Mac 911 grab-bag: Phone-less two-factor authentication, iTunes and "Other"

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Plenty of great questions slip through Mac 911’s mail slot, but the reply to some of them is so brief that they don’t merit a full-page entry. From time to time I issue a burst of answers to these very questions. Today is one of those days. Follow along as I address phone-less two-factor authentication, HipChat interface issues, iTunes’ “other” entry, and exported iPhoto metadata.

Two-factor authentication without an iPhone

After the celebrity photo scandal I’m more concerned about security. I understand that using two-factor authentication can make my data a bit more secure, but I don’t have an iPhone. Do I need one?

Initially you do need a device that can receive SMS messages. When you first set up two-factor authentication you’re required to provide Apple with a phone number for a device that can receive SMS messages. This becomes the first of possibly other verified devices. You can then add other devices tied to your Apple ID—an iPad or iPod touch, for example. The first device you entered will receive verification codes via SMS. Added devices will receive verification codes via Find My iPhones/iPad/iPod push notifications.

The difficulty is that an SMS device has to be part of the equation. You can’t remove that first device until such time that you replace it with another SMS-capable device. So, if you used your brother-in-law’s iPhone to create an authenticated account, his phone will continue to receive verification codes until you replace his SMS number with a different one. Should you and that person have a falling out, you’ll want to do something about their ability to receive these codes (either get a mobile phone of your own or turn off two-factor authentication).

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Two-factor authentication can be helpful, but it requires SMS to initiate.

Services exist that can receive SMS messages and then forward them on to you via a messaging app, so that may be a way to work around the issue. But it does mean very important SMS messages are being forwarded through someone else’s service. Should the password to that service be compromised, you’ve pretty much defeated the purpose of two-factor authentication because the bad guys simply can now grab your SMS verification messages. Plus delivery may not be as immediate as the real thing.

Big and bright

We use Atlassian’s HipChat at work for team chatting. The company just released version 3.0 and we can’t stand the look, which features lots of white space and large text. Is there anything we can do to change the theme?

Very little. You can increase or decrease the font size by using the Command-+ (plus) and Command- – (minus) keys, respectively, but a lot of space remains. You can, however, revert to version 2.6, which I find much easier on the eyes.

While we’re on the subject, if IT hasn’t locked you into HipChat, you might take a look at Slack. I’ve used it on a casual basis and like it a lot.

iTunes and “other”

I saw your article explaining the “Other” category of storage on a MacBook Air. Does the same apply to iTunes? When I sync my iPhone with my MacBook Pro, iTunes shows an “Other” category that is quite a significant size.

The “Other” category in iTunes follows a similar pattern. It’s stuff on the device that doesn’t fit into the other categories. Specifically, its comprised of settings, calendar events, notes, browser cache, email, attachments, voice mail, and so on.

itunes other

iTunes has an "Other" entry just like your Mac.

Exporting iPhoto metadata

Am I correct in assuming that if I open my iPhoto albums in Aperture I will be able to export them with all associated metadata?

Yes. Aperture can read iPhoto’s metadata. (It’s also capable of generating additional metadata that iPhoto doesn’t support.)

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