the option which allows you to set up how FreeNAS should advertise its IP address (i.e., Configure Network Interfaces).  In unique situation when you cannot use DHCP to automatically lease/borrow a dynamic IP address from a router for your FreeNAS virtual machine, you can always fall back to the option which allows you to enter a shell.  Inside a shell, you can set up a temporary static IP so you can access FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel through a browser.  Here is how you set up a temporary static IP for FreeNAS — enter this command [ifconfig eth0 192.168.1.55 netmask 255.255.255.0], but do not use the square brackets and make sure you replace the static and netmask IP addresses with the ones that work with your router’s configuration.

Once done set up a temporary static IP for FreeNAS, you can access FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel through a browser.  Within FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel, you can access Network > Interfaces to add a permanent static IP address for your FreeNAS virtual machine (i.e., VirtualBox virtual machine).  This way, whenever you reboot your FreeNAS virtual machine, it will boot up with the same static IP address, consequently allowing you to access FreeNAS with the same static IP address.

By the way, I forgot to tell you that you should choose Bridge Adapter when you set up the network adapter for your FreeNAS virtual machine through VirtualBox Manager, because NAT adapter will advertise FreeNAS services on VirtualBox’s virtual IP address which might start as something like 10.x.x.x.  NAT type of IP addresses might prevent you from accessing FreeNAS’s graphical user interface control panel through a browser.

I’ll post more on FreeNAS once I get to be expertly using it, OK?  For now, at least we know that FreeNAS can be virtualized into an unlimited personal storage cloud in virtualization sense.  In reality, we still have to add more hardware to cope with growing disk space of virtual disks.  Even with FreeNAS, it’s illogical to think we can have unlimited personal storage cloud in absolute sense unless you have unlimited amount of money to buy unlimited amount of hardware (i.e., disk drives) to support the unlimited growing disk space of virtual hard disks.

For your information, FreeNAS is free to download and install and use, therefore there is no harm in trying it out — virtualizing FreeNAS for personal storage cloud or natively using it.  What’s even more wonderful is that virtualizing FreeNAS with VirtualBox is also free, therefore you can virtualize FreeNAS to your heart’s content without paying a dime.  What isn’t free is buying more hard disks to handle the growing virtual disks for your system!

You Should Use Find iPhone App To Remote Lock, Wipe, Locate, Send Sound and Message To Your iOS Devices

Find iPhone is an Apple app which allows you to remote wipe and remote lock your iOS devices.  It can also allow you to play sound and send message to your iOS devices.  Unfortunately, you can’t use this application on a Mac, otherwise it would be a must have app for people who do not have an extra iOS device.  This Find iPhone app works for only people who do have more than one iOS device, because you have to install Find iPhone app on all iOS devices for it to work.  Also, you must turn Find My iPhone feature to ON inside iCloud setting for this app to work.

Once you got all the elements in place, it is easy as pie to locate your missing iOS devices virtually; you can then remote wipe your iOS devices if you feel your data are at risk, remote lock your iOS devices if you think some stupid thieves won’t be able to hack your easy passcodes.  How about remote lock first and then keep sending remote sounds and messages to annoy the thieves?  Remote wipe your iOS devices with Find iPhone app will prevent you from locating your iOS devices virtually.

Once log into the Find iPhone app, you can actually see the physical addresses on Google map that your iOS devices currently reside.  In the case of stolen iOS devices, you obviously have the knowledge of where your devices are on Google map.

Smart thieves definitely are going to delete Find iPhone app in case you try to locate them with your iOS devices.  Of course, they can’t do so if you have strong passcodes that lock your iOS devices from prying eyes.  Even though the app is known as Find iPhone, it actually works for all iOS devices.  This means if you install Find iPhone iPad app on your iPad, you will be able to locate your iPhone with your iPad (make sure the iPhone does have Find iPhone app installed, or else it won’t work).  To find your iPad, you need to install Find iPhone app on iPad and on iPhone, then use your iPhone to find your iPad in seconds.

