Technology

Encrypted Email Support for the iPhone with iOS 5

Back in November, we took a look at what it takes to encrypt email on the Mac using Apple Mail.  If you are the user of an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, and checking your email on that iOS device while sometimes sending encrypted email from your Mac, you will find that you have a problem.  The certificate used to encrypt outgoing mail and decrypt incoming mail is stored on the Mac and is not installed on the iOS device by default.  Oddly, Apple engineers have not seen fit to make the certificate files part of the information that is synchronized between the computer and the mobile device.  But, not to worry.  With the release of iOS5, email encryption is now supported.  You just have to know the tricks necessary to get the certificate installed and the iOS configured to use the certificate.  As it stands now, iOS encrypted email support is technically functional.  Its just not smoothly implemented or what I would describe as “up to typical Apple standards.”

We start by assuming that you have already implemented encrypted email on your desktop/laptop Mac OS computer.  If you have not, check out this post for the details explaining everything you need to know.  The steps detailed below assume that you have the email encryption certificate installed and working on OS X as you will need to export some of that information in order to install it into the iOS based device.

First, open the application called Keychain Access, found in /Application/Utilities of your OS X based computer.  Select My Certificates from the Category pane of the main window the locate the certificate that has the name of the email address you want to use for encrypted email on your iOS device.  Right click on that certificate and select Export (your email here)…  This will create a .p12 file.  Give it any time you like and then save it to your Desktop for easy access.  There will be a prompt to create a password.  Come up with something secure but also make sure it will be easy to type on your iOS device.  Once you have created a password, Keychain will require you to enter your system password before it allows you to complete the export of the key.  This is just an additional authentication step to insure that someone did not run up to your machine and try to export your certificate while you were away at the coffee machine.

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Send and Receive Encrypted Email with Apple Mail

With the release of OS X 10.7, Apple engineers brought a serious update to Apple Mail.  When this happened I was finally able to cast Microsoft Outlook (formerly Microsoft Entourage) aside.  Entourage was functional but slow.  But when it was deprecated in favor of Outlook things went sideways.  Microsoft went for a complete rewrite of the codebase and in doing so introduced significant issues into the product, any of which they have yet to fully resolve.  So when Apple Mail turned out to be a truly impressive update, I made the switch and have not regretted the change.

One of my larger issues with Entourage and Outlook was their support for encrypted email.  It worked, in the technical sense, but it never worked well… at least in my opinion.  Conversely, Apple Mail just works.  No qualification necessary, no messing around.  It just works.  The only tricky part is the initial configuration.  Here we will configure Apple Mail (version 5.1 that is part of OS X 10.7.1) to send encrypted messages.
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iPhone and iPad iOS 5 Wi-Fi Auto Sync Disabled

This is an issue that will likely only affect a small number of users.  But since it was an problem for me, it worth a post to explain the fix.

One of the great new features of iOS 5 is the ability to sync with iTunes over Wi-Fi and eliminate the need to plug the iOS device directly into the computer in order to backup and update software, content and playlists.  To enable this feature, first plug the device into the computer via USB.  When it appears in the Devices list on the left side of the main iTunes window simply click once in your devices icon.  Then select Summary from the top of the main window on the right.

Scrolling to the bottom of the main window, there is a section labeled Options.  Be sure to select the box labeled Sync this Device over Wi-Fi.  Until that box is checked, the iOS device will not sync over Wi-Fi.  If the box was already checked by default, you’re set.  But if you had to check it yourself, be sure to click the Sync button in the lower right hand corner of the window.  This insures that the settings take effect.

Apple’s documentation explains that iOS devices should auto sync with iTunes when the iOS device and the computer running iTunes are located on the same wireless network.  The auto sync is supposed to kick in shortly after the iOS device is plugged into a power cable to recharge.  But in my case this sync was not kicking in automatically.  I had to engage the sync manually.
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Mac OS X 10.7 Lion FileVault Whole Disk Encryption Benchmark Comparison

One of the exciting features unique to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is the new and improved FileVault.  Greatly enhanced over the implementation found in Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6), the new version allows users to fully encrypt the system’s boot drive as well as entirely encrypt additional data drives such as USB or FireWire externals, or even USB thumb drives.  This is welcome news to mobile users.  Now MacBook users can travel with additional safety and security.

