5 Ways to Keep Your Mac's Data Safe and Secure

The hearing on whether or not Apple should be forced to make a special version of iOS so the FBI can hack into an iPhone may be on hold, but that doesn't mean the personal data we want to keep private is safe. The fight to punch holes through our privacy is still gaining steam, and it reaches beyond the encrypted data on our iPhones out to our computers, too. There are ways to help protect your personal data on your Mac so the government, criminals, or even just nosey friends can't see what isn't any of their business. Check out The Mac Observer's list of tips on making your Mac—and your personal data—more secure.

Five ways to help secure your Mac's dataFive ways to help secure your Mac's data

Require a Password to use your Mac

A password is your first line of defense for keeping files, photos, and everything else that's important on your Mac safe. Without one, everything on your computer is at the mercy of anyone who happens to sit down in front of your display and keyboard.

Requiring passwords to log into accounts on your Mac isn't a total fix for keeping your files safe, but it does make the bad guys work a little harder to see your personal data. Here's how set up your Mac so you'll need your password every time you boot up:

  • Go to Apple menu > System Preferences
  • Click Users & Groups
  • Choose Login Options
  • Set Automatic login to Off
  • Set Display login window as to Name and password

Disable automatic login to keep nosey people out of your files and appsDisable automatic login to keep nosey people out of your files and apps

Turning off Automatic login forces anyone trying to use your Mac to enter your password. Setting the login window to show the name and password fields means anyone logging in needs to know both pieces of information, meaning your user account name and password, before they can get to your Desktop.

Needing to know both your user name and password dramatically cuts down on the likelihood someone will be able to guess your login. Melissa Holt has an awesome tip on customizing your Mac's login options.

No Easy-to-Guess Passcodes

"Password" is a horrible password, as is "123456." Don't use common passwords for your Mac login, or passwords you think people can easily guess. The trick is to find the balance between complexity and something you can remember.

There's a great list of the 10,000 most common passwords at passwordrandom.com you can check out to see what not to use.

Next up: Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt

Encrypt Your Hard Drive or SSD with FileVault

The data stored on your Mac isn't encrypted be default, so anyone savvy enough to use Target Disk Mode can see all your files even if you're requiring a password to log into your user account. FileVault solves that problem by encrypting everything on your Mac's hard drive or SSD so your data looks like digital garbage without the right password.

Once again, Melissa Holt comes to the rescue with a great how-to on setting up FileVault.

Encrypt Time Machine backups

Encrypting your hard drive or SSD is great for keeping prying eyes out of your Mac, but what about your Time Machine backup? Turns out it's unencrypted, which means anyone who gets their hands on that drive has unfettered access to all your personal data.

You can close up that loophole by encrypting your Time Machine drive, too, so anyone trying to see what's there will need its special decryption passcode to get in. Melissa has you covered there, too, with an awesome tip on encrypting Time Machine backups.

Encrypt iPhone and iPad iTunes backups

Your data is encrypted on your iPhone and iPad if you're using a passcode, but once they're backed up to your Mac that data—just like Time Machine backups—isn't encrypted any more. Luckily, that's easy to fix, and has the added bonus of backing up more data.

Here's how to encrypt your iPhone and iPad backups:

  • Launch iTunes on your Mac
  • Connect your iOS device to your computer
  • Select your device in iTunes, then click Summary in the left column
  • Make sure you're automatically backing up to your computer or iCloud—you can find that setting under the Backups section
  • Check Encrypt backup

Encrypt your iPhone and iPad backups to keep your private data safeEncrypt your iPhone and iPad backups to keep your private data safe

Now your iOS device backup will be encrypted, too. Encrypting also means your saved passwords, WiFi settings, Web browser history, and Health data get backed up, which doesn't happen if you aren't encrypting your backups.

Encrypt Data on Public Networks with a VPN

Use a VPN on Public Networks Keeping your data safe when you're on public networks, like at the coffee shop or library, is a smart move, too. If you don't, personal information you're exchanging with websites could be intercepted by by bad guys who want nothing more than to ruin your afternoon and maybe steal your identity, too.

The trick for snubbing hackers and other all around jerks trying to steal your logins, bank account information, and email messages, is a VPN, or virtual private network. A VPN creates a secure connection that wraps everything coming into or leaving your computer with a protective encryption later. Anyone intercepting your data gets nothing more than digital nonsense that's worthless.

You'll need a VPN service such as Tunnelbear, Astrill, TorGuard, and Private Internet Access. Ask your friends which they use.

Bonus: using a VPN lets you make it look like your computer is in a different country. That's handy if you come up against region-based licensing restrictions *cough*BBC*cough* preventing you from playing videos. Hypothetically, of course.