5 MacBook Security Tips - Internet / Network Security

Make your MacBook a mobile Fort Knox

It’s powerful, it’s shiny, and everyone wants one, including thieves and hackers. Your MacBook holds your world: work files, music, photos, videos, and other stuff you care about, but is your MacBook safe and protected from harm? Take a look at five MacBook security tips you can use to make your MacBook an impenetrable and unstealable mobile data fortress.

Use the Find My Service or an App

You've heard about the iPhone and the Find My iPhone app, where users can track down their lost or stolen iPhone via the iCloud website by leveraging the iPhone’s location awareness capabilities.

That's great for iPhones, but what about your MacBook? Is there an app for that? Yes, there is. Apple shortened the name to Find My and extended the service to its other devices, including iPods, AirPods, Apple Watch, and Macs.

Here's how to activate the Find My service on a Mac running macOS Big Sur (11.0) or macOS Catalina (10.15).

  1. Open the Mac's System Preferences and select Apple ID.

    Mac System Preferences showing Apple ID icon
  2. Choose iCloud in the left panel and place a check in front of Find My Mac in the main screen. Click the Options button next to Find My Mac.

    Apple ID iCloud preferences showing Find My Mac
  3. Turn on the Find My Mac feature. Optionally, turn on the Find My network feature as well. Select Done to save your settings.

    Find My Mac activation screen

After you activate the Find My Mac feature, if your Mac is lost or stolen, you can trace it on iCloud using your Apple ID and password, just like you can using Find My iPhone.

If your Mac has an older version of the operating system that doesn't support Find My, you need to turn to a third-party app for protection.

For a yearly subscription fee, Absolute Home & Office software provides both data security and theft recovery services for your MacBook. The software integrates at the BIOS firmware level, so a thief who thinks that wiping the hard drive of your stolen computer will make it untraceable is in for a surprise when they connect to the net and the software starts broadcasting its location.

Enable Your MacBook’s Security Features

The macOS and OS X operating systems have security features that are available to the user. While the features are installed, they are not usually enabled by default. Users must enable the security features on their own. Here are the basic settings you should configure to make your MacBook more secure.

Disable Automatic Login and Set a System Password

While it’s convenient not to have to enter your password every time you boot up your computer or the screensaver kicks in, you might as well leave the front door to your house wide open because your MacBook is an all-you-can-eat data buffet for the person who just stole it.

With one click of a check box and the creation of a password, you can enable this feature and put another roadblock in the hacker or thief's path. If you haven't set a system password, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General tab and set one.

Enable FileVault Encryption

Your MacBook just got stolen, but you put a password on your account, so your data is safe, right? Wrong!

Most hackers and data thieves will pull the hard drive out of your MacBook and hook it to another computer using an IDE/SATA-to-USB cable. Their computer will read your MacBook’s drive just like any other DVD or USB drive plugged into it. They won't need an account or password to access your data because they bypass the operating system’s built-in file security. They now have direct access to your files regardless of who is logged in.

The easiest way to prevent this is to enable file encryption using the OSX built-in FileVault tool. FileVault encrypts and decrypts files associated with your profile on the fly using a password. It sounds complicated, but everything happens in the background, so you don't know anything is going on. Meanwhile, your data is protected. So, unless hackers have the password, the data is unreadable and useless to thieves even if they take the drive out and hook it to another computer.

Activate FileVault at System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault tab. Write down the recovery key that is automatically generated. You'll need it to access your data.

For stronger, whole disk encryption with advanced features, check out TrueCrypt, a free, open-source file and disk encryption tool.

Turn on Your Mac's Built-in Firewall

The Mac's built-in firewall will thwart most hackers' attempts to break into your MacBook from the internet. It’s easy to set up. Once enabled, the firewall blocks malicious inbound network connections and regulates outbound traffic. Applications must ask permission from you (via a pop-up box) before they attempt an outbound connection. You can grant or deny access on a temporary or permanent basis as you see fit.

The Firewall tab is located in System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall tab. Lifewire offers detailed, step-by-step guidance on how to enable OS X's security features.

Install Patches

The exploit/patch cat and mouse game is alive and well. Hackers find a weakness in an application and develop an exploit. The application's developer addresses the vulnerability and releases a patch to fix it. Users install the patch, and the circle continues.

macOS and OS X automatically check for Apple-branded software updates on a regular basis and often prompt you to download and install them. Many third-party software packages, such as Microsoft Office, have their own software update app that periodically checks to see if there are any patches available. Other applications have a manual "Check for Updates" feature often located in the Help menu.

It is a good idea to perform or schedule an update check on a weekly basis for your most used applications so that you aren’t vulnerable to software-based exploits.

Lock It Down 

If someone is determined to steal your computer, they can, no matter how many layers of defense you put up. Your goal should be to make it as difficult as possible for a thief to steal your MacBook. You want to discourage them enough that they move on to easier targets.

The Kensington Lock, which has been around for decades, is a security device for physically connecting a laptop with a steel cable loop to a large piece of furniture or some other object that is not easily moved. Most laptops have a built-in K-Slot that accepts a Kensington-type lock, but MacBooks don't. You need an adapter, several of which are available on Amazon, but not all adapters are compatible with all Mac models, so read the fine print before you order one.

Can these locks be picked? Yes. Can the cable be cut with the right tools? Yes. The important thing is that the lock deters the casual theft of opportunity. A would-be thief who breaks out a lock picking kit and Jaws of Life wire cutters in the library to steal your MacBook will likely create more suspicion than if they walked away with the laptop sitting next to yours that wasn’t tethered to a magazine rack.

The basic Kensington Lock comes in many varieties and is available at most office supply stores.

Protect Your Mac With a Hard-Shell Configuration

If you are serious about security and want to delve deep into your settings to make sure your Mac's security is as bulletproof as possible, go to the Apple Support website and download the Mac OS X security configuration guides. These documents detail the settings available to lock down every aspect of the OS to make it as secure as possible.

Be careful that you balance security with usability. You don’t want to lock up your MacBook so tight that you can't get into it.

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