Protecting Your Mac in 2014

One reason consumers buy Mac computers is they’ve been less vulnerable to viruses and other types of malicious programs in the past. That doesn’t mean they’re completely safe, however, or that they’ll be less vulnerable in the future.

When Mac was launched 30 years ago, there was no reason for concern about viruses on the Mac. Now, you also had a 400kb floppy drive, no world wide web, and a 9 inch greyscale screen so there weren’t a lot of opportunities to spread malware regardless. Now that there are millions of Macs and an incredibly connected world, things aren’t so simple.

Mac users have been spoiled, but as Macs have become more mainstream that’s likely to change.

Mac has been an underdog in the marketplace right from the start, but Gartner predicts that Mac/iOS products will outsell Microsoft Windows products in 2015.

If you are one of the millions of proud new Mac owners out there, you need to learn how to protect your computer.

Update, Update, Update

Apple, Inc. recommends you keep software up to date to stay on top of potential security problems. That includes adding OS X Mavericks to your system. OS X Mavericks is the tenth OS operating system from Apple, and it contains all the latest security features. The new operating system checks daily for security updates, sends out a notification when updates are ready and then downloads them automatically once the user accepts. Upgrading to the OS X Mavericks will cost you nothing.

Why is this important? Do you need to ask?

Recently Apple announced a major security issue in how it handles secure connections between the computer and web sites (SSL – secure sockets layer). A single line of code was screwed up and computers (and iOS phones) connecting via the Safari web browser posed a security risk for almost 18 months! The update that fixes the problem was released today (26FEB2014).

So what happens if you don’t have your computer set to auto update? You’ll continue to be exposed – maybe for another 18 months. Not good.

Updating goes beyond just the operating system. Mainstream software applications regularly offer updates that include security patches, especially virus scanning programs. Some will notify you an update is available, but others require you to check. Get in the habit of making sure all your programs are running the most current version.

Be Selective about Downloads

How to use Gatekeeper to protect your Mac from malware.

Downloading from the Internet is one of the most obvious places for your Mac to be exposed to malware. Apple also suggests you get downloads only from the Apple Store. The company screens each app posted there for malicious software. Users offer feedback to the store so they can pull any program when there is negative information, too.

Apple provides Gatekeeper for OS X 10.8 and later that helps screen apps downloaded from other sources. CNET gives this program mixed reviews, however. It looks at the digital signature of any downloads and only allows those from the App Store to run or that are created in the Apple developer program. That can be limiting. Gatekeeper is an optional feature on OS. You can turn it on or off in the Security & Privacy folder.

You can learn more about how to use Gatekeeper from Apple here…

Keychain

Be smart with your passwords. This is true whether you are working on a Mac or a Windows computer. Apple, however, offers a nifty little tool to help with password management. Keychain is available in the Mac OS X system and covers passwords for:

  • Websites
  • FTP servers
  • Wireless networks
  • Groupware apps

It offers a way to keep online bank information and log-ins for employee sites safe, for example. It also locks up your crucial data in a protected vault under one unique password. This adds a layer of security that protects you against crimes like identity theft.

Keychain is available under the Application Utilities. You can even get a version of it for your iPhone that costs under a dollar.

Antivirus Software is your BFF

At one point, it may have been redundant to install an antivirus program on a Mac computer. But viruses are getting smarter and more prevalent on Mac and you absolutely must have additional virus protection to keep a Mac secure. Several programs work specifically work for the Mac system such as Kaspersky Security for $39.95 or the more budget-friendly free tools like Avast! or Sophos Antivirus (my favorite).

Don’t Freak Out

No need to freak out about security. Macs are generally more secure and are targeted less frequently than Windows computers, but that doesn’t mean you should feel smug or secure. Take some simple steps to keep your Mac secure by updating the OS and other apps, being careful what and where you download other software, and use Apple’s built-in security tools along with an anti-virus product.

List any other tips you have in the comments below.

Author: Dave Nielsen

I started using computers in 1978 on the Apple II and was first online (using my “high-speed” 1200 baud modem) in 1989. I’ve managed web sites for several Fortune 500 companies and for internet start-ups. Working for one of those start-ups is what brought me into the world of credit. I was part of the the executive team that ran QSpace, the first company to offer credit reports over the internet.

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