You may agree with its decision this time, but will you always agree? Apple's wielding of power in this way is likely to attract the attention of groups such as copyright/IP lobbyists, which have an immense desire to have all "non-authorised" files/software erased from all user's machines.
As the saying goes, "two wrongs don't make a right".
In any case, the idea of the OS/platform vendor meddling with third-party software that it doesn't like just feels wrong. I know Apple has historically held tight control over its mobile platforms, but the Mac is meant to be different.
I am not an Apple customer, and I now feel even more reluctant to become one.
any OS (and many other apps) that update have the power to do what you’re afraid of, and much more.
plus i don’t really see a bright line between system level software and an app when apps can access your video cam, mic, all your files - basically your whole computer.
This isn't third-party anything. No one even knew this was running on their machine and it was demonstrably abusable. Good riddance!
One: On the family iPad we had at the time, we hadn't ever uploaded music to it from the family library, because there wasn't enough space for it all. Whenever anyone opened control panel and accidentally pressed "play", something by U2 (with a not-appropriate-for-little-children album cover) would come on.
Two: It was hard to remove that darn album. I couldn't figure out how to get it to go away for the life of me.
There's also a fundamental difference between someone adding something like Clippy to your desktop (or a U2 album) and someone saying "you need to fix your stuff or you get kicked out."
It was an entire U2 album, a far greater offense.
There's an ocean of difference between can and will.
The setting ostensibly refers to the operating system, i.e. macOS, which I have no problems with Apple modifying if you've enabled that option, and which their EULA probably has a clause about. But from a legal perspective, modifying a third-party application which Apple does not own and did not install seems an overreach; unless their EULA explicitly grants them the right to do anything they want with the files of the system it's installed on, they could find themselves in legal trouble. (That notorious CFAA and the like.)
No more zoom for me.
Would you let it scan all your files and delete e.g. "suspected images of child abuse" (to use an old cliche)? Suspected copyrighted material or fragments thereof? "Extremist" content, or content which is contrary to current social norms? How authoritarian does it have to get before you start being creeped out?
If Apple starts being abusive, they'll get their hand slapped. If they don't, they don't.
There's no better company positioned to do anti-malware than the vendor of the OS itself. Which is why Apple and Microsoft both do it. You can disable updates on both platforms if, for some reason, you don't want anything to change on your system without your explicit action (pros and cons to that, obviously). But for most end users, the tradeoff of control vs. security is a very easy one, since the average user is in no way qualified to secure their own system or audit the code that runs on it.
Contrary to that, the demands from governments and others for tech companies to "take responsibility" and become enforcers of all sorts of perceived virtues is reaching a crescendo.
And it's not just about clearly dangerous things like child porn or terrorism. The UK government seriously demands the takedown of "harmful but not illegal" content.
Just think about that concept of "harmful but not illegal" for a moment and you'll see that the sort of overreach that userbinator is talking about is anything but "some absurd extreme".
You have that trouble because you are focusing on the "critical vulnerability" part and ignoring the fact that Apple decided to uninstall a program they had nothing to do with from your computer without your consent.
The intentions might be noble, the implications however are less so.
Replace this instance with something that you disagree about (imagine Apple removing VPN software from Chinese customers due to demands from China or "fixing" existing VPN software with backdoors that enable Chinese authorities to wiretap Chinese people) and see what the issue is here.
(if that example would happen or not is irrelevant, i'm making it to help you see the issue in a context i think you'd disagree with Apple about, i'm not making it for you to argue if that would happen or not)
Apple engineers go to China. Anything they do to help the Chinese government can immediately affect their own workers. If they did that, and a bunch of people with Apple devices got thrown in jail / whatever, their stock, and moral standing, would suffer some serious blow-back for it.
Google Chrome has a thing that pops up when it thinks you might be getting attacked / phished by somebody. I wouldn't mind if OS X terminated my connection and said "Hey, we don't think this is safe" to me, especially if it was something that the average person isn't likely to notice and can cause damage to them (also, in China [relative to the US], the stakes for everything are generally higher- the US probably tracks you around, China for sure does that and is actively nabbing people a lot more frequently, too.)
> (if that example would happen or not is irrelevant, i'm making it to help you see the issue in a context i think you'd disagree with Apple about, i'm not making it for you to argue if that would happen or not)
It is in its own paragraph. That China part wasn't meant to be debated, it was meant as an example of an event that if it happened would make you disagree with Apple. The important part of this example is you disagreeing with Apple, not the reason why.
