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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

FileVault is reliable, and generally it doesn't affect system performance. It's ideal for laptops, and it even includes a recovery option that you can use in case you forget your password.

Meet your Gatekeeper: The Gatekeeper feature (go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General and look under'Allow applications downloaded from') restricts what kind of software you can install on your Mac. By default, you can download and launch software only from the Mac App Store (all of which Apple has prescreened and approved) and from websites of registered third-party developers. You can change these settings to allow downloading and launching software from the Mac App Store and nowhere else, or open up your Mac to software from any location.

Your Mac's default settings largely reduce the chances that a bad guy will trick you into installing malware. You may be tempted to allow all apps, but we suggest leaving the default setting as is and opening any app that doesn't qualify (but you know you want to install) by Control-clicking it and choosing Open. By doing so, you tell Gatekeeper that you purposefully want to bypass its security controls when opening this specific app.

To antivirus or not?
The biggest security question we get from people who first switch to a Mac is: "Should I install antivirus?" The answer, for most users, is no—with a few caveats.

If you use Gatekeeper, keep Java disabled, and use an email service—such as Gmail or iCloud—that filters out known malware, the odds of your Mac ever getting infected with malware are minuscule. Switch to Google Chrome, and you further reduce those odds.

Why can you get away with no antivirus software on a Mac? Some antivirus firms say they see 65,000 new Windows malware variants every day, while Macs get a handful or two every year. The numbers are in your favor.

If you still insist on buying antivirus software, however, or if your company requires your computer to run such a utility, you can find a few reputable applications for the Mac, such as Sophos's free Anti-Virus tool.

Welcome to security
Overall, while it may not have as many bells and whistles as you're used to, your Mac's security requires much less active effort on your part to maintain than a Windows system does. As a switcher, you can go to bed at night knowing that you just moved to a safer—even if it's not perfect—neighborhood.


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