Mac privacy and security 101

No matter what type of computer you use at work, there's no doubt you place a high priority on making sure your system is well protected. With Macs, many of the security capabilities you require come built-in, and are easy to find, activate and customize.

In this post, we'll walk you through some of the most essential security and privacy settings on your Mac. Whether you're setting up a new computer or making sure your current system is up to snuff, this is the ideal place to start.

To begin, open the System Preferences window. You can access it by clicking on the gear icon, or by selecting "System Preferences" in the dropdown menu below the Apple logo in the menu bar. From there, go ahead and choose "Security and Privacy." From there, you'll have access to everything from location tracking to privacy and firewall options. If you're looking for something in particular, feel free to skip down to the appropriate heading below.

If you don't see a section in "Security and Privacy" that looks like it would house the option you are looking for, chances are it lives within the "General" tab. Here, administrators can make changes that affect the entire computer, or basic users can alter settings for their own accounts. Here's a rundown of the most important settings you should check in this section:

  • Require password: Here you can adjust how long after your computer goes to sleep you will be asked to provide your password. While the best practice would be to select "immediately," this can become a hassle if your screen saver comes on after just a short amount of idle time. Luckily, OS X gives you a relatively granular set of options, so you can even choose "5 seconds" or "1 minute" to maintain a solid wall of security without the annoyance of entering your password every time you look away from your screen.
  • Disable automatic login: We recommend checking this box whether you use your Mac for personal or business functions. If you leave this box unchecked, anyone could boot up your computer when you're away and immediately have access to any of your files or settings. Checking the box will require a password on startup. While adds a step to your morning routine, its a relatively small inconvenience that is worth every bit of protection.
  • Allow apps: While less essential to its every day usage, this feature can help protect your computer from potentially crippling malware. By allowing only apps that have been downloaded from the Mac App Store, you ensure your programs have all gone through Apple's security verification process. The intermediate option, "Mac App Store and identified developers," is far more secure than choosing "Anywhere," which could open you up to running dangerous programs even without your knowledge. 

FileVault is OS X's built-in full-disk encryption system. It can take some time to set up for the first time, but doing so can help protect the data stored on your computer from unauthorized access. If your computer is stolen, or if someone tries to access it after it has been shut down, the thief will be unable to access any of your data without the encryption key. Plus, you can use FileVault together with Find My Mac to wipe your drive if your machine is ever stolen. For obvious reasons, it's crucial you remember the encryption key. To make it easier, Apple offers two options: You can either use your iCloud account to free up your data, or you can opt for a unique recovery key. 

Your Mac's operating system includes a basic firewall you can use to allow or deny certain applications from connecting with your computer. In the "Firewall Options" pane, you can even see a detailed list of which apps are sending and receiving data. This can be helpful for detecting apps that may be using your location services in the background or sending certain data to third parties. By activating the Firewall, you can receive notifications any time an app tries to send or receive data.

Privacy and Accessibility 
The "Privacy" window gives you the option to limit specific apps from accessing certain information about your Mac, such as your location or the contents of your contacts list. Within this section is an area labeled "Accessibility." This pane allows you to view and control which apps can issue commands to your Mac. While many of these will be benign, such as speech-to-text tools telling your computer which words to add to a document, keeping an eye on this list gives you the opportunity to make sure no apps are doing more than you realized. We recommend visiting the Privacy and Accessibility screens each time you download a new app to get a handle on how much it is actually connected to your computer. 

Mac Support and Training
Working with a technology consulting company like MC Services can help make sure your company's Macs are all configured to best protect the privacy of your company's data. Plus, we offer Apple training classes and support services to make sure your workforce is equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to maintain this level of security. To learn more, contact us today!