That's not equivalent, equivalent would be doing something you don't realise, the point is about user agency: keeping users uninformed and, for those that get the information out-of-band, unable to exercise their own control over the situation.
This is not true. You can disable all the automatic updates in System Preferences.
Incorrect. Users who are vulnerable to this had already decided to uninstall Zoom and that's why it was a vulnerability. Zoom had decided to ignore the user's wishes and leave their server behind so that it could re-install the software. Apple's update simply enforces the users' past decision to uninstall the application.
It's like Google making an ad hoc decision to use Chrome autoupdate to silently patch a particularly bad vulnerability in Microsoft Word just because they can.
So what is the principle behind this kind of exception? It's simply this: If it's bad enough, normal rules can be suspended and anything goes. It's like declaring a state of emergency. It's not normal or mundane.
Now the question becomes what is bad enough and who gets to decide what is bad enough? People will point to incidents like this and ask questions like: Why was the San Bernardino attack not bad enough for Apple to suspend its ususal rules? Why can people store tons of pirated music on their Macs without Apple taking action? Why does Apple allow criminals to hide behind end-to-end encrypted messaging software?
If Apple has decided to take responsibility for the security of all third party software on macOS then they should say so. They should change the rules instead of breaking them in an ad hoc fashion.
Then we can all decide whether or not we want to hand total control to Apple (and to those who have control over Apple).
There were a few instances in the last few years where the repos or built-in update systems of legitimate programs were compromised and bundled malware (and in one case, ransomware) along with their apps. In those cases, Apple also silently updated XProtect to remove the malware.
In this case, just because this was a webserver and not something more traditional like a trojan doesn't mean that it isn't still malware. The Risky Business podcast asserted the existence of the RCE before Apple jumped into action that it says Zoom knew about for months. Given that the only way to remove the webserver is to update Zoom (something that won't help any user that has already uninstalled Zoom, which kindly left the insecure webserver behind), this type of update makes perfect sense -- especially since Zoom itself is removing the server from its own application bundle.
This was malware, pure and simple. It wasn't third party software. It was malware left behind/included with a third-party app. It's not as if Apple removed the Zoom app -- it removed the piece of malware Zoom was including alongside its app. The fact that Zoom was including this malware as a way of bypassing Apple's access control in Safari (God forbid the user have to click a button confirming they want to open a meeting) is beside the point -- this was malware.
Additionally, users can turn off the auto system updates and they can disable Gatekeeper entirely.
I understand the broader concern of an OS maker being able to remove files a user chose to install -- but this is a very unambiguous
case of malware. Just because the RCE wasn't actively exploited doesn't mean it wasn't malware.
What Zoom did was negligent and incompetent, but I don't see that there was malicious intent. I do agree, however, that what they tried to do is unacceptable even if implemented competently.
But even if it weren’t — and we can agree to disagree on the intent — the second the RCE is popped, it becomes a massive security issue and it becomes traditional malware. As I said, I’m convinced Apple would do the same thing if this was something left behind or associated with Java or Flash.
But I will admit that I'm starting to see the question of Zoom's intent a bit differently after thinking about what you have said.
Instead you defended Apple fixing security issues in third party software (as I understood it without user consent) and you compared any concerns about that with concerns about buses intentionally running over pedestrians.
So apparently our debate took wrong turn and that wasn't entirely my fault although I will take some of the blame.
I agree that Zoom's intent (and even more so their methods) is icky. So perhaps we should have focused on that, because I can understand the reasoning that this makes Apple's actions look far more justified than I initially thought.
It is actually very competent of them, except for the security part.
I don't see anything in the article that suggests this - as I read it, it pretty much says the opposite. What else have you read that outlined these rules and the exception Apple made?
As far as I know, there is no system-wide update mechanism for third party software not distributed through the Mac App Store that does not require any user interaction. So apparently they (ab)used the system update mechanism.
Zoom is clearly not malware. It just has a bug. Is updating regular third party software documented behaviour of macOS? If so then I agree that it is not abuse. Otherwise Apple has some explaining to do.
That is not a bug
The problem is that Apple appears to have made an exception to its own rules in this particular case. If I understand correctly, they used a first party system update mechanism to change third party software.
