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Archive for May, 2018

by Tom Nelson

Securely wiping a drive, removing all of its data, and ensuring that no meaningful information can be recovered, has long been a feature of Disk Utility and its erase function. Even though the default for Disk Utility is a simple erase, a secure wipe was just a few clicks away.

Two recent changes have made the traditional secure wipe, performed by overwriting a volume multiple times with various types of data patterns, largely a thing of the past. The first change, leading to less reliance on the various secure wipe options, has been the proliferation of SSDs, both as original equipment provided by Apple and by resellers, such as OWC, which bring higher performance storage systems to the Mac.

Using the Security Options to sanitize a volume may be a thing of the past. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

The second change that directly affects the Mac community, at least in the way free space can be securely erased, is the release of the APFS file system, and how it makes use of shared space between multiple volumes.

In this guide, we’re going to look at erasing volumes, partitions, and containers. We’ll be looking at drives formatted with APFS as well as those formatted with the traditional HFS+ file system. If you’re working with macOS Sierra or earlier, you may find the Rocket Yard Guide: How to Use Mac’s Disk Utility to Securely Wipe a Drive a good source of information for erasing your drives.

We’ll be using the Disk Utility app included with macOS High Sierra and later.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk First Aid, currently part of Disk Utility, has long been the go-to utility for verifying and repairing a Mac’s storage system. Included as a standalone app with the original Mac OS, it was later folded into Disk Utility when OS X was released.

Disk Utility, and its First Aid system remains the first line of defense for drives that are experiencing a number of issues, including:

  • System crashes
  • Files disappearing
  • File sizes changing on their own
  • Inability to copy files
  • Inability to open or save files
  • Startup issues
  • Drives unmounting or ejecting on their own
  • And a host of other errors and issues

In this guide, we’re going to take a look at using Disk Utility’s First Aid tool in macOS High Sierra to repair APFS and HFS+ file systems. First Aid can actually be used on any file system that macOS supports, but APFS and HFS+ are the most popular, and the ones you’re most likely to encounter.

We’ll start by going through the actual process of using First Aid, and then take a more in-depth look at the process; we’ll also provide a few troubleshooting tips.

Before you use First Aid, make sure you have a current backup of the drive or volume you’re having issues with. If you’re using First Aid as part of a routine maintenance program, you should still have a working backup of any volume that you’ll be checking.

The Disk Utility app underwent a few updates with the release of macOS High Sierra to support the APFS file system. If you’re working with OS X El Capitan through macOS Sierra, you may find the instructions in How to Use macOS Sierra Disk Utility to Verify or Repair Disks a better fit.

Disk Utility’s Sidebar in macOS High Sierra and Later
Launch Disk Utility, located at /Applications/Utilities.

Disk Utility’s default settings use a sidebar that only displays storage volumes. Since you may need to use the First Aid tool on volumes as well as partitions, catalogs, and physical devices, it’s a good idea to change the sidebar settings to display all devices.

The View button in Disk Utility’s toolbar will expand the sidebar to show all devices. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Click the View button in the Disk Utility toolbar and select Show All Devices from the popup menu, or select Show All Devices from the View menu.

The sidebar will now display all devices, including the physical drive and any APFS containers it may have, as well as any APFS or HFS volumes associated with the physical drive.

The organization of the devices is hierarchical, with the physical drive listed first, using the manufacturer’s name, or the model name or number, or both. At the next level under the physical drive is the Container (APFS file system), followed by the volumes. If this is an HFS-formatted drive, there won’t be any containers under the drive level, just volumes.

Each item can be selected and repaired using the First Aid tool.

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by Tom Nelson

Disk Utility has long been the workhorse of choice for dealing with hard drives, SSDs, and disk images. With the advent of APFS (Apple File System) with macOS High Sierra, Disk Utility acquired some additional capabilities that allow it to work with APFS and its support for containers.

