Security on a Mac, as with any computer, starts with caution on the part of the user. Think of it like a car. Cars need regular maintenance – checking air in the tires, changing oil, replacing headlights, and other routine but important fixes. Just as it is important to keep your car well maintained, it is equally important to keep current on available updates for your Mac.
Scan every download – always
Just like you wouldn’t take your car to be repaired by total strangers, be sure to research any computer software before downloading. Like you don’t fill your car’s gas tank with anything you’re not 100% sure is gas, don’t click on links if you don’t know what they are. Let us introduce you to your Mac’s security features, your computer’s car keys, if you will. We’ll look at steps you can take to help fend off hackers and control who uses your computer, as well as what things guest users have access to.
Pay attention to the security settings
Most security settings are managed through the System Preferences application. You can find it in your applications folder (either an icon on your screen or on the dock) or by clicking on the apple in the top left corner of the screen and choosing System Preferences from the drop-down menu.
Start by making sure you’ll be able to keep your system and all software up to date. Under the System category in System Preferences, there is an icon labeled Software Updates. After clicking on that icon, you can choose whether you want the computer to check for available updates automatically, or you would rather check it manually on your own. If you choose the automatic mode, you can also choose how often it should be checked: daily, weekly, or monthly. If you choose so, the updates can also be downloaded automatically, at which time you would see a pop-up notifying you that they are ready to be installed.
Yes, you really need a firewall
So, now your car is well maintained and safe for driving. But there, at the side of the road, is a hitchhiker. Or is it a hitchhiker? It could very well be a robber. If you suspect that it is a robber, make sure you roll up your windows. Or, in the case of your Mac, help keep hackers at bay by enabling your firewall.
Under the Personal category in System Preferences, choose the icon labeled Security & Privacy. At the top, you’ll find a tab that says Firewall. A firewall works to filter through connections and only allow those that are safe. You can customize the connections that you want blocked. First, click on Firewall Options. If you choose the Block all incoming connections option, it will disable your computer’s file sharing and screen sharing capabilities. You’ll forbid hitchhikers and robbers alike from entering your vehicle. Or you can choose to allow specific connections, as if the hitchhiker is someone you know. Allow certain connections by clicking on Add Application under Firewall Options. You will then be able to select the application for which you will allow connection privileges, or remove applications that you don’t want on that list.
You can also choose the sources from which you want to be able to download applications. Under the General tab, select one of three options: you can choose to download apps only from the Mac App Store, from the Mac App Store and identified developers, or from anywhere. If you choose the last option, be sure to research the sources of all applications to ensure they’re safe.
Encrypt your hard drive
Your Mac also has the ability to encrypt your entire hard drive, including external hard drives. This is done using FileVault. To enable FileVault, choose the FileVault tab under the Security and Privacy icon. Once your files are encrypted, they can only be accessed using a password or a recovery key. Make sure you can remember your password or recovery key, because if you forget both of them, then you will have no way to access your data. It’s like locking your keys inside your car, but without AAA to come to your rescue.
Set a password that is actually secure
Lastly, to control who uses your computer, the most obvious security feature is to set a password. Under Security & Privacy, choose the General tab. First, you would need to check the box that says Disable automatic login. That way, anyone starting up your computer will need to provide a password before any programs can be opened or run. You can also set it to require a password after going off the sleep mode or when the screensaver stops. Don’t share your password with anyone you wouldn’t trust to have your car keys.
You can also allow guests to use a guest account. It’s like lending someone your car keys, but on the condition that you will be sitting in the passenger seat overseeing every turn. Under the System category of System Preferences, choose the Users & Groups icon. Check the box that says Allow guests to log in to this computer.
Logging in to a guest account won’t require a password, and once your guest logs out, all the information and files in the guest account’s home folder are wiped clean. That means when you get back in the driver’s seat, you won’t have to adjust the rearview mirror or move the seat back because your friend is shorter or taller than you are.
For extra protection, you can enable parental controls (also under the Users & Groups icon) in order to add any restrictions to the guest user account. So, even if your friend wants to take a chance on that hitchhiker, the choice is ultimately yours.
Mac are already quite secure, but understanding what steps you can take to prevent hackers, malware, and unauthorized users from accessing your data can further reduce your risk of being hacked or downloading a virus. You might get an insurance payout for a totaled car, but there’s no replacing a hard drive full of lost data.