On Dark Matter, iPads, and trucks

Best Sleeves for MacBook Pro (Late 2016)
Best Sleeves for MacBook Pro (Late 2016)

Like a lot of others, I immediately clicked the link when WikiLeaks tweeted about the "Dark Matter dump" filled with information used by the CIA to exploit Macs and older iOS devices.

I consider myself a pretty good armchair infosec nerd, which is to say: I really dig reading what the real infosec nerds have to say about these dumps. As a healthy skeptic, I have my own thoughts on WikiLeaks and their quest for attention, but I don't think they are telling tales with the whole Vault 7 CIA master spy thing. Stretching things a bit as a hook to get more clicks maybe, but not that fake news I keep hearing about. In general, I like to click through and do my own investigation into it all, to make up my own mind.

After reading through this latest dump — and the infosec community's reaction — I came to a pretty simple conclusion" Steve was right in 2010 when he called computers a truck that most people don't need; they're bigger, bulkier, and often a lot easier to break into.

In 2017, you should only buy a truck if you really need one. And because the iPad Pro is a real thing you can touch, you probably don't need one.

Diving into the dump

This WikiLeaks dump is a bit different from the last one, in that it focuses on the CIA's growing attraction toward opening up Macs vs often impregnable iOS devices. I'll note here before we go any further: The CIA doesn't care about your stuff unless you get involved with nefarious deeds they might be interested in tracking.

If you happen to be one of those persons of interest, the CIA has put together a variety of tools to try and get into your devices. Much of what WikiLeaks has revealed has already been patched and the remainder will soon be — at least on iOS and Androids direct from Google or BlackBerry. But the Mac is different: Because of its "truck" power nature, it's not locked down nearly as concretely as Apple's mobile operating system; even though the revealed exploits target older computers (2013 or earlier) and require direct access to the machine, the CIA is making an obvious push into the desktop/laptop space.

The iPad Pro is not a truck.

As a "truck" owner — I love my mid-2014 Retina MacBook Pro — I need a certain level of access from my computer; that same access, however, leaves my computer vulnerable for the CIA (or others) to plant something deep in the firmware or the boot image. A "truck" computer is not a sealed unit, and neither is the software that powers my 15-inch model.

Your favorite tech company knows you probably don't need a truck, and is dedicated to delivering the right experience — and that experience may be the better pick for safety.

If it were, I couldn't do any virtual hauling, because I need that access. At least — I think I need that access, but even if I don't, someone else really does. A MacBook Pro or a Mac Pro or a Mac Mini is a really great tool for developers and tinkerers. Your favorite nerd probably has one or more of these.

The latest Wikileaks dump may mostly target older Macs, but the shift toward developing Mac malware shows that the CIA (and likely other groups) recognize the work Apple has done with iOS security, and are now targeting the next best option: Your laptop or desktop computer. But what if you abandon your high-powered "truck" for a more economical — and safe "car" tablet?

The safety of the "car"

With a way to add all the software we want through a secure storefront, an iPad or iPhone is going to do everything most people need and do it really well.

Most users want a machine that's powerful and capable for their needs, but most no longer need a truck with a hood that opens to fully tinker and break things. In short: We want to have a great experience on the web, or while reading a book or watching a movie, or even doing our taxes. If we can get a device that does all this and keeps our private lives a bit more private, that's the device for the majority of users. The iPad is that device: Capable and secure, it offers the right experience for just about every need. And as a side effect, it also keeps us better protected from both the average online threat and the James Bond-level spy stories we've heard about from WikiLeaks.

The overall experience is actually better because all the thought about design and features was intended to do exactly those things. With a way to add all the software we want through a secure storefront, an iPad or iPhone is going to do everything most people need and do it really well.

This idea scales nicely, too. If you need just a little more — maybe you do a little web dev or need something with a better display — the iPad Pro and App Store have most of the tools you need. And it isn't just an Apple idea anymore: Microsoft continuously reinvents itself and will keep on it until everything clicks with a Surface model that's not a truck, and Google sees how a Chromebook fills that gap between the small screen and the overkill of a traditional computer.

Pay attention

This Wikileaks release may not have contained data rightful of hysteria, but all the same, users shouldn't ignore the significance of government spying on our technology. Whether you feel like we're living in an Orwell novel or that this type of activity from three-letter agencies is part of a plan to keep us all safe, these are still facts worth knowing. Chances are that no CIA spook will ever try to rifle your iCloud accounts or read your messages just because they can, so there's no reason to freak out on a personal level.

But if you are worried about the future, consider an iPad: They do most anything we need while keeping security tighter than your average "truck" Mac. Just like Steve said they would.

Jerry Hildenbrand

I'm an RHCE and Electrical Engineer who loves gadgets of all kinds. You'll find my writings across Mobile Nations and you can hit me on Twitter if you want to say hey.