I don't think any of these are established facts and I don't understand how you, a fellow fact-fancier, haven't acknowledged that before breezily moving on to a discussion of the precise definition of the term 'malware'.
There's a line between the OS and third-party software. There's a line between malicious software and accidentally vulnerable. Apple has just shown that it is willing to cross both those lines. Where is the line at which Apple will stop?
To make this look scary, you have to misrepresent what Apple actually did and then extrapolate to some frightening hypothetical to end up at nothing more than a risk inherent in all self-updating software.
If the position is 'all self-updating software is an unreasonable risk', fine. But at least argue that unvarnished, and I imagine to most people, extreme and impractical view instead of trying to dress it up as some novel and intricate argument about morality and creeping authoritarianism.
Point to me any other manufacturer who has gone to those lengths to protect their users. There was no reason for Apple to develop that tech. No one else in that space, but they developed it anyway.
Can they do all this stuff? Sure, but I don't think they will. It does not seem to be in their interest.
I also purged Zoom. They’ve blown it in the trust department. They better start working on a web app because that is as much access they’ll get from me in the future.
Do you have a source for that. It doesn’t peek around my computer a little and/or send back any telemetry? I’m being serious, I’d like to know.
I had to install Zoom in school in 2014, I ended up uninstalling it the next week and reformatted after the quarter. I’m with Apple here. It’s shit insecure non-consenting software that wastes battery 99.99% of the time.
This is a good point; we shouldn't act as though users are necessarily making an informed choice or meaningfully consenting to all the software that's on their computers. Lots of people are forced to install software at economic gunpoint (and probably can ill afford a separate computer to isolate it on).
You can't depend on users and the marketplace to select against insecure software. The market is too distorted to function that way; the people forcing others to use shitty software are often isolated from the consequences themselves, so there's no effective feedback loop to stop it. Having the OS vendor step in is really the only good solution in the short term.
The part that freaks me out is you can’t uninstall it.
“The undocumented web server remained installed even if a user uninstalled Zoom.”
I’m not sure if this is common. Sony got caught with their XCP rootkit (I’m not sure if they called it this at the time) you had to fill out a “uninstall request” form on their site with your email and location. I’m not sure if the uninstaller fixed the vulnerability.
So maybe a rootkit might describe this if the vulnerable webserver is privileged. In Sony’s case, the side effects were unintentional (though their history with DRM is egregious). I think Zoom is just polluted MVP in production.
Most of the insecure software that I run has enough grace to not silently leave behind a web server to automatically re-install itself after I dumped it in the trash can.
This is a horrifying bug. Is Facetime malware? Or do developers with earnest intentions sometimes write buggy code?
If you don't think that's scary then you're just incapable of long term thinking.
Yes, they can do that. So can Microsoft with Windows. So can Google with Android. Will any of them do that? Hopefully not, at the very least. Will all of them do that? Probably not- there's money to be made being the last company standing that actively protects privacy.
For the same reason Apple removed VPN apps from the Chinese iOS app store and multiple news organisations. Because they feel that the money from China is worth obeying oppressive regimes. I really don't think the backlash would be any worse.
Apple didn’t flex anything here, it removed malware from its users computers.
> You may agree with its decision this time, but will you always agree?
Yes, I will. At least I am not going to lose sleep over it until Apple does abuse that power.
I am actually even more happy to be an Apple user knowing that the mothership said hell naw to the naw naw naw naw to this horseshit Zoom has been pulling.
If I were Apple, I'd be taking this as a personal slight against my entire user base.
What if Apple abuses that power in ways that not everyone sees as "abuse", yet they are affected by it?
The reason you are not already seeing this act as abuse is because you happen to agree with it. What if you didn't agree? What if you were in the minority? What if the reason you where in the minority was that the majority simply didn't had the necessary understanding, experience and/or knowledge to see the issue you see?
If something can be abused, it will be abused, there isn't a matter of if, it is a matter of when. And with that in mind it is better to try and avoid being abused than wait for the abuse to happen and see what you can do after the fact.
Is it appropriate for Microsoft and Apple to push updates that disable and remove those from infected computers? If so, what is the significant difference?
I remember many years ago when the first widespread worms for Windows started circulating. All MS did was publish news and a removal tool. It was publicised greatly, but the ultimate choice was left to the owners of the computers, and that's how it should be.
