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I currently have a Macbook Pro running OSX Mavericks, being the skeptic that I am I always wait a bit before upgrading to 'new' OS versions when they are released to see how they fare both stability and usability wise.

A number of privacy issues have been found in OSX Yosemite including but maybe not limited to:

  • Spotlight: Searches will be sent to apple servers to 'improve' search functionality.

    While probably true this also creates a huge privacy leak that I am not fond of since it could also send apple searches I make when I look for files on my own system. ex: supersensetivefile.pdf

    This can be disabled under System Preferences > Spotlight > Search Results.

  • Safari: Safari also has a spotlight suggestions option which sends your searches to Apple. This makes the usage of privacy search engines like duckduck go etc virtually useless.

    This can again be disabled under preferences.

  • Mail: probably one of the strangest ones yest, if you set up an account through the mail app, the domain will be sent to Apple for some reason.

    Only workaround is to not use the app at all but use an opensource mail client that you feel like you can trust. (In my case I am already using thunderbird)

  • About this mac and cookies: When you open about this mac, data and a cookie is sent to Apple that is used to uniquely identify users. This cookie tracks the IP address that you initially visited Apple.com from, as well as the IP addresses from all subsequent connections to Apple through Spotlight or Safari.

    There currently appears to be no way to disable this at all. The data is sent to Apple even if you have location tracking turned off, and have not signed into iCloud.

Personally I feel like these features are cause for serious concern as to the integrity of the OS privacy wise(in synonym this could also mean security for some) However I feel like I can't keep using Mavericks forever either since eventually the risk of security leaks being found in the outdated OS increase.

My question is basically twofold:

1) Is there any way to avoid these security/privacy risks while still using the new Yosemite OS? If not, has there been any word from Apple as to whether or not they will curb back on this invasive functionality anytime soon? (I have not been able to find any news about it myself)

2) From a security/privacy point of view, could it ever be considered safe to use Yosemite while these features are around?

(If there are any concerns I might have missed then feel free to add)

  • I'm not sure what you're asking because you clearly state the ways how to avoid the risks. – schroeder Mar 1 '15 at 18:20
  • I guess my focus is more on the later part about the tracking cookies, also if there has been any word about Apple curbing these intrusive features any time in the future. I'll leave the question open for another day and if there is no answer it I'll take it as a now and turn it into a Q&A style format. – MSB Mar 2 '15 at 6:41
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  • @atdre nice addition. – MSB Dec 1 '15 at 9:38
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Using a system-wide proxy would give Apple an alternate (and possibly changing) IP address, but would not address the cookies. I have noticed that Safari will register cookies from other system services, iTunes being a likely suspect.

To address cookies and data sent to Apple, it would take a bit of work, but you could determine where cookies are placed and aggressively manage them. You could also use an application firewall like Little Snitch to block outgoing packets to offending Apple subdomains.

On the whole though, you need to articulate your threat model: what is it, exactly, that you are concerned about? What are your priorities for various threats? How much effort/inconvenience are you willing to incur to avoid these threats?

One thing to note is that Apple does not have pervasive trackers scattered around the internet like Google and others. So even if they know your IP address, there is relatively little risk in Apple correlating other internet activities with your use of core Apple services. If you really don't want Apple to know anything about you, you'll have to skip using an AppleID and don't use any system services that depend on the internet, even down to NTP which pings Apple servers. But if you trust Apple this little, you probably should avoid their products.

  • FWIW, I put more trust in Apple than I do in companies whose business model depends on having a rich dossier of your personal, device, and behavioral data. All commercial OSes do some level of analytics to aggregate how their products are used. Most 3rd-party apps do the same. An app firewall will tell you who is phoning home, when, and how often, and you can then decide which of these you want to allow or block. – pseudon Mar 2 '15 at 13:41
  • Would upvote if I could, any alternative to little snitch that you can think of? It's btw not an issue of not trusting Apple at all but it's more the level of agression this 'mining' behaviour appeared in Yosemite that had me concerned, having to option of opting out of it when I feel like it is always nice IMO. – MSB Mar 2 '15 at 14:35
  • I fully agree about vendors disclosing privacy consequences and providing tools to limit privacy vulnerabilities. There are similar OS X firewall tools to Little Snitch, like Hands Off and NetBarrier. Also, the built-in OS X firewall has more capabilities than are accessible in the System Preferences plane. Ice Floor and Murus are tools to access some of these capabilities. – pseudon Mar 2 '15 at 17:24
  • @pseudon apple give data to the NSA – Magpie Mar 8 '15 at 0:05
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In response to the first question, One way to avoid the privacy risks you mentioned, AFAIK, could be to employ the use of a system-wide proxy wherein all traffic 'has to' pass through, say, the TOR network. Pertinently, this would depend heavily on the anonymity offered by TOR and any inherent weaknesses or vulnerabilities in TOR would thereby affect the user too.

As for the second question, I didn't understand why you used security and privacy interchangeably, they are different entities. You can have one without having the other. In fact in some cases, I believe the tradeoff for the user is between security and privacy wherein one is affected by the other in the way that greater security means lesser privacy and vice versa. I think this opinion has been voiced by others too.

As far as security is concerned, I think the security mechanism offered by OS X might not be the best in the business, but it isn't the worst either. So, I think there is risk, but what OS doesn't have that? I guess being a security aware user definitely helps and a security unaware user can make the most secure OS look insecure, so a huge part of the onus is on the user.

As far as the question of privacy is concerned, I don't think Yosemite cares about privacy as much as it should, so I think for the average user it might not be a good option in terms of privacy.

  • Thanks for the input. I would like to disagree with your statement that privacy and security are tradeoffs for each other and that a user has to choose one of either but can't have both though. This has been discussed schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/01/security_vs_pri.html here and security.stackexchange.com/questions/29116/… here. So the reason I use them seemingly interchangeably is because a loss of privacy is directly a loss of security. – MSB Mar 1 '15 at 16:50
  • Although, i agree that the tradeoff shouldn't exist and as Schneier stipulated that security shouldn't be treated separately than privacy, however, in some cases such as say secret questions, u reveal sensitive information enabling greater security but possibly lessening ur privacy or in the case of two factor authentication. Although, it would be ideal to not have a trade-off, but practically as of now the tradeoff seems to exist. I agree with u that privacy can affect security but it my opinion supported by the examples above, less privacy can lead to greater security. – Aatif Shahdad Mar 1 '15 at 17:18
  • arguably I could set security questions like: what highschool did you graduate from? with answers like: sda@#fsfds5%231fdFASfdsklfdskljh#$ thus not surrendering any of my privacy as long as I myself am aware that this is my answer for this question at a certain website. – MSB Mar 1 '15 at 17:21
  • Yes, u could, but when we talk about the implications we talk about an average user and not the clever user who understands the implications, moreover, if u use the security question as something impossible to recall from memory, that defeats the purpose of the questions coz now u would have to save this string somewhere thereby increasing the attack landscape and consequently, undermining security for privacy. And what is ur take on the Two-Factor point? – Aatif Shahdad Mar 1 '15 at 18:18
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    From a GRC perspective, "privacy" can be considered the "security" of your personal information. So, there is overlap, but it is also important not to confuse the two concepts. The important question to ask is always, "what do you want to secure against"? – schroeder Mar 1 '15 at 18:27

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