In our previous article we looked at the arguments for and against legislating encryption. We thought it would be good to look at a few things that you can do to help keep your Mac secure.
Mac OS X by default is relatively secure but there are a few extra things that you can do to make your Apple Mac more secure, particularly if it is stolen. As MacBooks get lighter and online services become faster and more capable, being able to work from a coffee shop or any other public place become far easier. However with your computer in this public environment it becomes more vulnerable, not just in terms of network security but also to physical attack. Here are 4 built in mac features you can enable to give you greater protection.
1. Enable the Firewall
This is particularly a good idea when using a public network as at home your router’s firewall should give you sufficient protection. To enable your firewall go to the security and privacy system preferences pane, click on firewall and unlock the page by clicking on the lock in the bottom left hand corner. Once unlocked you can click ‘Turn On Firewall’ - the standard option is suitable for most purposes, but if you want more options you can click on the firewall options which allows you to set up per application settings, enable stealth mode (which hides you computer from outside access attempts) and a setting to block all connections.
2. Enable FileVault
FileVault is a utility that encrypts your whole hard drive, including system files, applications, caches and other temporary files which may contain sensitive data. The FileVault is great at securing your data should your Mac be stolen. While your drive is locked (when your Mac is shut down) all the data is scrambled. This stops unauthorised third parties recovering the data either through ‘Target Disk’ mode or removing your drive and connecting it to another machine.
To enable FileVault you need to go to Security and Privacy in system preferences and select the FileVault tab. Once unlocked using an Administrator user name and password you can click Turn On FileVault. You will then be asked to select which users can unlock the disk, you can add more at a later date if needed. Once you click continue your Mac will begin to encrypt the drive, if you have a large mechanical drive this can take several hours to complete.
3. Password Management
We often use numerous online services a day. For each one of these services ideally we should have a different password for each one and creating a strong password for each one often means a ridiculously long string of letters numbers and special characters. Fortunately OS X has a solution built in called Keychain.
Keychain is enable by default to store various passwords for online sources, email accounts, sharing services, and many other authentication routines. Anytime you see a check box for saving your password or prompt in Safari this is Keychain storing your password in a special encrypted file.
You can manage your Keychain using the Keychain Access utility. In the preferences of the Keychain Access utility there is a handy little option to display the Keychain status in the menu bar. This puts a small lock icon on the menu bar which when clicked gives you the option to lock the keychain. This is helpful if you walk away from your computer and don't want anyone who can sit at your computer to have a access to online services you may have stored the password for in your keychain.
If you have an iCloud account you can also enable Keychain Sync which will sync all the data stored in your keychain across your devices. So if you store login details on your Mac they will be accessible on your iPhone.
4. Locking and Locating
There are a couple of final options that are useful to enable to help protect your Mac.
Firstly it is a good idea enable the ‘Require Password’ option in the general tab of the Security and Privacy panel in system preferences. Also setting it to a shorter time or immediately means that your system is secure quicker after it goes to sleep.
Secondly enabling ‘Find My Mac’ in the iCloud system preferences will allow to log into iCloud.com or use the Find My iPhone app to locate your device. This great if it is stolen and also allows you to remotely lock the computer or remotely wipe the device.
Unfortunately there is little Apple can do to prevent your Mac from being stolen but OS X has lots of features built in to help the protect the data on your Mac if it does get and also gives you chance to possibly retrieve it using Find My Mac.