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How to control security and privacy on OS X

Kenny Hemphill | Aug. 28, 2015
Maintaining privacy and keeping data secure are hugely important for any Mac user. Yet many of us give it scant attention and do little more than the bare minimum, if anything at all to ensure that hackers, opportunists and, yes, even the authorities are able to access as little of our personal data as possible.

Filevault...

The FileVault tab allows you to encrypt all the files in your user account. To decrypt them, you'll need to type in either your account password or the recovery key created when you switch File Vault on. For most users, the inconvenience of having to type in a password to open a file, together with the tine it takes initially to encrypt all the files on your Mac, outweighs the security advantages. But if you have reason to keep data as secure as it can be, switch it on.

Firewall...

Next is the Firewall tab. It's important to note that OS X's Firewall, while useful, offers only limited protection from malware. That's because it shields you from inbound traffic only. It's job is to limit which apps and services can accept incoming connections. It doesn't provide any control over outbound connections ie apps and services which initiate connections. So, for example, if you download a piece of malware, OS X's Firewall won't stop it connecting to the Internet. For that, you'll need an outbound firewall, usually found in anti-malware tools from the likes of Intego, Sophos, and Symantec.

In the Firewall tab, click Firewall Options to make changes. Here, you'll see a list of apps and services which are able to receive inbound connections. To add one to the list, if, say you try to run an app and it displays an error telling you it has been prevented from accepting an inbound connection, click the '+' beneath the list.

You should ensure that Stealth mode is enabled, and, for convenience, tick the box that allows signed apps to automatically accept incoming connections.

Third party apps...

If you're concerned about apps making outbound connections, consider installing Little Snitch, which reports on apps that 'phone home' ie connect to a remote server, and allows to prevent them from doing so.

Location Services...

The last tab, Privacy covers a number of different controls and settings. These are listed in the window on the left of the pane. Location Services allows you to control which apps have access to your location data. You can switch Location Services off completely here, or prevent individual apps from accessing data.

Control access...

Likewise, Contacts, Calendar, and Reminders allow you to specify which apps on your Mac can access the information stored in those core OS X apps. If you've added your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn details to the Internet Accounts System Preferences pane, you can control which apps have access to those accounts here.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is the Accessibility section. Despite sharing a name, this, confusingly, has nothing to do with the settings available in the Accessibility pane in the main System Preferences window. Here, you can control which apps are able to control your Mac in some way. For example, Deeper and Onyx allow you change settings which would normally require Terminal commands. To use them, you'll need to enable them here.

 

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