Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 3rd Nov 2011 22:54 UTC
Mac OS X And so the iOS-ification of Mac OS X continues. Apple has just announced that all applications submitted to the Mac App Store have to use sandboxing by March 2012. While this has obvious security advantages, the concerns are numerous - especially since Apple's current sandboxing implementation and associated rules makes a whole lot of applications impossible.
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RE[4]: Comment by frderi
by frderi on Sun 6th Nov 2011 14:33 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Comment by frderi"
frderi
Member since:
2011-06-17


But the probability is much, much weaker. And if instead of crafting gigantic system components running as root you design the OS as a set of small components with limited responsibility and security permissions, the amount of chained exploits that one must use in order to, say, use a web browser to install a rootkit, becomes quite large.


If you're already blown off your socks and find this improbable, you should really have a look at how the stuxnet worm works. THAT is scary stuff. If you haven't, it basically targetted specific Siemens controllers of nuclear purification machinery in a certain country. The worm needed to bridge a great distance over the internet, overcome the fact that these machines were not connected to a LAN (so it spread over USB as well), and needed to insert itself into the controller to cause havoc. And it all needed to do it on autopilot, remain undetected and not cause too much collateral damage in the process. Talk about digital warfare. If you read about how it achieved this, the kinds of exploits I mentioned earlier are kindergarten material.


Isn't there an app for that yet ? ;)


There was iNuke by ThePlanet, Inc. on the App Store for a short period, but Apple pulled the kill switch on it. Only minor countries got nuked. ;)

OSX also qualifies with its DMG packages, but that's not the best example of an easy-to-use installation package around (Mounting an image disk and dragging and dropping stuff around ? Why can't I just double-click that downloaded file to get stuff installed ?)


Downloading in Safari will automount the dmg and take out the application for you. For installing system components, you can create .pkg and .mpkg packages. And ofcourse, the App Store already puts the app in the right place for you. Come to think of it, I think not having installers on Mac is better, since contrary to windows, Mac apps don't need all the .dll stuff in the right places to run properly; It also makes clear to the user that running an app won't leave any potential nasty stuff spread around your system.

And I think that this is lipstick on a pig. By doing this, you basically say to your users "you don't know what is good and you can't learn, so let Apple do that stuff for you". But at some point, everyone who spends time on the Internet needs to learn how to discriminate the legit from the scam, be it to a basic extent. Buying train tickets, books, doing online banking... Should all that also be done through the App store ?


I wouldn't mind seeing dedicated software put out by these services to make the process more streamlined. Some of the more important services, like banking transactions for companies, use this approach.



Then either this set of rules is wrong/not respected, or there is a strong difference between the iOS and Mac app stores and we should both specify what we're talking about


I was referring to the iOS App Store. I don't know the reasoning behind disallowing demos of the Mac App Store, but I don't think its a good idea to disallow them.


Are you talking about the extra amount of personal information that phones usually store ? But then, software really should not have access to that information under normal circumstances, and good sandboxing would do the trick.


The access to personal information is just a minor one. Then again, not an unimportant one. Bigger dangers I think are the fact that smartphones have location-based functionality. This can be exploited for all sorts of nasty things. Another thing is that smartphones are basically tiny computers which are mostly always always-on always-connected devices. There will also a great many more of them than desktop PCs. The fact that they're mobile also makes them harder to crack down. Can you imagine a botnet on millions of smartphones? Last but not least smartphones are able to generate additional cost. And whenever there's cost, there's a potential for malicious profit. Thats why I think you need tighter control on smartphone OSes than you need on Desktop PC's. So I think its really crucial that you run up-to-date software on a modern smartphone and have the mechanisms in place to facilitate that. Since the risk for disaster is many times bigger than desktop computers.


Windows was not designed to run on anything but a desktop to begin with. As soon as you specify control position and size in pixels by hand, assume the existence of a "hover" functionality, or fill toolbars without taking care of what happens when window sizes are reduced, your software is already dead as far as cross-device portability is concerned.