DiskUtilityIcon

We’re going to look at how to use Disk Utility to partition drives into multiple containers, and how to add volumes to containers. If you need to partition and manage standard HFS+ volumes, you’ll find detailed instructions in the Rocket Yard guide: How to Use macOS Sierra Disk Utility to Partition, Erase Drives.

What Are Containers?
Containers are a new abstract used in the APFS system to define a storage system that can share available free space among one or more volumes. Apple calls this Space Sharing. It allows volumes that are within a common container to grow or shrink as needed, without any type of repartitioning.

Containers, then, define a block of space on a physical drive that will be assigned to and used by volumes you create in the container. Volumes you create in a container can have a minimum size and a maximum size, but the actual amount of space they use is dynamically assigned from the container’s free space, as each volume within the container needs the space.

The selected drive shows that it contains two containers of different sizes. The smaller container houses a single volume, and the larger container holds two volumes. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Use Disk Utility to Create an APFS Container
Containers are only supported on drives formatted with APFS. You can format a drive or convert an HFS+ drive to APFS using the version of Disk Utility found in macOS High Sierra or later.

APFS was designed primarily for use with SSDs, though it should also work with standard hard drives. But before you decide to format a hard drive to use APFS, you may want to read: Using APFS On HDDs …And Why You Might Not Want To. At the moment, Apple doesn’t support APFS being used on Fusion drives.

Before you begin this process, take a moment to make sure you have a current backup of the information on your Mac, and that the drive used for backups isn’t one of the drives that will be involved in any of the processes we will be performing. The best way to do that is to eject the backup drive and, if possible, disconnect it from your Mac.

With your backups current, you’re ready to explore the APFS file system, including working with containers and volumes.

Launch Disk Utility, located at /Applications/Utilities.

In the Disk Utility toolbar, click on the View button and select Show All Devices. You can also use the View menu to perform the same task.

To convert an HFS+ volume to an APFS volume, select the HFS+ volume on the Disk Utility sidebar. (HFS+ volumes appear just below the physical drives in the sidebar.) Once selected, choose Convert to APFS from Disk Utility’s Edit menu. A sheet will drop down asking if you would like to convert the drive to APFS. Converting to APFS shouldn’t cause data loss on the selected drive, but it’s a good idea to make sure the data on the drive has been backed up first. When you’re ready, click the Convert button.

Disk Utility being used to convert the existing Video volume to APFS. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To format a drive in APFS, select the drive in Disk Utility’s sidebar. Select Erase from the toolbar or from the Edit menu. Provide a name, and then select one of the APFS formats from the Format dropdown menu. Formatting a drive will erase all of the data it contains, so make sure you have a backup of the data, if needed, before proceeding. When you’re ready, click the Erase button.

Disk Utility will create an APFS container, along with a single volume within the container.

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by Tom Nelson

Your Mac is full of secrets; special files and folders hidden away so you don’t accidentally make changes to critical system components. But Apple isn’t the only one that hides items on your Mac; some developers use similar tricks to keep important secret app files, such as licensing credentials, from being used willy-nilly.

You can get in on the secrets of hiding files and folders so that others can’t easily find them, or make use of their content, with just a few simple Terminal tricks.

Using Terminal to Hide a File or Folder
Terminal has always been a favorite app of mine, so much so that I keep it in the Dock for easy access. Terminal can be used to invoke a couple of commands that can be used to hide or unhide a file or folder.

You may have already made use of the Terminal chflags command to unhide the user’s library folder, which Apple hides by default. If you’re wondering about the user’s library, often written out as ~/Library, you can learn a bit more about it in the article: Access Your Hidden Library Folder With These Five Easy Tricks.

Use the Secrets folder to hide any files or folders you wish. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Let’s take a look at hiding a folder using Terminal by first creating a folder that we can hide.

Open a Finder window, and navigate to your home folder. You can do this by selecting your home folder from the Finder sidebar.

Within the home folder window, either right-click in an empty area and select New Folder from the popup menu, or select New Folder from the Finder’s File menu.

