Just in 2019, the McAfee Labs Threat Report revealed that approximately 30,000 new forms of Mac malware were discovered in the first quarter of the year. Unfortunately, according to AVG, the number of hacker attacks on Mac is only expected to grow. For this reason, it’s crucial to protect your Mac and avoid exposing your personal information to hackers. Though there are many ways that your Mac’s security can be compromised, you can prevent all security breaches with a few simple steps. In this guide, I’ll give you tips on how to optimize your Mac’s security settings and protect your personal data from any possible hacker attack.

Mythbuster — Are Macs Really Immune to Malware and Viruses?

Apple used to claim that Macs were immune to viruses. While they were less likely to be a target of cybercriminals at the beginning of their existence, as they grew in popularity, more and more hackers started to focus on bypassing their security. As a result of a series of Trojan attacks on hundreds of Mac devices, in 2012, Apple removed this bold immunity statement from its website. Despite having built-in antivirus software, all Macs are still vulnerable to various cyberattacks. Even though Apple regularly updates all security features, hackers find new ways of bypassing the updates just as often. Though the list is not exhaustive, these are the 5 biggest attacks that targeted Mac users over the past few years: Macs may have been a less likely target for hackers back when they were first distributed, but it’s certainly not the case anymore. As the malware designed for macOS is getting smarter, it’s important to take extra precautions to increase your Mac’s security. Even though Apple managed to release a Java patch update very soon after Flashback’s discovery, the trojan successfully took control of over half a million Mac devices all over the world. Though that issue was fixed many years ago, phishing is still one of the biggest threats to the security of Macs. Despite the file being taken off the Transmission website within a couple of days, it is estimated that over 7,000 Mac users downloaded the ransomware on their devices. Apple fixed the developer certificate used by KeRanger soon after discovering the issue. However, new versions of the same or similar programs are still circulating the web. After being downloaded on a device, the CrescentCore file would first check for any anti-malware software installed on a Mac. If it detected an antivirus program, the malware file would simply stop itself from running. However, if a Mac didn’t have any extra security software, CrescentCore proceeded to successfully bypass Gatekeeper, installing itself on macOS. From there, the malware could infiltrate any Safari browser activity, collecting all personal data for ransom on the Dark Web. The trojan file is currently still available on the web, alongside other viruses that work in a similar way.

Why You Need to Secure Your Mac

Your Mac is vulnerable to numerous online threats, including:

Phishing: Hackers can steal private information, such as your bank account passwords or social media credentials, through fake websites and fraudulent emails. Phishing very often seems to come from legitimate, well-known organizations like your bank or internet provider, asking you to click on a link provided and enter your personal details. As some phishing attempts are more difficult to recognize than others, it’s important to remember that most professional companies would never request your private data through an email. Malware: Disguised as legitimate programs, malicious software can track, steal, and delete your sensitive data. Malware programs are usually downloaded without the user’s knowledge when they access unsecured or fake websites. They can come in the form of viruses, ransomware, or spyware. Any malware software downloaded on your Mac can create a backdoor for cybercriminals to continually access or even hijack your device. Unsecured websites: Websites without HTTPS or a padlock icon in the search bar are not secure. This enables your internet provider and any third-party organizations to see all the information you enclose on a non-HTTPS site. It means that anything you write or submit to them, like credit card details or passwords, can be easily read or stolen by cybercriminals. Browser hijacking: Unwanted software can be disguised as a trustworthy app or file and downloaded from unsecured websites. Once downloaded on your Mac, it modifies your web browser’s settings without permission in order to inject your device with unwanted pop-up ads. Usually, this method is used to increase sales or clicks to a particular website, but it can also be a lot more dangerous than that. Various hijacking software contains ransomware used to obtain your sensitive data and record your passwords. Man-in-the-middle attack (MITM): MITM is used in conjunction with phishing to allow hackers full access to your device and personal information. Man-in-the-middle attacks usually happen when you connect your Mac to an unsecured WiFi network. Hackers can easily scan through such connections looking for any vulnerabilities, such as weak passwords. Once they find a way into your device, they deploy certain interception tools to collect your private data transmitted online like bank details, social security numbers, and more.

The popularity of Macs is on the rise, but unfortunately, so are online threats and hacker attacks aimed at all Mac users. According to Kaspersky’s latest cybersecurity report, in the first 6 months of 2019, Mac users experienced nearly 6 million Mac phishing scams and over 87,000 malware attacks aimed directly at their Apple devices. While Apple often releases crucial updates to improve the security of its users, they may not be issued quickly enough to prevent threats on your macOS. To be sure your online information is protected, follow my recommendations to safeguard your Mac.

What Is Gatekeeper and Is It Enough Protection?