Once FileVault is activated, the system must reboot.  The OS will begin encrypting the boot drive in the background allowing the user to keep productive as the encryption procedure can take some time.  Once the boot drive has encryption activated, it is no longer possible to boot the computer without first entering login information.  Let me go over that again so I can clarify.  Normally the system boots up and then prompts the user to enter login credentials prior to gaining access to their data.  But once FileVault has been activated, a username and password must be entered before the machine will even begin the boot process.

This makes for some really slick security.  And since the login process is moved to the point prior to the system booting, it’s no longer necessary to enter a login at the end of the boot process… the user is brought right into the associated user account and is ready to go.
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Solid State Hard Drives (SSD): You Have to See it to Believe It

I visited my local Apple retail store over the weekend and left with the crushing urge to spread the word about solid state hard drives (SSD from here on).  I went into the store to have the guys at the Genius Bar take a look at the battery on my MacBook Pro.  The battery had developed a bulge and was actually causing the back panel on my laptop to bend and twist.  The good news is that they guys at the Genius Bar took one look at the issue and promptly swapped out my battery with a brand new one at no charge.  I call that truly great customer service since my MacBook Pro was no longer under warranty.

But I digress.  While I was talking with two technicians at the Genius Bar, I mentioned that I had installed an SSD as my boot drive.  This really got their attention.  One of them politely asked if I would mind firing up the laptop so he could have a look.  Like many of us, he had read blurbs online indicating that an SSD could breath new life into an aging laptop.  Both gentlemen noted that they had each been considering the SSD option for their older MacBooks.  Obviously they both had the chance to play with the SSD powered MacBook Air’s, but they understood there was a big difference between the latest hardware and what they were running at home.
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Near Field Communications (NFC): Its Useful for More Than Just Payments

iphone-icon-3gsI recently read a post on Ars Technica explaining the technical side of Near Field Communications, or NFC for short.  Like most folks, I have heard that it can be used for payment processing.  A couple of credit cards have the technology built in to allow the carrier to simply pass their card over the payment terminal in order to initiate payment.  More common, at least in the US, is SpeedPass at the gas pump.  Just swipe your key fob over the logo at the gas pump and you can fill-up with the transaction auto billed to your credit card.  But deep in the guts of the Ars Technica post, I was really impressed with other possible uses of the technology.

Near Field Communication, as the name implies, allows 2 devices to communicate when they are in close proximity.  The range can be configured via the devices and ranges from a fraction of an inch to nearly a foot.  Please check out the Ars Technica story for the technical specifics and great detail on the history of the technology as well as its various iterative forms.

NFC could include a small passive tag imbedded into something like a movie poster or a display kiosk.  This way, if someone with a NFC equipped smart phone approaches the display, they would have the option to gather additional info about the movie or product with little or no interaction with the display.  For example, its traditional for a movie poster to have a URL at the bottom so anyone interested in more info on the movie can visit the web site.  But with a FNC enabled poster, the user doesn’t even need to enter the site URL to go directly to the movie info.  The passive NFC chip in the poster can broadcast the link info directly to a smart phone so the user can visit the web page with no need to manually enter the site address.
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Quality Time with the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2

drive_iconI recently had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2.  It’s a drive enclosure that supports up to 4 SATA drives in a variety of RAID configurations.  It is Mac and Windows compatible and offers a wide range of connectivity options including USB 2.0, FireWire 800, and eSATA.  Powerful functionality packed into a sexy brushed aluminum drive chassis.

