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Switch to Mac: Security basics

Rich Mogull | July 8, 2013
Just purchased your first Mac, or thinking of making the switch? Rich Mogull goes over what you need to know about security, antivirus software, and more

mac os security

When it comes to your security, the latest versions of Windows and OS X are comparable, but you still have a few key differences and settings to become familiar with.

First, to put your mind at ease: OS X 10.8 is very secure overall. It includes many of the same inherent protections as Windows 8 does, despite being attacked far less frequently. Antiexploitation technologies, firewalls, sandboxing, and other tools are built in, with mostly sensible default settings. Some tools, such as encryption, are easier to run. Apple also includes interesting security features that take advantage of the Mac App Store to further reduce your security risk, depending on how you like to buy your software.

Your biggest switching decision is whether to use antivirus software. Unlike with Windows, antivirus software isn't a necessity on a Mac, but it may be useful depending on your habits.

Without further ado, here's a basic guide to your Mac's built-in security features.

Same basic settings, different locations
system preferences
Here are the three panes inside System Preferences for managing most of the security settings.

The core principles for safe Internet computing remain the same, whether you use a PC or a Mac. Keep your system up-to-date, be careful what you click on, and be careful about what software you install. While you have many ways to fiddle with the security preferences on your Mac, we're going to focus on the most important ones and highlight key differences from Windows.

System Preferences: You manage most security settings through the System Preferences application, located in the Applications folder. (You can also find a shortcut to System Preferences in the Apple menu and, by default, in the Dock.) A quick note: To change security settings, you may need to first click the lock icon in the lower-left corner of the window and enter your password.

Keep current: To stay safe and avoid nasty security problems, we recommend keeping your application software and system software up-to-date. You can choose whether the computer should automatically check for and download such updates in the background by going to System Preferences > Software Update.

All your system software updates come through the Mac App Store. Your Mac prompts you with a system notification when new updates are ready; clicking the notification launches the Mac App Store. You can also see what updates are available at any time by going to the Apple menu and choosing Software Update.

The Mac App Store also offers updates for any Mac apps you may have bought through the store. For third-party apps purchased outside the store, you might have to go to the company's website to grab updates—many apps, however, will prompt you about available updates when you launch them.


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