Gatekeeper is a built-in security feature used in Macs and other Apple products. It protects your Mac from opening malicious apps by requesting sign in details and scanning through downloaded files before running the program. This prevents you from installing files downloaded from third parties that aren’t safe or approved by Apple. If you want to install an app from a third party website, Gatekeeper will prompt this message:

To check whether Gatekeeper is enabled, simply follow the instructions below. However, Gatekeeper isn’t invulnerable. According to Filippo Cavallarin’s latest report, Gatekeeper comes with multiple vulnerabilities that hackers can use to bypass Mac’s security, usually by tricking you into downloading malicious files. Very often, these files mimic popular and trustworthy programs and are advertised online as free to encourage download clicks. To truly protect your device and data, optimize your Mac’s security settings.

How to Optimize Your Mac’s Security Settings

Cyberattacks shouldn’t be your only concern – your Mac’s default settings may not be optimized for protecting your device from online threats such as malware, trojans, and MITM attacks. Use these quick checks to enhance your Mac’s security:

Quick Guide: 5 Mac Settings You Can Change to Optimize Security

1. Disable Sharing Services You Don’t Need

You can significantly improve your Mac’s security by turning off any sharing services you’re not using. The majority of Mac users don’t need apps for screen sharing, printer sharing, or remote login. Follow these steps to disable sharing on your Mac:

2. Manage Which Apps Can Access Your Location

Location privacy is more important than you think! Hackers can use your location to track you and steal your identity. Make sure to disable location services for any apps you don’t trust by following these steps:

3. Activate Firewall and Stealth Mode

MacOS’s firewall feature stops unwanted network traffic. Stealth Mode prevents Mac from responding to unexpected network requests. Both of these features make your Mac less vulnerable on public networks. You can follow my 5 easy steps to activate them:

4. Set Up a Guest User

When you allow others to use your Mac, you give them access to your personal information. Fortunately, the Guest User feature in macOS lets others use your Mac without compromising your privacy. That way you can keep your personal data to yourself, including your apps, browser history, and search queries. Because the Guest User feature is turned off by default, follow these 4 simple steps to activate it on your Mac:

5. Disable Spotlight Suggestions and Web Searches

Spotlight might look harmless, but it’s quietly sending your search data to Apple to give you content suggestions. The data is also shared with third party providers like Bing to display relevant results for your searches. Fortunately, you can keep Spotlight searches within the contents of your Mac by following these 3 steps:

6 Essential Security Tools for Mac

Since popular cyberattack methods do not rely on bypassing internal security features, you need to use the right tools to successfully protect your Mac from security breaches. Below are my top 6 recommendations for various tools I’ve tested that will enhance your Mac’s security:

Quick Guide: 6 Essential Security Tools for Mac

1. Antivirus Software

Although your Mac’s built-in virus protection makes it more secure than other PCs, hackers can still target Mac users. Hackers can make changes on your computer by tricking you into downloading malicious files off the internet. Fortunately, you can prevent installing malware on your Mac with antivirus software. Most antivirus software perform drag-and-drop scans on files manually selected by you, as well as full-system macOS scans. Both methods will keep your Mac fully protected from malware, phishing, and hacking attempts. You can set the software to routinely remove malicious files on your computer.

2. Virtual Private Network

Your Mac’s built-in protection can’t prevent IP theft. Hackers can use techniques like browser hijacking to obtain your IP address and discover your network, connected devices, and which OS you’re using. With your information, they can design a targeted attack that damages your files, OS, and more – without you knowing. The best way to stop hackers from stealing your IP address is by using a VPN. Only premium VPNs can provide long-term security for your Mac.

3. Password Manager

Using the same difficult password across all of your sites and apps may seem like the best solution. However, this will place your security at risk since cybercriminals only need to obtain your password once to access your personal information. While the Safari browser on your Mac has a built-in password manager, it isn’t the most secure option. Hackers can easily conduct a cyberattack to hijack your browser’s contents. If they succeed, you could potentially lose access to all of your online accounts. To keep your Mac secure, make sure to use a trustworthy password manager software such as Dashlane. These password tools will not only store your existing passcodes, but also help you create new, stronger passwords by analysing and improving your suggestions.

