Contrary to popular belief, an invulnerable Mac is a misnomer and a myth debunked years ago. Adware, scareware, cryptominers, and even ransomware are increasingly targeting this ecosystem and there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of the defenses. To its credit, though, macOS comes with a decent set of security and privacy features available off the shelf.
The scourge of the modern digital world is that few users ever bother looking beyond the default settings to make the most of the protection mechanisms built into their devices. This lack of vigilance keeps the bar unacceptably low for cybercriminals who are growingly adept at exploiting systems, especially poorly secured ones.
This article provides a summary of the methods to take the protection of a Mac computer to the next level by fine-tuning its security preferences. Combined with a healthy dose of prudence on the user’s end, these techniques can stop malware attacks in their tracks while thwarting unauthorized access to the machine.
Good old passwords still work wonders
First things first, underestimating the security fundamentals such as proper password hygiene is a slippery slope. To make sure your data is off limits for remote crooks and individuals who may try to access it physically, specify a strong admin password.
When you first turn on a brand new machine, the system requires you to enter that secret combo of characters and numbers. However, this measure is only effective as long as the password is hard to guess and as random-looking as possible. If it’s “123456”, “password123” or similar, then your digital life is low-hanging fruit and you have to do something about it immediately.
The good news is, changing the admin password on your Mac is a no-brainer. Here’s the walkthrough:
- Click on the Apple menu icon and select System Preferences.
- Proceed to “Users & Groups”.
- Click on your account name and select “Change Password”.
- Type your current password in the field saying “Old Password” and then enter a new, more secure string in the “New Password” field. Confirm the new password by retyping it in the “Verify” box.
Pro Tip: If you are having issues creating a strong password, consider clicking on the key icon next to the “New Password” area so that the system generates one for you.
- Type your personal clue in the “Password Hint” box to ascertain that you can regain access to the Mac if you forget your password. This phrase will be shown three times if your login attempts are unsuccessful.
- Complete the procedure by clicking “Change Password”.
If you own one of the newer MacBook models equipped with a Touch ID scanner, you might want to further strengthen your authentication practices. Here’s the lowdown on how to configure the Touch ID feature in addition to your account password:
- Head to System Preferences and select Touch ID.
- Click on the plus (+) icon to add a new fingerprint and type your password in the follow-up prompt.
- Use on-screen instructions to place your finger on the Touch ID button correctly.
- Use the checkboxes to personalize the Touch ID feature by defining what you’d like to use it for. For instance, it can unlock your computer and log you into various Apple services such as iTunes and Apple Pay.
Safeguard your Mac when it’s not in use
Whereas a password and a Touch ID create an essential layer of defense against unauthorized access, there are scenarios when you walk away from your Mac for a while and leave it unlocked. This situation is a godsend for snoops. To avoid it, you can configure the system to log you out after a certain period of inactivity or to require a password to wake it from sleep.
Here is how to instruct your Mac to log you out of your account after being idle for a particular amount of time:
- Go to System Preferences, select “Security & Privacy”, and click the “General” tab.
- Click on the lock symbol to make changes to the current settings and enter your password in the dialog that follows.
- Now click “Advanced” and put a checkmark in the box next to the setting that says “Log out after […] minutes of inactivity”.
- Specify the desired amount of time. The optimal timespan is 15 minutes. If you use your Mac in public places a lot, specify a shorter period.
- Click OK to confirm the tweak and then click the lock symbol once again to prevent further changes.
Use the following steps to configure your computer to require a password after falling asleep:
- Go to “Security & Privacy” under System Preferences and select the “General” tab.
- Pick the option that says “Require password […] after sleep or screen saver begins”.
- Use the drop-down menu to specify the time most suitable for requiring your account password. Anywhere between 1 and 5 minutes should be fine.
- Confirm the change.
Keep your files on the safe side
In case you didn’t know, Macs have a built-in feature that automatically encrypts data on your disk. It’s called FileVault. Even if someone accesses your machine, they won’t be able to read or copy the cryptographically secured data. The admin is the only person who can grant this access to individual user accounts enrolled on the Mac.
Here’s what you should do to benefit from this functionality to the fullest:
- Select “Security & Privacy” under System Preferences and click on the “FileVault” tab.
- To enable changes, click the lock symbol at the bottom of the screen and enter your admin password in the prompt.
- Click on the button that says “Turn On FileVault”.
- Fine-tune the feature by selecting the method for unlocking the disk and for resetting your password if you happen to forget it.
- Click “Continue”. In case multiple users are registered on the Mac, click “Enable Users” and select the ones you’d like to have access to your data.
- Wait for FileVault to encrypt the disk. It could be a time-consuming process, so be patient. When it’s completed, your valuable files will be reliably protected from prying eyes.
Use a VPN to give your privacy a boost
This technique thwarts all forms of eavesdropping on the Internet. A reliable VPN tool encrypts your web traffic and makes it impossible to attribute your online activities to you. With a plethora of these solutions available on the market, it may be hard to pick the one that suits you the most. As a general rule, go for a service that follows a no-logs policy, keeps the connection speeds high, and provides a competitive range of servers around the world to choose from. If selected wisely, VPN is your privacy stronghold that keeps online snoops at bay.
Turn on firewall protection
The firewall feature that comes with your Mac is an effective anti-hacking mechanism many users neglect to enable. Don’t be one of those users. The firewall automatically fends off dubious incoming traffic, including connections initiated by double-dealing applications you may have installed. Follow these simple steps to enable the native Mac firewall:
- Select System Preferences in the Apple menu, click “Security & Privacy”, and then click on the Firewall tab.
- Use the lock icon to unlock firewall settings. This will require your admin credentials.
- Click “Turn On Firewall”.
- Use further prompts to customize the feature. For example, you can specify the list of apps and services that are allowed to open new connections. Also, consider checking the “Enable stealth mode” box to make sure your Mac doesn’t respond to potentially malicious ping requests from external networks.
Although the essential security preferences are at every Mac user’s fingertips, they are often ignored and malicious actors can piggyback on this negligence. These settings are amazingly easy to toggle and they can become a true game-changer in terms of both security and privacy. If you add an effective VPN service to the mix, the combo becomes a rock-solid layer of protection minimizing the risk of hacker intrusions and malware attacks down the line.
The 5 Best VPN's for MAC in 2020
5 Best VPNs for MAC in 2020