I think this app is using the Internet and some sort of GPS capability, therefore the distances between iOS devices might not matter much.  If it’s in fact just that, no matter where the thieves who stole your iOS devices currently hide, as long they won’t be able to delete the Find iPhone app on the iOS devices, you will be able to sneak up on them and demand your iOS devices back.  Of course, don’t fight them if they have more than just iOS devices in their hands, OK?  Call the police instead!

To see if Find iPhone app actually does work for you, try sending a sound and text message to an iOS device.  You can also try unlocking an iOS device first, then using the remote lock feature of Find iPhone on another iOS device to see if the feature does actually lock the targeted iOS device.  Don’t use the remote wipe feature just yet, because once testing this feature out, you actually really wipe all your data on an iOS device, therefore this feature is for an emergency usage only and not for testing purpose.  So, you have been warned!

You do have to know your Apple ID and password before you can log into Find iPhone app and use it.  If you haven’t had an Apple account, you definitely have to sign up for one before this app can be any used to you.

In summary, with Find iPhone app installed on all of my iOS devices, I think I’m a tad safer in term of protecting my data.  At least, I know it’s easy as pie to locate my iOS devices and remote wipe or remote lock them.  You should try this app out to protect whatever important data you have on your iOS devices.  Have fun with it!

Here Is How I Retrieve iPhoto Library From A Local Network

"Leopard" Icons in Black

Image via Wikipedia

Here is how I retrieve iPhoto Library from a local network.  This requires me to run a Linux box, backup iPhoto Library to Linux box by using rsync, and then rsync iPhoto Library back to my Mac whenever I need to retrieve all of my iPhoto photos.  Of course, you can too have Windows box holds the backup photos of iPhoto, but you need to run FTP server on Windows box to allow the backup and the retrieval of iPhoto photos; FTP client has to be installed on Mac so one can retrieve iPhoto photos from the backup iPhoto Library on Windows box.  The best free FTP server and client programs for Windows and Mac I know of are Filezilla.  To clarify, Filezilla server might support only Windows, but Filezilla client might support all platforms which includes Mac.

If you are using my method to backup and retrieve iPhoto Library, here is what we need to do:

  1. Fire up your Linux box and let it churns away
  2. Backup process:
    1. Fire up a terminal in Mac
    2. Type in the command [rsync -avz -e ‘ssh -p 22’ –stats –progress –delete /Users/username/iPhoto\ Library/ username@Linuxbox-ip-address-number:/home/username/Mac-backup/iPhoto\ Library/] (Make sure you do not type in the square brackets inside the terminal, because the square brackets are not part of the command line.  Also, please insert appropriate texts for the parameters such as location of the backup folder of iPhoto Library.  For your information, do not use –delete parameter if you don’t want rsync to delete the Linux box’s backup iPhoto Library photos that do not exist on your Mac.  To make it even more clear, the –delete parameter is to allow you to make sure the backup destination has exact the same files and folders and structure of the machine you want to do a backup for.  Here is also another useful tip, always make sure to include a / at the end of both the original folder on Mac and the backup destination on Linux box so the rsync won’t be confused of the actual source and destination and will not screw up your backup files and folders and structure.)
  3. Retrieval Process (if you haven’t yet done a backup in step 2, then there isn’t a point of retrieving a backup):
    1. Fire up a terminal in Mac
    2. Type in the command [rsync -avz -e ‘ssh -p 22’ –stats –progress username@Linuxbox-ip-address-number:/home/username/Mac-backup/iPhoto\ Library/ /Users/username/iPhoto\ Library/] (Most likely you want to not use –delete parameter in the retrieval process to avoid files and folders on Mac be deleted by accidents.  Notice how I left out the –delete parameter in the command line.  Don’t forget to include the / at the end of the source and destination in the command line.  Don’t forget to insert appropriate parameters for the command line such as username.
  4. Most likely you’ll be asked of entering a password before the rsync would begin for either the backup or retrieval process.
  5. When done retrieving original iPhoto Library’s photos onto Mac, just open up the iPhoto app and you will notice all of your backup photos are now reappeared as before.