Spot on. thats why other devices need other approaches when it comes to UI. But it doesn't stop at just the primary controls. Building a good tablet or smartphone UI is completely different than building a good Desktop app. You can't just "slap on" fixes for these basic controls and call it a day. You need to reimagine the app entirely.


And then there is also a serious bloat problem with desktop Windows, which is why phone-oriented releases tend to be based on the inferior and incompatible Windows CE version.


The primary reason for this is that Windows isn't modular enough and it being a jack of all trades. When you try too do too much, you tend to suck at everything.


Reinvented on a UI level, really ? Icons, pointers, menus, toolbars, tabs... Current mobile OSs, iOS included, looks more like a set of tweak to the desktop UI paradigms than a reinvention of GUI design to me.


Sure, reinvented. The basic building blocks are the same. But they took it down to the building block level and rearranged them in a way which would work well on mobile devices. A lot of the UI conventions and methodology that make sense on a desktop computer don't make sense at all on a mobile app. Mobile apps don't have windows, they work fullscreen. They use other input methods, like you said, they don't use a mouse, so everything tailored towards having a mouse becomes obsolete. This doesn't just include the obvious things like mouseover. It trickles down trough the entire concept of the UI, since the graphical UI's from personal computers were built towards serving the mouse as a pointing device. If you break down your house and rebuild it from the ground up with the same bricks, thats rebuilding to me. Its not "tweaking your current house" by a wide margin. A good tablet app makes a bad desktop app, and a good desktop app makes a bad tablet app, so its crucial to reimagine it.


Because it hasn't been tried doesn't mean that it is impossible. If you consider interactions with software at a more abstract level than we currently do, there is no theoretical reason why cross-device portability could not be significantly improved...


Interesting idea, I'd like to see that in action sometime.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[5]: Comment by frderi
by Neolander on Sun 6th Nov 2011 16:35 in reply to "RE[4]: Comment by frderi"
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

If you're already blown off your socks and find this improbable, you should really have a look at how the stuxnet worm works. THAT is scary stuff. If you haven't, it basically targetted specific Siemens controllers of nuclear purification machinery in a certain country. The worm needed to bridge a great distance over the internet, overcome the fact that these machines were not connected to a LAN (so it spread over USB as well), and needed to insert itself into the controller to cause havoc. And it all needed to do it on autopilot, remain undetected and not cause too much collateral damage in the process. Talk about digital warfare. If you read about how it achieved this, the kinds of exploits I mentioned earlier are kindergarten material.

I agree that software protections which are good enough against everyday desktop and mobile threats will be insufficient against targeted attacks with colossal financial and human means like Stuxnet. When you're facing this sort of attacks, you need NASA-like permanent code auditing and warfare-like financial and human means to achieve good security.

However, I also believe that that the average desktop/mobile user is not likely to have to worry about this anytime soon.

Downloading in Safari will automount the dmg and take out the application for you. For installing system components, you can create .pkg and .mpkg packages. And ofcourse, the App Store already puts the app in the right place for you. Come to think of it, I think not having installers on Mac is better, since contrary to windows, Mac apps don't need all the .dll stuff in the right places to run properly; It also makes clear to the user that running an app won't leave any potential nasty stuff spread around your system.

Hmmm... Which version of OS X are we talking about here ? I think that on the (admittedly a little old) 10.5 machines which I'm used to, Safari automatically mounts and opens dmgs but does not do anything else.

I really, really do not like Windows-like installers, but I see the value in standard packages whose installation goes a bit beyond copying a folder at a standard location. File associations, applications which start on system boot, security permissions... All that benefits from being managed at once during "installation" time.

I wouldn't mind seeing dedicated software put out by these services to make the process more streamlined. Some of the more important services, like banking transactions for companies, use this approach.

I see a value in having sensitive stuff such as banking managed by web services myself. When a vulnerability is discovered in a piece of code which handles financial transactions, you really want that vulnerability to be fixed immediately, and nothing beats web-based services for ease of updating ;)

But I guess that the risk is small for extremely simple applications which are just an I/O peripheral for a big cloud service.