The first thing I noticed about the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 was the excess of care taken in packing the device for shipping.  The drive chassis was packed in a large heavy-duty cardboard box encased in layers of packing foam.  The foam layers protect the drive bay, but they also encased the 4 2TB SATA hard drives that were included in the version I tested.  The drives were shipped with insulating foam separating each mechanism from the other contents of the box.  All of this added up to a very large shipping container, but one that should easily stand up to the depraved hands at FedEx or UPS.  Clearly no expense was spared when it came to shipping material.  This is a bonus for the customer since the drive case and mechanisms are very well secured.
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QNAP TS-509 Pro Turbo NAS: iSCSI Disk Performance

I recently had the chance to evaluate a couple of iSCSI solutions for a pair of clients looking for a massive network based storage solution.  Rather than attach large external hard drives to several workstations on the network, we wanted to consider a SAN solution.  In this case, a single drive chassis with at least 4 RAIDed hard drives.  I had previously evaluated the Drobo Elite from Data Robotics Inc.  This time I took a look at the TS-509 Pro Turbo NAS from QNAP.

The TS-509 is a NAS/SAN solution that offers dual gigabit network ports that can be used for iSCSI connectivity.  The device is completely self-contained.  Simply supply it with power and attach it to the network and, once configured, it functions autonomously.  The chassis supports up to 5 SATA 3.5” hard drives.  For my testing, I installed 3 Hitachi Deskstar 2TB SATA drives stripped together in a level 5 RAID. The drives were 7200RPM with 32MB buffers.

My network centers on a 24 port gigabit D-Link switch.  But since this is an unmanaged (consumer quality) switch, I wanted to make sure the fairly low-end switch would not hinder test results.  When I tested the Drobo Elite, I attached each of the two test computers directly to each of the Drobo’s gigabit Ethernet ports.  I wasn’t able to do this with the TS-509, so each of the network ports was connected directly to the switch via a pair of Cat-5e network cables.

The first test computer was a first generation quad core 2.66GHz Mac Pro.  The other connection was to a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo based Unibody MacBook Pro.  Both have onboard gigabit networking.  Both were running OS X 10.6.3.  Both of their network settings were configured manually to 1000baseT, full duplex.  Since the TS-509 does not support jumbo frames, the default MTU was left at 1500.
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Review: QNAP TS-509 Pro Turbo NAS

The TS-509 Pro Turbo NAS is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device from QNAP.  It also functions as a SAN (Storage Area Network).  The appliance is a hard drive chassis that has bays that will support up to 5 hot-swappable SATA drives, has 5 USB 2.0 ports for expansion and printer sharing, and 2 gigabit network ports than can be load balance or offer failover support.  The TS-509 can function as a NAS offering conventional file sharing, or it can function as a SAN acting as an iSCSI target.

I recently had the chance to review the Drobo Elite, a solution from Data Robotics Inc., which functioned exclusively as an iSCSI SAN.  While a solid iSCSI solution, it also has a hefty price tag.  I took the opportunity to compare the Drobo Elite to the QNAP TS-509 Pro.  In a follow-up post I will evaluate the performance of the device.  But for now I want to take a closer look at the TS-509’s feature set.

The TS-509 is something of a jack-of-all-trades.  At its core it is a RAID solution with 5 hot-swappable SATA drive bays.  RAID 0, 1, 5, 5 with hot spare, 6, and JBOD are all supported offering a great deal of flexibility.  The box offers file server support for Macintosh, Windows, and Linux/UNIX based operating systems.  File services appear in a Windows based network via an internal Windows networking service, and are available to Macintosh based systems via the included Bonjour network service.  And the device is managed via a web-based interface that is both easy to use and powerful.
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Quality Time with the Amazon Kindle

Amazon.com jumpstarted the stagnated ebook market with the release of the Kindle.  Though at a glance the device comes off as a simple e-reader, it boasts a feature set that make the device as powerful as it is comfortable to read.  A built in QWERTY keyboard makes it easy to annotate text, highlight passages, and leave notes beyond what would have normally fit in the magian of a conventional book.  All without doing physical damage to the book in the process.

I really wanted to take my time with the Kindle before putting together a review.  To that end, I have spent that last 5 months reading.  In that time I have completed 21 Kindle based novels and 4 hard cover versions.  More than enough time, I believe, to evaluate the content consumption device.
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