Simple Security Steps for Average Mac Users

| Computing with Bifocals

Is the Boogy Man really coming? Now that Macs are becoming popular are we getting hit with hackers and viruses? Well...what time is it?

Mac OS X is a secure operating system, and that by itself is a challenge to some people. Rather than worry about what some snarky person is doing, it is much more productive to do everything you can do to protect your own machine.

The following are excellent suggestions that I got from a couple of friends who deal with Macs and security on a daily basis.

Donit Use The Administrator Account For Daily Use
Who ever controls the Administrator Account controls the computer. If it is locked and an unauthorized person canit get into it, they can neither retrieve information nor damage what is there.

When we learned to use our Mac most of us started with one account and concentrated on learning how to use our Macs. People who share a computer probably do have more than one account. One of the beauties of OS X is the ability to have as many personal accounts as you want. I never bothered with extra accounts except for the occasional training needs.

No more. I took a half an hour and followed the steps I am recommending below. What I did, and am recommending that you do, is take away administrator privileges from the account you use all the time. Create a separate administrator account because you do have to have one to operate your Mac.

If you are using Leopard, or Mac OS X 10.5, follow these steps exactly. For earlier versions of the OS, modify as needed.

  • Select Apple Menu > System Preferences > Accounts.
  • Click the plus button under the My Accounts Field. Unlock the preference window if needed.
  • A new Accounts window will open. Select Administrator from the pull-down menu next to New Account.
  • Name the account and enter a password. Make your password as secure as possible. To check the security level of your password, click the key symbol next to the word after you enter it into the Password field.
  • Donit turn on FileVault protection. It causes more problems than it solves.
  • Save your information.
  • If you have a MobileMe account you will be asked to enter your MobileMe user name. I entered the same name I already use and it took it with no problem.
  • Now, while you are still in the Accounts Preference Pane, click on your original account, the one you have always used.
  • When the account window opens you will see that you now have the option to uncheck the box next to Allow user to administer this computer. Do so. You will get a reminder box that tells you the change will not go into effect until you log out and log back in.
  • Donit forget to lock the preferences window as your final step.

 

So what is going to be different? Let us say you are working in your regular account and you decide to download the trial version of a new application. In the past you would get a window that asked for your password before you could install the application. Now you will get a window that asks for the administrator name and password before you can install the application. The one you will enter is the new one you just created. Itis a small price to pay to keep anyone from getting to your locked stuff.

Keep Important Preferences Locked
The emphasis in that sentence was on your locked stuff. Most of the applications that you run on your Mac have preferences. They are things that you can set that individualize the application to meet your wants and needs. The preferences for most applications will be found in the menu under the name of the application.

As you are probably aware, your Mac has its own set of Preferences. They are called System Preferences and you find them in the Apple Menu in the top left portion of your Desktop menu bar.

A number of the System Preferences can be locked. In Leopard there are ten. Some of them are locked for convenience so that no one can change your settings. However, some of them pertain to the security of your Mac and they should always be locked. As my security minded friends point out "System Preferences are not something you use every day. The minor inconvenience of having to use a password to access one of them is far outweighed by the protection you gain by keeping them locked." In Leopard, the System Preferences with lock options are:

  • Security
  • Energy Saver
  • Print & Fax
  • Network
  • Sharing
  • Accounts
  • Date & Time
  • Parental Control
  • Startup Disk
  • Time Machine

The highlighted preferences are the ones that can make your machine the most vulnerable and therefore, the ones you should always keep locked.

Take It Down One More Level
Protecting System Preferences will only get you so far. There is another level down you can go. Go back to System Preferences and select the Security Preference Pane, then select the Firewall tab. The firewall determines what can and can not get into your computer over the Internet. For most situations you will want to choose Allow only essential services.

If you have specific reasons to allow something else you must specify it as I have done in my example. By specifying Screen Sharing, I give secure permission for someone to sign on to my Desktop and work on my computer from afar.


Firewall Security Options

The next thing you can do requires that you click on the General tab in that same Security Preference Pane. Click on any, or all, of the offered options depending on the level of security you want to achieve.

 


General Security Options

Taking these steps will help you stay in the driver seat when it comes to protecting both the contents of your computer and your hard drive.

More helpful tips for beginners can be found in my beginners manual, Tips, Hints, and Solutions For Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5.

The entire Table of Contents and a sample page are available for free review for anyone who wishes to see them.

I am making this book available in three formats:.
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