All the big tech companies (and even a lot of the smaller ones) are becoming increasingly authoritarian, and that's the most concerning thing about this.
I love this. This is why I'll keep buying Apple.
To be honest I'm kinda sick of this argument. Someone brings this argument up _every single time_ a tech company takes action against something malicious. It's a strawman argument at best and at worst a way to give people an out on acting against something that could harm the user.
> Apple's wielding of power in this way is likely to attract the attention of groups such as copyright/IP lobbyists, which have an immense desire to have all "non-authorised" files/software erased from all user's machines.
This will never happen.
This seems like overreach to me. It's annoying but it's not like the Zoom app was silently letting people watch me for hours through my webcam without anyone noticing - the app opens a full screen video sharing GUI for goodness sake. Is being joined to a VC without me wanting it when I click a link annoying? Sure. It also serves the attacker no real purpose and thus has never actually happened in the wild. It's also easily fixed. This is a storm in a teacup.
Moreover it seems from the last discussion of this on HN that videocall firms do this for a good reason - lots of users get confused by bad Safari permissions GUIs and end up locking themselves out of the app by cancelling the URL open prompt without thinking (which is apparently persistent!) Then they can't join the call. So the only reason these firms are using such a bad workaround to begin with is because Apple screwed up their user interfaces: why is this not on Apple to fix?
This appears to send a message to Mac devs that a single troublemaking blogger can cause Apple to kneejerkingly nuke features in your app overnight, regardless of whether you are fixing them, whether they're serious or not or whether it will result in legions of confused and stuck Mac users. Not a great message.
The argument isn't about taking action against something malicious, the argument is about the implications of being able to take that action and what sort of power the company has and if they should have it in light of past abuses (not necessarily but that company, but this is totally irrelevant since companies are made up of people that come and go, they do not have a single "brain" or morality).
> This will never happen.
You cannot guarantee that.
> > This will never happen
> You cannot guarantee that.
What I personally care about, privacy-wise, is the present and near future- will my family be safe on the internet with what I've set up for the next five years? Probably. Will the computer I'm using to type this reply on be replaced within a decade? Probably so. Will my family get a new PC within the next ten years? Yes.
Can you 100% guarantee that the Government of the United States will be intact in twenty years? No, the threats from Russia and China (both nuclear countries) and North Korea (armed or not, they're still dangerous), and space asteroids and epidemics and terrorists and politics and civil wars are not zero.
Can you 100% guarantee that California won't sink into the ocean in 100 years? That would make for some really bad real estate investments, yet people still buy and sell and build there.
People are still living in California, trading with each other, the US Government is still stable, and Apple is currently upholding and protecting user privacy. Also, we still have electricity and the internet. Now is a great time to be alive.
The setting is called "Install system data files and security updates": it's not just system components.
And it is a security update meant to annihilate a serious malware threat, not to mess with legitimate third party software.
I am an Apple customer, and I now feel even happier about being one.
You shouldn't want. But at the same time i do not think it is a good idea to want Apple to be able to silently remove arbitrary applications they had nothing to do with from your computer.
At the very least they should ask the user about it or quarantine the software and inform the user about it. AFAIK this is what Windows Defender does when it finds malicious files.
Then, Apple, can push a silent update to simply kill software on your machine which as I understand it wasn't installed through the app store.
In this case I may be happy that it's no longer running, but the whole thing is disturbing. Looking at the Security & Privacy settings on my MacBook, I see nothing about running any anti-virus or anti-malware. The closest setting I can see that might be this is under software update, where I have the option to install automatically the system data files and security updates.
It's kind of a stretch for me to consider the ability to kill some software Apple might construe as malware at anytime the same thing as a "security update". To me, a security update would patch Apple code which had a vulnerability.
Where do I tell Apple to whitelist software in the future they might not like which I've chosen to install not going through the App Store?
It's actually news to me that I'm running Anti-X on my Mac, I didn't think I was.
Considering the fact that I have to learn new places for all the buttons every time Microsoft gets bored and changes things for the "better" I'm really disappointed.
System76 is looking better and better.
Real principles would involve switching now.
b) Linux seems pretty solid, no...?
c) I'd argue that a better position might be 'support Linux now, in case you need it in the future'.
Oh, and a company that defended the insecure web server up until the moment the public outrage exploded and/or the RCE it had willfully ignored was about to be revealed.
Oh, and a public company at that, that’s trying to convince businesses to use its product as it primary video chat system.
