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#969: Microsoft Outage; Flash Player; MacOS Firewall

 
     
 

Hello Fellow Technophiles,

I would like to start out by saying that I am not sharing this to offer evidence that Apple is superior to Microsoft even though that is CLEARLY the case. I am merely sharing information…

Yesterday, the 7th of March, Microsoft had a major service outage that affected many of their services. This included the Outlook email service (which includes Hotmail), Office 365 (their cloud-based Office service), the Xbox Live gaming service, and Skype. These services were completely down or had limited functionality for hours.

Normally this would not affect me in any way as I do not use any of these services, but I was working with someone who was trying to set up her Hotmail account on her new Mac. She was sure that the password was correct, but it would not let us sign into this account in the Mac Mail program. I double-checked all of the IMAP and SMTP settings and these were all correct, so I was sure that the password was in fact the issue. My suspicion seemed to be confirmed when we tried to log into Hotmail.com and the password didn’t work. The next step was to reset the password, but this process kept failing. At this point, I started to get suspicious and a quick Google search revealed the outage.

The lesson here is that if an online service does not seem to be working correctly, it is definitely worth looking into whether or not that service is down before diving into more in-depth troubleshooting. Apple maintains a page where you can check on all of its service is one place. Click here to see the current service status.

Thanks for reading!

Mike
michaeld@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  What the heck is Adobe Flash Player?  
   
 

As a computer technician, one of the most common questions I am asked is “What is Adobe Flash Player?“Almost everyone has seen a message on their computer at some point telling them that Adobe Flash Player needs to be installed or updated, but few people seem to understand what it actually is or what it does.

Flash Player is an application that is currently developed and maintained by Adobe Systems. The original purpose of Flash Player was to play files that were created by another Adobe application called Flash. Flash was very popular in the 2000s for creating animations, videos, games, and other interactive web content.

Over the years, Flash has been criticized many times, for various reasons. Most famously, in April 2010, Steve Jobs published a document explaining his reasons for not supporting Flash on the iPad. He cited the proprietary nature of Flash, as well as technical issues with it. He also explained that if Apple supported Flash applications on iOS, it would severely hinder Appleā€™s ability to control the quality of the iOS experience. You can read the full document here.

Today, Flash content on the Internet has largely been replaced with HTML5. HTML5 is the newest version of the HTML coding language and includes new standards for displaying animated and interactive content. With these new standards, HTML5 can display just about everything that Flash used to, and more. HTML5 content is more efficient and open than Flash, and supported on virtually every modern Internet-enabled device. The main use for Flash today is to run older Flash-based games and applications that have not been converted to HTML5.

You may be thinking “If Flash is so old and most websites have moved past it, why does my computer keep telling me to install Flash Player?” That is a great question. In the last couple of years, various scams have emerged on the Internet where the scammer buys advertising space, and uses it to display a fake message indicating that Flash Player needs to be installed. As most people do not know what Flash Player is, just that it used to be important, this is a very effective scam. When the victim clicks on the advertisement, malware will be downloaded to their computer.

There are still some older websites that do require Flash Player to function properly, but these are becoming increasingly uncommon. If you do need to install Flash Player, make sure you are downloading it from https://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ which is the only trusted source. If you ever have any questions about whether you need Flash Player or if a download is legitimate, feel free to email the Small Dog tech team at support@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  You're My Firewall  
   
 

A firewall is a piece of software or hardware that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic using rules set up by the user or administrator. You can go and buy a fancy 3rd-party firewall, but Apple has one built into MacOS. With this built-in software firewall you can set what applications can have incoming and outgoing connections.

Most of the time you don’t have to worry about a firewall because MacOS doesn’t have potentially vulnerable services listening to the outside by default. However, depending on what 3rd-party software you have or if you are running a web server, applications could potentially be communicating in the background with the outside so you might want to limit communication for security reasons.

Your built in firewall settings are found in the Security and Privacy pane in System Preferences. At the most basic level, all you have to do is click the button to turn on the firewall. Now that the firewall is on, click the button Firewall Options. Here you have some options to customize your level of protection. We will be discussing the firewall settings in MacOS Sierra, but the settings are similar for earlier operating systems.

The first is Block all incoming connections which blocks everything except basic internet services. Most of the time you won’t need lock the system down that much, but the option is there.

Next is Automatically allow built-in software to receive incoming connections. This is referring to the apps that are included with MacOS, so this usually a good thing to leave checked as this software has been designed with security in mind by Apple.

The next option is Automatically allow downloaded signed software to receive incoming connections. Digitally signed software is software that contains a code which MacOS uses to verify the developer. Apple maintains a list of developers that it considers trustworthy so this is typically a safe option to leave checked as well.

The last option is Enable stealth mode. When this is enabled your computer will not acknowledge attempts to access this computer from the network by test applications using ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) methods such as ping. Enabling this helps keep you safe by making a DOS (Denial of Service) attack method known as PoD (ping of death!) useless to the attacker.

In the middle of the menu box you can see big box with a plus and minus box at the bottom. This is where you can choose specific apps you that want to add or remove network access to or from. This would primarily be used if you have an application that you trust but is not from a trusted developer and you need it to have network access.

Most users don’t have to worry about a firewall. Since the MacOS is so secure most attacks are done through social engineering. This is when someone tricks you into revealing your password, basically making you open the door for them either by fear or manipulation. Software and hardware can help, but only you can prevent this type of security breach by not revealing your password to untrusted persons.

 
   
     
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