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#857: Marine iPad and iPhone Solutions, FileVault or Vile Fault?, Find My iStuff


Hello all,

The “snow event” is over, and now we dig out. Thanks to the glut of data available nowadays, I have seen some really crazy images from this storm. I really enjoy the immediacy it brings, but sometimes I don’t get it. People will stop running from an avalanche to post on Facebook, it seems…perhaps wasting time better spent doing something helpful.

We didn’t get hit too badly up here, so we mostly enjoyed the foot of dry, crisp, light fluffy powder. I’m sure the skiing this weekend was fantastic.

I had promised an article about securing your public Wi-Fi browsing life, and thought I had done enough research since I wanted to focus on doing it with Terminal. There are some new ways to do this using available software as well, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each method. I need to take more time to make sure I give you the straight dope, so look for it in an upcoming issue.

Have a good week, and thanks for reading.


  Marine iPad and iPhone Solutions  

As a Small Dog Consultant, I implement Macintosh and iOS solutions for my clients, but I also do tech stuff for fun in my personal life. One of my passions is sailboat racing, and I have gotten to know a lot about various marine usage of iPads, iPhone, Macs and wireless technology.

The iPhone and the iPad (3G or LTE models) include chips for compass and GPS. Newer units even support the GLONASS satellites, too (the Russian version of GPS). While the compass data isn’t quite as reliable as dedicated marine compasses, the location data is great, especially on the newest models.

To add more data to the iPads and iPhones on boats, there are wireless bridges that take NMEA data from boat instruments and broadcast it on Wi-Fi, so you can get wind speed, wind direction, speed thru the water, autopilot data, depth, and anything else that you have a boat sensor for.

Here is some of the most popular hardware for this integration (list from the iRegatta website):

Regardless of what hardware you choose to integrate, the coolest stuff is the software that takes this data and makes it into something useful aboard a boat.

Racing: iRegatta

iRegatta is the premier tactical racing app for iPad and iPhone. I used it all last summer and its features rival those of several expensive dedicated marine devices put together. You can use it to manage the waypoints of a race course, enter marks for the start line, and display realtime data for your performance. At the start, you can use it to estimate your time to the line and help you get the best start possible.

With real or estimated wind data, you can track wind headers and lifts and use that information to choose how to handle wind shifts efficiently. With course marks in, you can get time and distance and bearing to your next waypoint as you sail around the race course. You can also use it with polar data to help see if you are really sailing your boat to its potential in a given wind condition.

Sailing is not all about the data, and you need to keep your head out of the boat to do well, it can certainly help to have good information to help you make tactical decisions.

Navigation: iNavX

Whether racing or not, boaters need accurate charts to be safe on the water and help decide where to go on the water. On bigger boats, it is always prudent to have a set of paper charts, but more and more sailors and power-boaters rely on dedicated GPS chart-plotters to aid in navigation. The iPad and iPhone (especially in waterproof cases) make great navigation tools.

The top dog for iOS navigation is iNavX. It is an excellent chart-plotter, and you can download free NOAA charts for North America or invest in more sophisticated and seamless charts from other providers, and download them
directly to your device. You can create waypoints, track your movements, set alarms and integrate with weather GRIBs, AIS and radar data, and any NMEA data from your instruments. Waypoints and routes can be imported and exported to allow you to collaborate on your planning and tracking. It is an amazing app and worth every penny. The company also makes a couple of Mac apps that I also recommend.

Besides iRegatta and iNavX, there are many other cool apps in the App Store, some for tactics and navigation, some for rules, flags and symbols, and others that just act as simple data displays. I encourage you to explore and try this stuff out if you spend any time on the water.

Just make sure to waterproof your devices! Small Dog sells LifeProof cases which are great to protect your devices on a wet boat.

  FileVault or Vile Fault?  

Starting in OS X 10.7 Lion Apple introduced a new version of FileVault, referred to as FileVault 2.

FileVault 2 is Apple’s answer to a longstanding complaint that the Mac users lacked the option of operating securely from a workspace that includes full disk encryption. Previous versions of FileVault, going back to OS 10.4, worked by encrypting the User directory on a user by user basis, which was fine, but did not protect files stored outside of these directories…in the Application or System folders for example.

As a result, this left some potentially problematic security vulnerabilities for individuals and companies that needed the absolute highest level of data protection.

FileVault 2 addressed this issue by encrypting the entire system volume including all Users, Applications and System files. This, of course, also means that FileVault becomes an all-or-nothing proposition for users who share the same computer. If one elects to operate using FileVault 2, all must.

The problem alluded to in the above title for this Tech Tails article becomes evident when some not-so-uncommon issues crop up that are less difficult to deal with on unencrypted disks, but can result in catastrophic losses on FileVaulted volumes if you are not properly prepared.

