eXtensions - Tuesday 2 May 2017

Cassandra: Tomorrow Q2 2017, Security Problems - a Fix for Mac Users, a Gasp for Intel users (except those with Macs)

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Apple results in less than a day - Wall Street trying to spend the money already. Looking forward to WWDC. Security: Apple patches a phishing vulnerability. Security: Intel did what for 9 years, denied what?

With less than a day to go, reports on Apple's Q2 2017 results have been coming thick and fast with many expecting results to meet Apple's guidance, which they always do, and many wondering what Apple is going to do with all that cash, as they always do. The share price is rising, but there is a good chance that after the figures and the dividend are announced there will be some profit-taking. OK for Wall Street to do this, but not Apple?

money As a reminder, Apple's guidance has revenue for the quarter at between $51 - $53 billion. The announcement will be at around 5am here and I will be asleep.

Wall Street cannot abide the thought of several billions of dollars just sitting in Tim Cook's vaults doing nothing, which suggests a failure of imagination on their part. Apple invests and reinvests the money, depending on where it is (Ireland, China, Singapore) and what the company needs to purchase: materials, companies. The idea that the cash is stagnant is wrong.

It might be put to better use for shareholders if some could be repatriated and this has been a bone of contention for a long time, with the US tax man as desperate as Walls Street to take Apple's money away and its masters in the Senate and Congress complaining when Apple uses the laws Congress wrote to protect their friends. As Tim Cook explained to a patronising Sen McCain, Apple sticks to the laws on taxation as they exist. Change them and we will comply.

It is odd that president trump is a sort of ally of Apple when it comes to taxation and may help reduce the swingeing tax that would be applied if Apple were to bring money back to America under current rules (30%) to a more favourable rate. All will be clearer tomorrow, maybe.

In a month, those invited will be off to San Jose for the WWDC. I am not expecting to go this year. As I am no longer writing for the Bangkok Post what would be the point for Apple to invite me? I am realistic enough to understand this, so will follow as closely as I can from afar.


Some rumours suggest a Siri-based home control unit that mockups have looking like the Mac Pro. Apple is certainly interested in home control, and the apparent success of other voice controlled systems makes the use of AI more attractive, but there are limits. I was told a story last month about an unexpected activation when someone asked for "a lamp behind here" and Alexa piped up with an offer for a Black & Decker three and a half inch clamp. . .

To be fair, Siri does not work well for me and often misunderstands what I have requested; and I did see an accidental activation when someone from Apple was outlining the iPhone 7 when it was new and said, "If I say, Hey Siri, Phone mother. . ." at which point she stopped and frantically tried to stop a phone call going through to Singapore. I was actually impressed. Amused too, but impressed.

It is still unclear here what the government intends to do with journalists, control of journalists and (vaguely related) control of set-top boxes, although it is not clear where exactly the powers-that-be formed the idea that the AppleTV assisted those intent on piracy. And we mustn't have that, must we?

I was a little incredulous at this and dropped a note to someone I know at Apple. I am now ensured that this will be passed to those who need to know so that the situation can be monitored. A word in the right ear might be needed as the suggestion that users, sellers or those installing would have to register may cause some unease.

Apple security is never far from the news as new attack vectors come to light and commentators are excited by each example of possible macOS malware. It is a pity they aren't more excited about Windows weaknesses. A couple of days ago there was great excitement online when new macOS malware that was named OSX/Dok was found.

Dire problems were predicted, but the hoops a user had to jump through to make this go live were such that most of us would be OK. It was a phishing attack that needed a ZIP file opened: and for me it would already be in the trash. It has been fixed by Apple, Glenn Fleishman (Macworld) reports.


Much more serious is what Intel have been forced to reveal: that their chips have had vulnerabilities for several years; they were warned and denied that there was a problem; and now the cat is out of the bag. In a fairly technical explanation (worth working through) Charlie Demerjian (SemiAccurate) explains that "Every Intel platform from Nehalem to Kaby Lake has a remotely exploitable security hole."

The article explains how it was discovered, what it does and how Intel buried their corporate heads in the sand but have now issued an advisory notice. They will update firmware, but Charlie Demerjian examines this (the site may be slow - patience) and suggests that, with older machines and certain box makers, this may not happen and the vulnerabilities are putting thousands of users at risk.

I picked this up in a direct message on Twitter and it was pointed out to me that Apple computers seem to be less at risk. While the article (above) does not cover this, I was told that this was mentioned by The Register. As I rarely read this nowadays with its puerile and smarmy attacks on Apple whenever possible, the mere fact that the Register (Chris Williams) backs Apple gives this some credence.

He writes that "if you're using a machine with vPro and AMT features enabled, you are at risk", adding, "Modern Apple Macs, although they use Intel chips, do not ship with the AMT software, and are thus in the clear." The article, like the original by Demerjian is a little complex but really is worth working through.

The implications here for Intel are not clear, although I would not be surprised to see a fall in the price of its shares: a vulnerability is one thing, denying and concealing it is a whole different matter. And if some companies have lost data, or otherwise been put at risk, there could be grounds for litigation, especially as they had been told over and over and in Demerjian's words, "disagreed" with the expert analysis. Not laughing now, I wager.

Of course, I can pull my "get a Mac" comment with my students this week, but in all seriousness, Apple will have to consider their position too and this may be the push that they need (I know several will be hoping for this) to make the move to ARM chips: its in-house designed A-series. They might also consider AMD as that company had some setbacks this week with lower server chip sales and the share price is a bit lower, perhaps making it a soft target. Not as low as Intel might go, however. . .

A number of articles in the last few days have hinted that the delayed Apple Store in Singapore could be opened soon. Writing in The Straits Times, Lee Min Kok explains the delays and confirms that the expected opening will be later this month.

What they have down there currently are resellers in the same mode as the iStudio stores in Thailand, which are closely linked to an older distribution system that may not be in the best interests of the customer or Apple. While Apple has some influence in Singapore with its long-time links there, the idea of having a real Apple shop in Bangkok, although it has been floated many times as a wish item by consumers here, may never get off the ground.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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