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Reporters without Borders warns journalists in China to close iCloud accounts

French nonprofit advocacy group Reporters without Borders (RSF) is calling on journalists in China to close their iCloud accounts in wake of Apple’s recent plans to migrate iCloud users in China to an outsourced Chinese company’s servers. RSF is suggesting that journalists and bloggers in the country who use Apple iCloud should either change their geographic region to avoid having their data migrated, or close their iCloud accounts entirely by Feb. 28, the day when, as RSF notes, “control of their data will pass to the Chinese state.”

Apple releases first iOS 11.3, tvOS 11.3 developer beta

Apple has released the first betas of iOS 11.3 and tvOS 11.3 to registered developers, with the improvements previewed earlier today, specifically new Animoji and the promised improvements to battery health monitoring resulting from the recent iPhone slowdown controversy. iOS 11.3 also brings back the Messages in iCloud feature that was promised for the initial iOS 11 release, with the release notes indicating that it’s currently “for testing and evaluation purposes” and adds that the feature will be automatically enabled — in the beta at least — for users who already have two-factor authentication and iCloud Backup enabled. In addition, the new iOS version also adds a new security protocol that will require users to re-enter their device passcode to authorize a Lighting-connected USB accessory if it has not been connected to the device for more than a week.

Apple mistakenly notifies US users of Chinese data center migration

Apple sent an email notification to several users outside of China mistakenly informing them their iCloud data was being moved to a Chinese company’s servers, TechCrunch reports. Apple had previously announced its move to migrate user data in China to government-run servers to comply with local laws, but some US users reported receiving an email telling them their data was being moved to the Chinese data centers as well. Apple sent a followup to users who received the email by mistake, assuring them that “only users with their Apple ID country set to China will have their iCloud data migrated to GCBD servers.” That wording is important, since setting their Apple ID location outside of China could prevent Chinese users from having their data on state-run servers.

Apple ditches two-step authentication for two-factor in iOS 11, macOS High Sierra

Apple is eliminating its old two-step verification process and migrating all users to two-factor authentication with the roll out of iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, according to an updated support document. The company rolled out two-factor authentication back in 2015, but the company had been letting people keep going with the older two-step authentication if they wanted. The two-step method requires logging in with an Apple ID and then sending a code to an Apple device via SMS text message, allowing users to require the added confirmation layer for things like signing into iCloud, tinkering with an Apple ID or buying things from iTunes, iBooks, or the App Store from a new device.

 

Ability to use PayPal to pay for Apple downloads and services expanded internationally

Apple users in Canada, the UK, Germany, Mexico, and the Netherlands can now use PayPal to pay for Apple services, according to a statement from PayPal. The payment service has been an available option in the US for years, but is now available to users in some other countries to pay for downloads or services from the App Store, iCloud, iTunes, and Apple Music. [via AppleInsider]

Apple lowers price of 2TB iCloud storage to $10 a month, discontinues 1TB option

Apple has effectively eliminated its 1TB iCloud storage tier and reduced the price of the 2TB tier to $10 a month. For those who had previously been subscribing to the 1TB tier, their storage has automatically been doubled at no extra charge. 50GB of space is still $1 a month and 200GB is still $3 a month, and the 5GB free tier also remains unchanged, despite the fact that many had been hoping for a bump in the amount of storage Apple provides free of charge. Perhaps of most interest to household users, starting with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra Apple will offer the ability to share the 200GB and 2TB plans with family members.

Report confirms legitimacy of at least some of the stolen iCloud credentials being held for ransom

At least some of the iCloud account credentials that a group of hackers are holding for ransom appear to be legitimate, according to an investigation by ZDNet. A London-based group of hackers calling themselves the “Turkish Crime Family” claimed earlier this week to have gained access to millions of iCloud accounts, threatening to remotely wipe victims’ devices unless Apple paid a large ransom. While Apple later indicated that there had been no breach of its systems, analysts have suggested that the hacker group likely has data acquired from one or more breaches that occurred years ago at sites such as LinkedIn. Due to the obvious naming of iCloud accounts and the number of users who may reuse passwords, a dump of passwords stolen from another site could easily be exploited to hack at least some iCloud accounts.

