(Shell)shock and awe, coming around the Bend

by | Oct 1, 2014 | 0 comments

ANOTHER WEEK, another set of crises for Apple to weather. On the heels of August’s celebrity photo iCloud hack comes the Shellshock vulnerability, freshly discovered on Sep. 24 and rivaled only by this spring’s Heartbleed bug as the Vulnerability With The Most Compelling Monicker so far this year. At virtually the same moment, reports of the new iPhone 6 Plus bending after spending an extended period of time in users’ pockets began to surface on various forums.

Let’s begin with Shellshock. Also known as the Bash bug, it’s a legitimate issue present in most UNIX-based operating systems, of which Mac OS X is one. The name “Shellshock” arises from the area of the vulnerability, specifically the Bourne Again Shell (bash), a program used to issue commands to the system. If the bug is present, an attacker could potentially take over control of the shell, and thus the entire operating system.

FOR THE AVERAGE Mac user, however, it’s unlikely to become a real problem unless he or she has messed with some advanced UNIX settings from the command line. Still, Apple has taken it seriously and has issued downloadable patches (see end of article) for Mac OS X 10.9, 10.8 and 10.7. A future OS X security update will push the proper patch to your Mac shortly if you don’t apply it now.

There’s a way to test your Mac for the bug, but it involves using the Terminal app to run a UNIX command; if you’re all about that sort of thing, then check out Lifehacker’s instructions and dive right in. Otherwise, just download and install the appropriate patch below (go to About This Mac from the Apple menu if you’re not sure which version of Mac OS X you’re using).Those of you still running OS X 10.6 are unfortunately out of luck, as Apple stopped issuing security updates for Snow Leopard late last year.

ON TO THE iPhone 6 and the debate over whether, well, whether this whole “bendable” thing is worth debating. According to Apple, in a statement made to the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets on Sep. 25th, the company has received only nine complaints of the iPhone 6 plus bending under normal use. On the other hand, a quick Web search reveals all sorts of references to angry users, YouTube videos of folks bending their phones until they snap, and most recently two 15-year-old boys who actually recorded themselves on video bending–and breaking–an iPhone 6 Plus in the Norwich, CT Apple Store.

Are the new iPhone 6 models particularly vulnerable to bending under normal use? The first few days of reports and YouTube videos were often compelling, but for the most part on the unscientific side, while Apple on Sep. 25th invited the medis to its “torture-test” facility and demonstrated the various stress tests they perform on the iPhones to ensure durability, in an effort to show how tough the phones actually are.

SO WHO TO believe? On September 26th, no less an authority than Consumer Reports weighed in on the debate by publishing the results of their own stress tests on not only the new iPhones, but the iPhone 5, LG G3, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and HTC One (M8) as well. I’ll let you read the results for yourself, but to sum up:

  • “Significant force” was required to damage any of the phones tested; the testers deemed them all to be “pretty tough”
  • The iPhone 6 Plus turned out to be stronger than the iPhone 6
  • The iPhone 5 was approximately twice as strong as either iPhone 6 model
  • The most durable phone was the Samsung Galaxy Note 3; the least durable was the HTC One (M8)
  • “While nothing is (evidently) indestructible, we expect that any of these phones should stand up to typical use.”

I’ll add my own $0.02 here, if I may: Thanks to a concept known as “physics,” the thinner smartphones become, the less durable they’ll be. From my own perspective, I’ve always been afraid to place a phone in my back pocket–not for fear of bending it but rather that I might crack the screen upon sitting down.

And just in “case” this isn’t patently obvious, most iPhone owners (86% according to this Business Insider survey) employ some type of protective case. In fact, the survey revealed that over 25% of the respondents used OtterBox cases, meaning that they take their protection pretty seriously.

LET’S WRAP UP by bringing a little sanity into this debate. Regardless of the “bendability,” or lack of same, of the new iPhones, resist the temptation to ride bareback and enclose your device in a protective case of some sort. Avoid putting the phone in your back pocket, even if you’re not intending on sitting down for a while. Last but not least, do not conduct any of the previously-referenced stress testing on your $700 iDevice.

AltiM@c Consulting: Proudly keeping our readers from becoming shell-shocked–or bent out of shape–since 1995.

Shellshock patch for Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks:

Shellshock patch for Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion:

Shellshock patch for Mac OS X 10.7 Lion:



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