The first is the the loss of an administrative password for a login account. For non-encrypted volumes without a firmware password in place, there are workarounds that allow you to reset a user’s password (although not their keychain!). This usually means they can get access to their files again, but may need to re-enter passwords for email and other accounts.

On a FileVault 2 protected volume this is not an option, and well it should not be. The whole point of a secure volume is that the security should not be easy to circumvent. In order to login and decrypt the volume, at least one of the user accounts must have a known password. No password? Bye-bye data. All of it. Or maybe not…

Apple realized that people DO forget passwords, so they did leave in one backdoor for exactly this situation; however you need to know about it to use it. The “backdoor” I refer to is called the Recovery Key. This key is generated at the time FileVault 2 is turned on for a volume. It looks something like this: GTE3-HWEZ-76FG-45WD-WKS4-PX13. Apple encourages you to document this key and store it in a safe place (hint: not in a file on your encrypted volume!)

In fact, this key is so important that they even offer to let you store it with them (Apple) for future use, assuming you can answer the three security questions you provide answers for. If you enter the wrong user login password for a FileVault 2 volume 3 times, you will be asked for the Recovery Key. To access this Recovery Key from Apple at a later date, you will need to call AppleCare, provide your computer’s serial number AND answer the three questions you provided answers for when first encrypting the FileVault 2 volume.

That’s not so bad…assuming you keep track of your Recovery Key. Right? Well there is another situation we run into pretty often in the Service Department, and that is the case where a drive is suffering from bad physical sectors or corruption to the partition structure. For unencrypted drives, we can sometimes work around these flaws and recover most of the data on a drive. However, depending on where this damage occurs on a FileVault 2 protected drive, it may prevent the volume from being mounted and decrypted at all. And because the data stored on the disk is all encrypted we cannot pick and choose just the good stuff.

This potential shortcoming should give folks pause, but it is not necessarily a reason not to use FileVault 2, if your situation demands it. What it does underscore is the need to have a good TimeMachine Backup. And TimeMachine Backups, as we all know, can be stored either encrypted or NOT encrypted…even if they are made from a FileVault 2 protected volume.

So the moral of the story is that FileVault 2 is a powerful tool. Think carefully about what its use means, and the implications for your data should something go wrong. Document your Recovery Key, and consider storing a copy with Apple.  And certainly, without exception, make sure you have a TimeMachine backup of your drive stored somewhere securely, just in case.

(Editor’s note: to reiterate one of Jeremy’s points, FileVault encryption is very secure. If you lose access to your data for one of the reasons he describes, the chances of recovery are basically zero. If you have only a few files you need to secure, you can create an encrypted sparse disk image in Disk Utility and keep sensitive files there. Be careful; there is no backdoor savior in this scenario!!)

  Find My iStuff  

Built in to iOS 5+ and OS 10.7 and later is the ability to use iCloud. iCloud lets you back up and sync contacts, email, photos, and a host of other data. Not everyone needs all of these features, but everyone is advised to take advantage of the security features, “Find my iPhone” and “Find my Mac.”

You can easily track your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac from another one of your devices or from if the device or computer is lost or stolen. In addition to tracking, you can wipe its data remotely, lock it, or play a sound to help find it in case it has been kicked under the couch.

To use these features, the device needs to be connected to the internet. iPhones are obviously connected via a cellular network, and any cellular-enabled iPad would be as well. However, Wi-Fi-only iPads and Macs would need a Wi-Fi signal or hard-wired connection to be able to reach the iCloud servers. Apple suggests that users enable a Guest account and disable autologin for greater security, since if your Mac is lost or stolen, there is a better chance that somebody can start using immediately since no password is needed (and thus, it will connect to the internet).

iPod touches and iPads that do not have cellular service get more complicated. Neither of these have the ability to enable or access a guest account. If you have your device password-protected, then there is no way for the device to have the chance to connect to the internet. It’s a tough choice at present. Maybe a future refinement will allow people to use this great feature without compromising their security in the process.

To enable Find my Mac:

  • Click the Apple logo in the top left hand corner
  • Select system Preferences
  • Select iCloud
  • Click the check box Find My Mac at the bottom

To enable the Guest account:

  • Click the Apple logo on the top left hand corner
  • Click Users & Groups
  • Unlock preferences by click the padlock in the bottom right hand corner
  • Click the Guest account on the left hand side then click the check “Allow guests to log in this computer”

To enable Find my iPhone in iOS:

  • Go to settings
  • Select iCloud form the list on the left hand side
  • Make sure Find My iPhone is selected and switched to on
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