Apple does a good job protecting its users from malware and viruses. There are threats out there, but Apple goes to great lengths to protect users from malware.
However, anyone beating the wild bushes of the Internet without the cover of protected connections or privacy-protected browsers is exposed. In this post we’ll concentrate on threats to user privacy. We will discuss 6 tools everyone should have on their Mac to keep their identity safe.
Heading that list is the privacy and anonymity provided by VPNs. However, tool #6, sensible security consciousness, is of equal importance for any Mac user concerned with protecting their personal data.
Tool #1: A VPN
VPN stands for “virtual private network.” A VPN routes all the user’s internet traffic through a secure server. With a VPN you leave no trace of what websites visited, and it can even disguise the user’s location. The latter can be useful in accessing websites that have geographical blocking.
There are some free VPNs, but some are ad-infested or track internet activity to sell the user’s personal data to others. The best bet is to log into a high-quality, subscription-based VPN service like Surfshark (https://surfshark.com/download/macos).
Caution: Using a VPN is no guarantee that all online business is private. Facebook and Google, for example, are not privacy protected; they record and remember what their users do. They store that data for ad targeting and other analytic uses.
Tool #2: A Privacy-Focused Web Browser
Web browsers leave and communicate a trail of user information behind. Anyone’s browsing history on many websites is an open book. In fact, a web browser discloses more than most people realize; for example, a browser knows and can broadcast:
- the user’s location
- the computer’s system information (hardware and software)
- the quality and speed of the internet connection
Also, social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can piggyback and track the user around the internet. For example, leaving Facebook without logging off and logging into an adult-content location leaves a log of that visit. That log entry is part of the user’s permanent internet activity record.
Anyone looking for a browser that is built for privacy should check out Brave. The Brave browser is an open-source Chromium project, which neither collects nor stores the user’s browsing data. Brave is also free of intrusive advertisements.
Other privacy-oriented browser options are the native Apple web browser Safari as well as special versions of Firefox and Opera. Those browsers are compatible with plug-ins that block cookies and ads as well.
Tool #3: Secure Messaging Applications
The best secure messaging apps offer end-to-end encryption and block out third-party as well as service provider eavesdropping. The secure messaging app favored by whistleblower Edward Snowden is Signal. Signal is an open source project supported by grants and donations. It is free to use on Android, iOS, and computer desktops.
The worst and least secure messaging app is Facebook Messenger. Facebook does not encrypt private communications and has the technology to read your chats to target the user with ads. On the other hand, Apple’s iMessage or WhatsApp provide encryption.
Tool #4: A Password Manager
Anyone who uses the same simple password for every password-protected site or shares passwords with family members, is practicing poor personal security. Password managers can automatically generate more secure passwords for each site. The user only needs to remember one master password to access the password manager. Popular password managers are Dashlane and 1Password.
Apple’s Safari browser for macOS stores a roster of your web passwords in its Preferences/Passwords options menu. When the user enters the password protected site, Safari will fill in the password to automatically enter the sign-in information.
Note: The Safari password vault does not share its contents across non-Apple devices. However, 1Password will permit the user to park a password file on web storage sites like DropBox and iCloud, making them accessible across multiple devices and platforms.
Tool #5: An Encrypted Hard Drive
File Vault (on the System Preferences/Security & Privacy menu) is an Apple security feature that encrypts a Mac’s hard drive. If someone gets access to a user’s computer and removes an encrypted hard drive, they cannot read any of the data without the encryption password. The macOS Disk Utility software can also be used to encrypt external drives. To encrypt an external drive for the first time, the software erases any data on the drive.
Tool #6: The User’s Security Consciousness
All the software and tools in the world won’t do any good without sensible precautions on the part of the user. Here are some tips to protect user privacy on a Mac:
Stay Away From Public Wi-Fi Networks: Snoopers and scammers have been known to set up phony Wi-Fi hotspots posing as a hotel or coffee shop. Once the user signs on to a compromised, unprotected connection, the Wi-Fi snooper can follow everything the user does on the web.
Beware of Phishing Emails: Do not respond to an email that requests a password or sends an invitation to download and install anything. Emails from a bank or from Apple iTunes saying that the user’s account has been hacked and is frozen are popular phishing tactics. Clicking on the link in the scam email will take the user to a fake sign-in page with a bogus form requesting the user name, password and PIN. If possible, forward the phishing email to the real organization’s security or fraud department and then delete it.
Look Out for Facebook Fraudsters: Receiving a Friend Request from someone who is already your Facebook Friend is an indicator that someone is trying to hijack the user’s Facebook account. Other Facebook scams ask the user to share special offers or are bait-and-switch lures to the user’s Facebook friends. The victim could either end up looking foolish or become a future target for more scams designed to steal personal data.
Macs may be less vulnerable to viruses and malware, but users can still jeopardize their privacy on the OS-agnostic Internet. Your number one privacy tool on the web is a VPN. The VPN takes you through a secure server and masks both your identification and location.
Your privacy can still be compromised simply by navigating websites that don’t offer good user security. You can also take measures to secure your privacy through good personal security practices.