Hackers claim to have access to millions of iCloud accounts, demand ransom from Apple

Hackers identifying themselves as the “Turkish Crime Family” claim to have access to millions of iCloud accounts and are threatening to remotely wipe victims’ devices unless Apple pays them a ransom, Motherboard reports. The hackers have demanded either $100,000 worth of iTunes gift cards or $75,000 in Bitcoin or Ethereum to delete the data they claim to have stolen. One hacker provided unverified screenshots of email exchanges with Apple security and access to an email account used to communicate directly with Apple. In one email, a member of Apple’s security team asked, “Are you willing to share a sample of the data set?” The hackers then uploaded a YouTube video of them accessing an elderly woman’s iCloud, prompting Apple to allegedly request that the video be taken down and inform the hackers the company was contacting authorities.

Report: Removed Activation Lock website may have facilitated hacking of locked iOS devices

Apple’s sudden removal of the Activation Lock status checker from its website could have been in response to its use in hacking locked iOS devices, MacRumors speculated in a new report. A video posted by REWA Technology illustrates a process for finding valid serial numbers using the Activation Lock status checker and using those numbers to unlock an iPhone or iPad. Apple hasn’t confirmed any reason for shutting down the website, but since September, some users trying to activate new or restored iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, 7 and 7 Plus models have reported finding their phones locked to another Apple ID, and only Apple has been able to fix the problem. The full video of the hacking method used can be seen below, but without the steady supply of valid serial numbers previously available from Apple’s website, the process is now useless.

Apple deletes ‘Check Activation Lock Status’ page from iCloud website

Apple has deleted the Activation Lock checker from its website, effectively removing one method which helps customers verify that used products haven’t been stolen. First spotted by 9to5Mac, the change is also reflected in Apple’s Find My iPhone support documentation, which used to recommend running the serial number of a device though the ‘Check Activation Lock Status’ page on iCloud before buying it. Now the page that once hosted the verification tool ends in a 404 error.

Apple rolls out updated Photos web app at iCloud.com

Apple has debuted a major update to its web-based iCloud Photos app at iCloud.com, presenting a new user interface that more closely resembles the macOS Photos app. A new sidebar is enabled by default which provides more streamlined browsing of photo albums, although as in the corresponding macOS app, users can choose to toggle the sidebar off using a button at the top of the screen. Multiple photos can now be selected, and action buttons in the top-right corner will apply to all selected photos, allowing you to share, download, delete, or file several photos at a time; individual photos can also be organized into albums via drag-and-drop into the sidebar. Viewing an individual photo also now displays a carousel of thumbnails at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to quickly browse through other photos in the same album.

Notably, the new web Photos app doesn’t yet include the complete list of smart albums from the macOS and iOS versions, omitting such albums as People, Places, Selfies, and Depth Effect, and hasn’t yet added support for the new macOS Sierra and iOS 10 features such as memories, people, and places.

Apple intros new ‘Report Junk’ option to combat iCloud calendar spam

Some iCloud users have seen spam pop up in their calendar invitations in recent weeks, and Apple has now introduced a way of reporting such spam. Users will now see a “report junk” option in unsolicited calendar invites from any senders who aren’t contacts. The “report junk” option is currently available on iCloud.com, and it will hopefully be seen in the iOS calendar app in the near future. While this isn’t a complete solution to the problem, it’s a step in the right direction. There are a few workarounds in the meantime — if it’s an issue for you, we suggest going to the Advanced tab in Calendar preferences, and opting to receive event invitations as email messages, rather than as in-app notifications. [via MacRumors]

Apple releases statement on iCloud Calendar spam

Apple has issued a statement in response to a problem that many iCloud users — including members of our iLounge team — have experienced in recent weeks, with spam being sent via iCloud calendar invitations. Spammers have been exploiting the fact that iCloud calendar invitations are sent via a dedicated iCloud communications channel that, unlike email, doesn’t presently include any anti-spam filters. In a statement tweeted by Rene Ritchie, Apple apologized, noting that some users are experiencing the problem. The company is working to address it by identifying and blocking the culprits, and working to filter the invites themselves.

In the meantime, users can work around this problem by logging into their web-based iCloud account online at iCloud.com, going to the Advanced tab in Calendar preferences, and opting to receive event invitations as email messages rather than in-app notifications, where email-based anti-spam filters will likely have better success at catching the bogus calendar invites.

