Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

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jsloan
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Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby jsloan » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:32 pm

I think I know the answer to this, but I want to hash it out and make sure ...

So, let's say I have a recent (2014) macbook air and I load a completely free-as-in-freedom Linux distro on it.

On the one hand I have a free, open source OS with free open source programs (sshd, screen, xterm, etc.), so that's nice.

But on the other hand, the macbook air is incapable of running libreboot or some other free bios replacement, so there could be a very, very deep backdoor or malicious code running on my system at a very deep level that I can never do anything about.

And then on top of that, presumably there are some hardware pieces (wifi card, sound card, whatever) that don't have free drivers, so then I need to use black-box binary blobs (or just not have sound or something).

Is that it ? Suspicious black box bios and (possibly) suspicious black box hardware drivers ... are there any other pieces I am missing here ?

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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby Raion-Fox » Wed Jun 24, 2015 9:00 pm

No, you should not use an Apple product if you desire a free-as-in-freedom distro.

Firmware, both something akin to EFI, which is what your Macbook would use, and firmware 'blobs' loaded onto your wireless, sound and video cards, is no different than firmware directly on your devices like mice, disk controllers etc.

If you want a completely free computer, you're shit out of luck my friend, because blobs are everywhere. Read this to fully understand this paradoxical bullshit by the FSF: https://marc.info/?l=openbsd-misc&m=143355112811564&w=2

In any case, try something else. Apple isn't where you want to start.
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jsloan
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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby jsloan » Wed Jun 24, 2015 10:16 pm

Well... let me elaborate by saying that I am not necessarily looking for a "perfect" computing environment that has no non-free components.

Right now I am running OS X on a macbook air, so obviously I can compromise quite a bit.

What I *am* interested in doing is figuring out precisely where the dial is set. If I load a linux distro on a mac laptop, just where am I setting that dial ?

What components (besides BIOS, which we know for sure) would require non free-as-in-freedom code ?

I might even still use them. I probably will. I just want to *know*.

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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby robespierre » Wed Jun 24, 2015 10:53 pm

jsloan wrote:are there any other pieces I am missing here ?


Yes. The whole system architecture.
The northbridge on these systems, supplied by Intel, contains a separate processor called the Managability Engine that is totally invisible to the OS and bypasses all its access controls. It can be accessed remotely over the Internet to gain full, undetectable, control of the machine and cannot be turned off.
This on top of the 386SL System Management Mode, which executes invisibly to the OS and is still present in every x86 sold.
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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby jan-jaap » Thu Jun 25, 2015 12:07 am

There's firmware in just about every corner of any computer these days. Ever heard of BadUSB?
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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby hamei » Thu Jun 25, 2015 2:44 am

jsloan wrote: If I load a linux distro on a mac laptop, just where am I setting that dial ?

Somewhere slightly past the first green mark. Most third-graders probably couldn't hack in.

Let's face it : there's no way to know what's inside any modern computer. But we do know the NSA, Google, Apple and Mickeysoft (among others) are not our friends. Therefore, any real security means, "don't put anything in your computer that you don't want painted on the bathroom wall down at the Greyhound station."

When I first read 1984 there were obvious flaws in the mechanics. But since then we've conquered those barriers. Between Wikipedia, Facebook and Bank of America, George would be smiling and handing out ceegars. People now spend goodly sums of time and money buying their own telescreens.

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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby jsloan » Thu Jun 25, 2015 6:52 am

robespierre wrote:
jsloan wrote:are there any other pieces I am missing here ?


Yes. The whole system architecture.
The northbridge on these systems, supplied by Intel, contains a separate processor called the Managability Engine that is totally invisible to the OS and bypasses all its access controls. It can be accessed remotely over the Internet to gain full, undetectable, control of the machine and cannot be turned off.
This on top of the 386SL System Management Mode, which executes invisibly to the OS and is still present in every x86 sold.


Ok, thank you. This is the kind of answer I was interested in.

Isn't this true of any laptop though ?

I think the Bunnie Huang laptop has a northbridge in it. There are one or two "golden" old thinkpads that the super-free diehards always recommend, but I don't know if those are old enough to not have northbridge.

How would you avoid this ?

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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby ClassicHasClass » Thu Jun 25, 2015 7:17 am

Using an older laptop that's too stupid to have these kinds of things?

PowerPC forever. :)

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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby hamei » Thu Jun 25, 2015 6:32 pm

jsloan wrote:How would you avoid this ?

Standard, time-tested methods - trust no one, keep a low profile, don't make waves, keep any of yer damn individualist idears very very quiet, when they kick you in the teeth smile and say, "thank you, sir !". Them niggers all had it coming to them anyhow. Fucking protesters made me late for work, damn them. Vote republican, vote democrat, applaud Bruce Jenner who has always been a woman inside and all the other ridiculous politically-correct horseshit you are supposed to be occupied with. (I have personally always been a giraffe inside, but I can't afford the surgery :( ) But whatever you do, don't think about what the assholes you are voting for really do. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is really about 'free trade ! and a glorious future for all beings !' not a transparent attempt to control the world like a mentally-retarded twenty-first century Roman Empire. We have always been at war with Communism ! Bang that drum ! Wave that bloody shirt ! Run in circles crying and screaming The Tewwowists are cumming ! the Tewwowists are cumming ! Oh waht shall we do ?! Hep me ! hep me ! Lock me nekkid in a cage, butt-rape me three times a day, anything, just please sir keep me saaaafe ! Waaah ! waaah ! Go to lots of sports events and cheer loudly. Parrot all the stupid crap printed in the press. Join Faceblob and twitter endlessly about what your cat ate for breakfast. Be a good little serf and maybe you won't get disappeared. Buy lots and lots of Apple products, the more pretentious and useless the better. Avoid thinking at all costs, it shows in your eyes.