A new folder will be created, and the name (untitled folder) highlighted. Enter a new name for the folder, such as Secrets.

With the Secrets folder created, it’s time to make it disappear.

Launch Terminal, located in /Applications/Utilities, and arrange the Finder and Terminal windows so that you can see both of them.

In the Terminal window, enter the following at the prompt:

chflags hidden ~/Secrets

Hit the Enter or Return key.

The Secrets folder should disappear from the Finder window.

The Secrets folder wasn’t deleted; it simply had a flag changed that told the Finder not to display it in a Finder window. The folder is still right where you created it.

We can bring it back by typing a magic word or two in Terminal:

chflags nohidden ~/Secrets

Press Enter or Return.

The Secrets folder is back.

The first chflags command hides the folder named Secrets, while the second chflags command reveals the hidden Secrets folder. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

That’s not the only Terminal method for making a file or folder disappear. You can also make a file or folder disappear by prepending a period to its name. If we change the Secrets folder name to .Secrets the folder will become invisible to the Finder.

Alternatively, you can use the Terminal mv command, which is designed to move a file or folder to a new location, but can also be used to change a file or folder name.

In the Terminal window, enter the following:

mv ~/Secrets ~/.Secrets

Press Enter or Return.

Just as before, the Secrets folder becomes invisible in the Finder.

You can make it visible again by using the mv command to remove the period from its name.

In the Terminal window, enter:

mv ~/.Secrets ~/Secrets

Hit Enter or Return.

The Secrets folder is now visible within the Finder.

The first mv command is used to hide the Secrets folder by adding a period at the front of its name. The second mv command removes the period and makes the Secret folder visible. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

With both the chflags and the mv Terminal commands, you’re able to make a folder and all of its contents become invisible in the Finder. You can also use the same commands on a single file, if you wish. But since the Terminal commands we mentioned require knowing the pathname to the item, it’s a good idea to just use a single folder to hide one or more items within. That helps simplify the process of remembering the required pathname when it’s time to make the items visible.

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by Tom Nelson

The Mac App Store was supposed to be the place to find and purchase apps for a Mac without having to worry whether the seller, developer, or some other third-party had somehow tampered with the app for nefarious purposes. You also weren’t supposed to need to worry about the download sites being full of ads that could contain malware, ransomware, or other worrisome possibilities.

For the most part, the Mac App Store, along with the other Apple app stores, has lived up to this expectation of being a place where malware and deceptive practices don’t exist. For the most part…

Unfortunately, it’s still advisable to make use of the various stores with caution; not so much about the worry of malware being embedded within an app, though it may happen once in a while, but of scammers trying to acquire personal information by using the Apple stores as bait.

Email Scams Using the App Store as Bait
I just got an email phishing scam this week that pretended to be from Apple, warning me about a purchase I made on the Mac App Store that wasn’t made by a device that Apple recognized. I should, according to this email, use the included link and log in to a special section of the Mac App Store, where I would be asked to verify or cancel the purchase.

The Mac App Store has a reputation as a safe place to purchase Mac apps from, but that doesn’t stop scammers from using the Mac App Store as bait in phishing schemes. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

What a load of hooey. This email had scam written all over it. Besides its use of long run-on sentences and other grammar faux pas, there were a number of other indicators that can be spotted in most of these email phishing expeditions. Apple even has a guide to help you identify legitimate emails from the App Store.

Another phishing scam making the rounds involves receiving a confirmation note about a subscription you purchased in one of the Apple stores. The text of these subscription scams all start by confirming a free trial subscription to a service, and notifying you that once the free trial is over, the monthly cost is an absurdly high amount. One current example is a subscription to YouTube Red, at a monthly cost of $144.99. The purpose of this type of scam is to get you to click on the Cancel Subscription link included in the email. Doing so will take you to a site where you’ll be asked to provide your Apple ID or credit card info, or both. Of course, there never was a subscription to the service, but playing on the fear of being billed will lead some people to click that cancel link.

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