Apple plans to unify Cloud Services teams

Apple is working on bringing together its various Cloud Services teams into a single campus to improve product development, Bloomberg reports. Although they all come under the oversight of Apple SVP Eddy Cue, teams for services such as Siri, Maps, iCloud, Apple Pay, Apple News, Apple Music, and iTunes generally work in isolation from each other, at various office park locations rented out throughout Cupertino and Sunnyvale, California. With Apple’s new futuristic Apple Campus 2 scheduled to open next year, Cue feels that unifying his Cloud Services teams at the current Apple Campus will improve his organization in terms of improvement development time and product stability, and will continue to build on Apple’s rapidly growing cloud services business.

Apple adds 2TB iCloud storage option

Responding to the ever-growing size of many users’ photo libraries, Apple has added a new 2TB tier to its iCloud storage service, doubling the previous upper limit. Apple’s website lists worldwide pricing figures for the 2TB option, which costs $20 a month for U.S. users. Last September, Apple reduced the monthly cost of the 1TB option from $20 to $10, cut the price of the 200GB option from $4 to $3, raised the storage space for the $1 a month subscription from 20GB to 50GB, and eliminated the 500GB option all together.

Report: ‘Political infighting’ slowing iCloud, iTunes technical fixes

Apple’s efforts to fix certain technical problems with iCloud and iTunes have been hampered by “political infighting” among two engineering teams in the company, The Information reports. One manager has already resigned from Apple, with more departures “expected soon.” Apple reportedly wishes to take the cloud infrastructure used in Siri and bring it to more of its services, some of which are within the realm of the iCloud team — iCloud engineers are said to be concerned about job security as the Siri infrastructure encroaches on their domain. Apple is also working to bring all of its iCloud infrastructure in house. [via 9to5Mac]

Apple releases data showing how often it complies with government data requests

Apple has published a Report on Government Information Requests covering how it handled demands for information from law enforcement agencies received during the second half of 2015. The company said the “vast majority” of those requests were for information about lost or stolen devices, about which Apple complied 80 percent of the time within the United States. Totals outside the U.S. fluctuated between 52 and 80 percent.

Apple responds to Justice Department dropping iPhone lawsuit

Apple has issued a public response after the U.S. government dropped its lawsuit demanding the company’s assistance in hacking into a terrorist’s iPhone, with the company saying it will continue to aid law enforcement while also continuing to increase the security of its products. “From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a backdoor into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent,” Apple said. “As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought.”

Reports detail Apple’s extensive cloud infrastructure projects

Apple has been migrating more of its cloud computing to Google, but a new report from The Information claims the company is aiming to create its own extensive set of data centers and servers to bring all of its cloud services in-house. Last week CRN reported Apple has quietly been moving much of its cloud computing to the Google Cloud Platform and away from Amazon Web Services, whose infrastructure it uses to run online services like iCloud. Anonymous sources said Apple is now spending between $400 million and $600 million on Google’s services after becoming dissatisfied with AWS being unable to quickly load photos and videos on users’ iOS devices.

Apple working on stronger, passcode-based iCloud encryption

Alongside redoubled efforts to strengthen iOS security, Apple is trying to make iCloud encryption so tough that the company won’t be able hand over information to law enforcement, but has concerns that such strong encryption could be a detriment to users who forget their passcodes, The Wall Street Journal reports. Apple’s current iCloud backups are encrypted, but not tied to a user’s unique passcode, so authorities can access content users back up this way with relative ease. Over the years Apple has provided police with information tied to a variety of court cases, but after FBI demands that Apple build a way to crack a terrorist’s iPhone, the company is faced with the possibility that it could be asked to hack into its own security systems. Tim Cook has reportedly told colleagues that he continues to stand by Apple’s goals to encrypt everything stored on Apple devices and online services, including iCloud. So in response to FBI pressure, Apple wants to re-engineer the iCloud backups with encryption based on each user’s passcode, making the company unable to decrypt the data without the proper passcode. That would take the keys out of Apple’s hands when the government comes asking for information, but it would also leave users who forget their passcode without a viable option for retrieving their personal data, leaving Apple in something of a quandary over how far it’s willing to inconvenience users in order to make its products more secure. [via 9to5Mac]

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