Just the usual.
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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby yetanother**ixuser » Fri Jun 26, 2015 1:00 am

hamei wrote:
jsloan wrote:How would you avoid this ?

Standard, time-tested methods - trust no one, keep a low profile, don't make waves, keep any of yer damn individualist idears very very quiet, when they kick you in the teeth smile and say, "thank you, sir !". Them niggers all had it coming to them anyhow. Fucking protesters made me late for work, damn them. Vote republican, vote democrat, applaud Bruce Jenner who has always been a woman inside and all the other ridiculous politically-correct horseshit you are supposed to be occupied with. (I have personally always been a giraffe inside, but I can't afford the surgery :( ) But whatever you do, don't think about what the assholes you are voting for really do. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is really about 'free trade ! and a glorious future for all beings !' not a transparent attempt to control the world like a mentally-retarded twenty-first century Roman Empire. We have always been at war with Communism ! Bang that drum ! Wave that bloody shirt ! Run in circles crying and screaming The Tewwowists are cumming ! the Tewwowists are cumming ! Oh waht shall we do ?! Hep me ! hep me ! Lock me nekkid in a cage, butt-rape me three times a day, anything, just please sir keep me saaaafe ! Waaah ! waaah ! Go to lots of sports events and cheer loudly. Parrot all the stupid crap printed in the press. Join Faceblob and twitter endlessly about what your cat ate for breakfast. Be a good little serf and maybe you won't get disappeared. Buy lots and lots of Apple products, the more pretentious and useless the better. Avoid thinking at all costs, it shows in your eyes.

Just the usual.


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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby robespierre » Fri Jun 26, 2015 1:11 am

jsloan wrote:How would you avoid this ?

I don't know whether the chipsets from AMD, VIA etc have something equally nasty, at least they don't advertise that they do.
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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby guardian452 » Fri Jun 26, 2015 6:10 am

jsloan wrote:I think the Bunnie Huang laptop has a northbridge in it. There are one or two "golden" old thinkpads that the super-free diehards always recommend, but I don't know if those are old enough to not have northbridge.

I have an x220, runs well enough. It meets my needs for games and music but if you are seriously concerned about security, don't use a computer. At all. I hardly ever even browse the web anymore, unless I have to email and I'm not at work. It is about the same size as my old macbook air but faster than even my big mac pro.

Just keep using your macbook with OSX, which is presumably why you bought the damned thing in the first place. Keep it up to date and try not to think about our corporate and government overlords too much. I still have a macbook at the office and it meets my needs although boring but work tools are supposed to just do their job and get out of the way, which it does a very good job of.

The x220 is thinkpad #4 for me, after an a21,x30,x40. All of them I have fond memories of. I'm sure there are bad thinkpads but I haven't seen any. Avoid anything too old and anything 'gamer' oriented unless brand new. Mine was refurbished with warranty and windows professional license for $280 from the local e-recycler. It looks brand new :D

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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby armanox » Fri Jun 26, 2015 12:12 pm

Paranoid much are we? Let's face reality for a second - Short of something like a Leemote you aren't going to find a fully open system. And are you really that paranoid about binary blobs? If you're that concerned with security...then act like it. Have a decent firewall, with IPS/IDS running (they can be separate machines from the firewall). Get yourself a copy of Nessus (disclaimer, I am a former employee of Tenable Network Security) and run regular scans on all of your hardware (including your network equipment) for vulnerabilities. Get a copy of PVS while you're at it, and examine your network traffic replays on a regular basis. Only allow internet traffic on a whitelist basis, etc.
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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby jsloan » Fri Jun 26, 2015 9:22 pm

I have a number of responses to the above postings, but I want to first discuss the computer-within-the-computer that is the Intel manageability engine (or whatever it is called in 2015) ...

It looks like there are a lot of tools for updating, configuring, and managing the IME ... or do I misunderstand with my google searching ?

I *think* I don't want to dive into that rabbit hole and introduce that complexity into my life ... but am I correct that if I did, there is in fact a way to control and monitor the behavior of the IME ?

In fact, it appears that the IME is sort of there for corporate IT to manage assets and access control and so it makes sense that there are super-super-user tools for managing and monitoring the IME ...

Comments ?

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Re: Just how non-free is my macbook air ?

Unread postby hamei » Sat Jun 27, 2015 12:12 am

armanox wrote:Paranoid much are we?

We didn't get our turn in the Kool-Aid line so we think power that would give Joseph Goebbels a hard-on as big as a telephone pole is not a good thing. But hey, you're probably right, our Leaders are such honest, ethical people concerned for nothing but our welfare that any doubts are purely paranoia. No one in government or the corporate world (is there a difference ?) would ever screw us over. Absolutely not. No, never. Well, hardly ever ...
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