You can always make sure iCloud is turning on for all of your Mac devices so your photos can also be saved in the cloud.  It’s possible to retrieve certain amount of photos in the cloud of iCloud, but I doubt that you can retrieve everything from iCloud considering you cannot really browse the iCloud manually.  Also, iCloud may not automatically recognize the photos that you took before you had iCloud enabled.  Sometimes, iCloud might not be able to do automatic backup and you had not done an iCloud backup for your mobile devices, photos that you took might not be uploaded to iCloud and so you won’t be able to retrieve them if your mobile devices got wiped (i.e., corrupted data on mobile devices).  This is why backing up your iPhoto Library to local computers such as Linux box is so important for people who do care about their photos very much.

Google Music Is Hopeful

Google Appliance as shown at RSA Expo 2008 in ...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m a Spotify user, but I’m very hopeful of Google Music.  How?  Google Music is doing things very different than other online music services at the moment.  Instead of only offering these — promising users to have access to the biggest online music collections, making streaming music easier, storing music in the cloud and allowing music access offline — Google Music goes beyond by allowing users to share songs and helping aspiring musicians to sell their own creations (i.e., songs) to Google Music’s audiences.  Google Music also launches unique music contents to awe Google Music lovers even more.

By thinking sort of out of the box, Google Music might become very formidable!  It might scare other online music services into offering many similar things.  What Google Music lacks is the music itself!  OK, does it sound like I’m going nut by saying that?  It’s well known by now even though there are few major record labels who aren’t yet sleeping in the same bed with Google Music, but it doesn’t mean Google Music is lacking music literally.  In fact, the opposite is true as I have heard that Google Music has just about ten million songs and will add around 5 million more songs to its databases.

Whenever I say Google Music lacks music itself, I mean that Google Music members cannot freely listen to all music within Google Music.  Spotify is the opposite of Google Music, and Spotify can do more by just rolling out similar things that Google Music is currently offering (e.g., helping aspiring musicians to sell music).  Instead of making each user to buy a song for specific price, Spotify allows users to have all you can eat music buffet.  Paying few bucks a month or not, Spotify users can listen to any song within Spotify’s gigantic music collections.  Premium Spotify users can also stream music offline.  So, from Spotify user standpoint, I like what Google Music does for aspiring musicians, but Spotify has more than enough to blow Google Music out of the water in term of the music itself (i.e., all you can eat music buffet style).

What Google Music has over Spotify is that Google Music lovers will own the songs they’ve bought forever.  Spotify should offer a plan where loyal customers who stay with them for certain period more could own specific amount of songs for forever.  As now, I just like the idea of being able to explore and listen to any song I want, whenever I like, and as however much I want to on Spotify without worrying about breaking my bank instantly.  By allowing users to listen to all songs within Spotify’s gigantic music collections, this allows users to be able to explore more music in a way that no other online music services can.  For an example, in certain occasions, I had listened to songs that I hated, but only for the first 30 seconds of these songs, because I got to like the songs eventually when I listened to these songs through and through.  I doubt Google Music’s users can do something like this as they explore for new music. Google Music lovers might have to know what songs they like beforehand before they could open up their digital wallets for buying songs.

I’m not so familiar with Amazon‘s online music offering, but I think their service is similar to Google Music.  I could be wrong about this though!

Apple’s iTunes Match can be used in conjunction with iTunes and Google Music and whatever online music service which Amazon is offering.  What is special about iTunes Match is that users can use many other online music services together with iTunes Match.  Other than that, iTunes Match is pretty much a part of iCloud, but it’s specifically tailored to the music side of iCloud.  In reality, iTunes Match and iTunes itself are not that different than Google Music in a sense that users still have to buy each song somehow.  With that being said, iTunes Match does have one trick which benefits users greatly is that it allows users to have iTunes Match matches whatever songs from local hard drives and stores them on the cloud.  This might encourage users to download free songs elsewhere and let iTunes Match matches songs, thus allowing users to freely own new songs at greater bitrates (i.e., higher quality sounds).

In conclusion, Google Music’s toughest competition is Spotify!  Imagine the scenario of Spotify allows users to own certain songs forever for being loyal customers for certain months more, this could spell disasters for most online music services.  Too bad, such a Spotify scenario could only exist within my imagination.