The access to personal information is just a minor one. Then again, not an unimportant one. Bigger dangers I think are the fact that smartphones have location-based functionality. This can be exploited for all sorts of nasty things. Another thing is that smartphones are basically tiny computers which are mostly always always-on always-connected devices. There will also a great many more of them than desktop PCs. The fact that they're mobile also makes them harder to crack down. Can you imagine a botnet on millions of smartphones? Last but not least smartphones are able to generate additional cost. And whenever there's cost, there's a potential for malicious profit. Thats why I think you need tighter control on smartphone OSes than you need on Desktop PC's. So I think its really crucial that you run up-to-date software on a modern smartphone and have the mechanisms in place to facilitate that. Since the risk for disaster is many times bigger than desktop computers.

Alright, I give you this one ;) In this light, smartphones are indeed a quite "dangerous" piece of tech that must be handled with care.

Spot on. thats why other devices need other approaches when it comes to UI. But it doesn't stop at just the primary controls. Building a good tablet or smartphone UI is completely different than building a good Desktop app. You can't just "slap on" fixes for these basic controls and call it a day. You need to reimagine the app entirely.

You are right that cross-device portability, if possible, would be about much more than basic UI fixes. I've not started full work on that yet, but an interesting path to study, in my opinion, would be to start with a relatively abstract theory of human-computer interactions, then gradually specialize it towards the kind of devices and users which the OS or application wants to target.

Like, if we went extremely far on the "abstract" end of the spectrum, a basic clock application's UI would transmit a periodically updated text information to the user. And an SMS inbox would ask the user to pick an object from a list of items that are defined by a set of characteristics (Sender, short description, reception date, read/not read), where items which are not read are highlighted by the UI.

This is to be contrasted with the current approach to UI design, which at the other extreme aims at describing every single detail of the user-software interaction, and as such is extremely vulnerable to a change of hardware, be it only a move to a different screen size.

Of course, there are less extreme approaches in the middle, with both some control and some flexibility. And then there is the multiscalar approach, where developers start by designing their UI at a very general level, then define the specifics of some forms of interaction which they specifically focus on (keyboard, finger, mouse and voice input, screen and voice output...)

The primary reason for this is that Windows isn't modular enough and it being a jack of all trades. When you try too do too much, you tend to suck at everything.

And when you do too little, people just say "meh" and move along ;) I guess that defining reasonable goals for a product must be one of the hardest tasks of engineering !

A lot of the UI conventions and methodology that make sense on a desktop computer don't make sense at all on a mobile app. Mobile apps don't have windows, they work fullscreen. (...)

Well, they do have windows, in the sense of a private display which the application may put its UI into without other software interfering. It just happens that these windows are not resizable, full screen, and as a consequence are hard to close and can only be switched using the operating system's task switcher. Which makes multi-windows interfaces impractical. But those ought to disappear anyway ;)

And although they do not have a mouse, they still have pointer-based UIs. Only this time, the pointer is a huge greasy finger instead of being a pixel-precise mouse, so hovering actions must not be a vital part of the UI, and controls must be made bigger to be usable. Since controls are bigger and screens are smaller, less controls can be displayed at once, and some controls must either go of be only accessible through scrolling. But this does not have to be fully done by hand, UI toolkits could do a part of the job if the widget set was designed with cross-device portability in mind...

Edited 2011-11-06 16:38 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[6]: Comment by frderi
by frderi on Sun 6th Nov 2011 19:37 in reply to "RE[5]: Comment by frderi"
frderi Member since:
2011-06-17


I agree that software protections which are good enough against everyday desktop and mobile threats will be insufficient against targeted attacks with colossal financial and human means like Stuxnet. When you're facing this sort of attacks, you need NASA-like permanent code auditing and warfare-like financial and human means to achieve good security.

However, I also believe that that the average desktop/mobile user is not likely to have to worry about this anytime soon.