Apple worked with Zoom insofar as Apple cleaned up Zoom’s mess because of Zoom’s poor/unethical software practices.
For example if you classify possibly unwanted programs from annoying toolbars to randomware on a scale of 1-3 it might be reasonable to provide a checkbox to allow the user to switch between being warned of a negative program and being given the option to uninstall and having this happen automatically for non critical situations.
If the default is to on then 99% of users will be protected.
Arguably stuff like ransomware shouldn't be optional lest the malware set the option.
Apple made the right call for this instance, especially after the completely insufficient excuses given by Zoom’s CIO.
> Apple's wielding of power in this way... the idea of the OS/platform vendor meddling with third-party software...
This is THEIR app store for THEIR operating system. Why in the world would they not be allowed to control their software's features or third party integrations? It reminds me of the ridiculous argument over Windows setting IE as its default browser (and I've been a web dev since the late 90s).
On MY computer.
> Why in the world would they not be allowed to control their software's features or third party integrations?
Because it is not THEIR computer but MY computer.
But Apple didn't install macOS on your computer. You chose to use THEIR platform.
It reminds me of the ridiculous argument over Windows setting IE as its default browser
What do you mean by that? Instead you reminded me that saying "$our_competitor's product is not secure, so we've helpfully removed it and recommend you use $our_equivalent instead" is likely to run afoul of antitrust laws.
At this point it is up to the user to decide what to do and most non-technical users will leave it at that (and wont know what else to do) which should keep them safe.
That said, in the context of my original comment, AVs are a bit of a special case because their sole and expected purpose is to detect and remove software they don't like.
I am with the "two wrongs don't make a right" people here. Zoom was reckless and their casual disregard for the initial security report left a very bad taste in my mouth. I'm now highly unlikely to use one of their products willingly. But having Apple initiate unattended removal of software that a person willingly installed on their own workstation machine is also unacceptable, unless they specifically opted in and checked "enable" on something that is very similar to windows defender.
Do you think anyone would have installed Zoom if they knew that it would allow any random website to activate your camera?
The question I see is really that Apple doesn't inform its users of the existence of this feature, unless you really search for it. Having something as simple as a functional-equivalent to Windows Defender with its own icon in Control Panel, which is fully enabled in the default operating system installation, should be sufficient.
Personally, unless I am specifically aware of the existence and enabled status of some anti-malware application, I don't think it's a good precedent to set for operating system vendors to start silently removing software from peoples' machines. Really all it should take is apple making people aware of the feature's existence.
For a bunch of my family members, even simple errors mean almost nothing to them. They'll stop what they're doing and wait for help even on an error that (it seems to me) they could have simply read and addressed themselves. They've never examined the system tray, and dismiss any popups that come from it. Making them aware of systems like this only serves to confuse, because they don't really understand the problem it's addressing in the first place.
Machines for power users aren't going away. There are more operating systems than you can shake a stick at, and the number keeps growing. But for a lot of users information can be paralysing, and I wonder if having a strongly managed and simplified system akin to a phone isn't a better idea.
Yes, I'm quite confident that millions of "normal users" would still have installed Zoom knowing that.
Microsoft do exactly the same, and have done for over a decade now:
> Malicious Software Removal Tool is a freely distributed virus removal tool developed by Microsoft for the Microsoft Windows operating system. First released on January 13, 2005, it is an on-demand anti-virus tool ("on-demand" means it lacks real-time protection) that scans the computer for specific widespread malware and tries to eliminate the infection. [...] The program is usually updated on the second Tuesday of every month (commonly called "Patch Tuesday") and distributed via Windows Update, at which point it runs once automatically in the background and reports if malicious software is found.
> Having something as simple as a functional-equivalent to Windows Defender with its own icon in Control Panel
MSRT is independent from Windows Defender.
Yes, Apple does have the power to change every bit on your hard disk if you let it. Things like EULAs are supposed to govern to what extent they can use that power.
Please help me understand this. Where in the EULA or elsewhere have users allowed Apple to remotely install a U2 album, or delete third-party software? What of the fact the EULA itself can change at any time without any posted notice? Or worse, what if Apple is forced or breached to deliver a "security update" which steals personal information or bricks your device? Why is this not a legitimate concern to technical professionals? Or, where is the documentation which at least explains this behavior to put curious minds at ease?