I'm not sure if you aware of how the black hat industry works. Make no mistake, this is a multi million dollar industry. There are people out there that make a living out of it. There are people who do nothing all day but to find these zero-day bugs. And when they find them, they sell them on the black market, for hundreds or thousands of dollars. These aren't the kinds of bugs that come to light by patches. The black hat industry has moved beyond that. These are bugs that aren't known by their respective vendors and aren't patched in any of their products. This information is then bought by malware writers, who exploit them in their malicious code for keylogging, botnets, whatever. There's not a hair on my head that thinks black hats are not capable of writing Stuxnet-like functionality. Don't underestimate these guys, they're way smarter than you think.


Hmmm... Which version of OS X are we talking about here ? I think that on the (admittedly a little old) 10.5 machines which I'm used to, Safari automatically mounts and opens dmgs but does not do anything else.


Opening safe files is an option you can turn off and on in the options; it also works with zip files.


I really, really do not like Windows-like installers, but I see the value in standard packages whose installation goes a bit beyond copying a folder at a standard location. File associations, applications which start on system boot, security permissions... All that benefits from being managed at once during "installation" time.


True. On a Mac, .pkg/.mpkg packages do that. They actually are little more than a bundle of an archive files and some xml data to describe its contents. it supports scripting, resources, …


You are right that cross-device portability, if possible, would be about much more than basic UI fixes. I've not started full work on that yet, but an interesting path to study, in my opinion, would be to start with a relatively abstract theory of human-computer interactions, then gradually specialize it towards the kind of devices and users which the OS or application wants to target.


Its an interesting train of thought, but I still think there would be a lot of human design based decisions to be made for the different devices, and I don't know if the net gain of letting the computer do this would be greater than just redesigning the UI yourself, especially on iOS devices, where its trivial to set up an UI.


And when you do too little, people just say "meh" and move along ;) I guess that defining reasonable goals for a product must be one of the hardest tasks of engineering !


It has to have the functionality to support the use cases for the device. Everything else is just clutter. After defining the goals of your app, you need to design the practical implementation of the functionality. As a user, I really appreciate it when a lot of thought has gone into this process. Some UI's which are basically displays of underlying functionality. These tend to be very tedious and time consuming to work with. There are others which actually take the effort to make the translation between a simple user interaction and the underlying technology. A lot of thought can go into the process of trying to come to grips with how these interactions should present itself to the user, and in some cases, it takes an order of a magnitude more effort than it takes to actually write the code behind it.

Well, they do have windows, in the sense of a private display which the application may put its UI into without other software interfering. It just happens that these windows are not resizable, full screen, and as a consequence are hard to close and can only be switched using the operating system's task switcher. Which makes multi-windows interfaces impractical. But those ought to disappear anyway ;)


You're looking at it from a developer perspective, I'm looking at it from a user perspective. As a user I don't care if there's a windowing technology behind it or not. I don't see it, I don't use it, so it doesn't exist. Desktop computers have windowing functionality (The classic Mac OS even had way too many of it) There are more differences than that. Some popups, like authorizations, are modal, some others, like notifications, are non-modal. They way they display these things is different as well. But these are just individual elements, and in the grand scheme of things, trivialities.


Although they do not have a mouse, they still have pointer-based UIs. Only this time, the pointer is a huge greasy finger instead of being a pixel-precise mouse, so hovering actions must not be a vital part of the UI, and controls must be made bigger to be usable. Since controls are bigger and screens are smaller, less controls can be displayed at once, and some controls must either go of be only accessible through scrolling. But this does not have to be fully done by hand, UI toolkits could do a part of the job if the widget set was designed with cross-device portability in mind...


Try to think a little bit further than the practicalities of the UI elements and think about the overall user experience instead of the engineering challenges. Good tablet apps are layed out differently than good desktop apps. This is not a coincidence. Some of those differences are based on the different platform characteristics, as you mentioned. But other reasons have to do with the fact that the use cases for these apps differ greatly. I'm convinced that when you are designing UI's, you have to start from the user experience and define these use cases properly to be able to come to an application design thats truly empowering your users.

Reply Parent Score: 0