4. Ad Blocker

Advertisers can collect your personal data and display ads in your Mac’s browser. These ads come in various forms, such as banners or pop-ups. Very often, they are bundled with malicious software that can compromise your Mac’s privacy. To prevent this, you can install an ad blocker. You can change the settings of your Safari browser by following the 4 steps below:

5. JavaScript Blocker

JavaScript gives a dynamic experience when browsing the internet. This programming language is used for online buttons, forms, and other content. However, having JavaScript enabled on your Mac can put your security at risk. Many cybercriminals use it to inject malicious code into websites to steal your sensitive information. To avoid this, you can disable JavaScript in your Safari app’s settings by following these 3 simple steps:

6. HTTPS Everywhere

HTTP websites leave you vulnerable to DNS hijacking, eavesdropping, tampering, and other online threats. If you browse on an HTTP website, cybercriminals can steal your information when your Mac’s connection is unencrypted. To keep your online data private, you should always use HTTPS when connecting your device to the internet. Unfortunately, not all websites use HTTPS encryption. The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has been offering HTTPS Everywhere browser extensions for free for many years. The extension automatically applies the HTTPS encryption to most HTTP websites, making them more secure. With the HTTPS extension added to your browser, you can be sure that nobody can spy on you while you’re online.

Best Browser for Mac — How Secure Is Safari?

Most browsers aren’t focused on privacy and collect your personal data instead, which can easily be intercepted by hackers. To maximize your online privacy, you should use a secure browser when browsing on your Mac. One of the most secure browsers is Safari, which is already included on your macOS. Safari has a cross-site tracking feature to prevent third parties from tracking your activity across websites. To activate it, follow the 3 steps below: Safari has various built-in features to protect your privacy. In case it’s not compatible with some of your websites or services, there are alternative browsers. Below are my top 3 picks that I’ve tested on my Mac:

Quick Guide: 3 Best Alternative Browsers for Mac

1. Firefox

Firefox is an open-source browser that securely syncs your passwords and provides protection against phishing and malware. Its “Do Not Track” feature prevents websites from tracking your online activities. This browser is easy to use, flexible, and secure.

2. Epic Privacy Browser

The Epic Privacy Browser is an open-source browser focused on security. It even has a “No Add-Ons” policy because the developers consider all extensions potential threats. It disables all Google services to avoid using Google’s servers. When you connect to a search engine, Epic routes your request through a proxy server to hide your IP address. If you use this browser, Google has no way of tracking you, making it an excellent choice for privacy-focused Mac users.

3. Opera

Even though it’s not as well known as its competitors, Opera is one of the most secure browsers. With its integrated VPN, it hides your IP address to protect your Mac against online threats. Opera also offers other safety features such as protection against malware, ads, and fraud. As an added benefit, its easy-to-use interface makes it perfect for those who find other browsers confusing and difficult to navigate.

3 Most Secure Search Engines for Mac

Popular search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo keep track of your online activity as well as your Mac’s IP address, unique identifier, and all the search terms you use. In some cases, they share your information with third parties without your knowledge and profit off this violation of your privacy. This is especially true for Google, which makes profits from data collection. All of its services collect the data transmitted from your Mac, including Google Search, Google Maps, and Google Ads. Luckily, you can still manage your privacy when using these services. It’s important to remember that you can’t stop these big search engines from collecting your information. Instead, you should try one of my recommended search engines for Mac:

Quick Guide: Top 3 Secure Search Engines for Mac

1. Startpage

This Netherlands-based search engine uses a proxy instead of your IP address. It has a strict policy against logging online activity and it doesn’t sell any of your data to third parties. Startpage allows you to browse photos and videos privately. In addition to browsing privacy and data security, it also offers filtering options to enhance your searches.

2. Searx

Searx is an open-source metasearch engine that gathers information from other search engines without violating your privacy. You can choose which search engines you get results from.

3. DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo was founded in the US in 2008. This popular search engine gives you results from more than 400 sources. Popular sources include Bing, Wikipedia, and Yandex. Though it saves your searches, it doesn’t store your IP address or unique identifier. None of the stored information is personally identifiable and your privacy will never be compromised.

3 Most Secure Email Clients for Mac

Apple’s Mail app uses Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) to encrypt your emails. If you’re using a webmail system such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, your emails are protected by a HTTPS encryption. I’d strongly advise you not to rely on only these two encryption tools to keep your emails safe — they only work during the transmission process. Once your email is uploaded to the server, the encryption disappears and the information is exposed. Instead, you should use a secure email system to protect your personal information. After testing various email clients, these are the best 3 for Mac:

Quick Guide: Top 3 Secure Email Clients for Mac

1. ProtonMail

ProtonMail is one of the most trusted private clients for sending anonymous emails for free. Based in Switzerland, this email client uses end-to-end encryption. Unlike Apple Mail and other popular email clients, ProtonMail stores all of your information in an encrypted format. This means you’re protected both during and after the email has been sent. For an extra level of security, you can set messages to be deleted from the recipient’s inbox after a certain time. All of these features make it one of the best email clients for your Mac.

2. Tutanota

Tutanota is an open-source client that allows experts around the world to regularly verify its security. This Germany-based email client offers a free and paid version. It uses end-to-end encryption and two-factor authentication (2FA) to ensure that only you have access to your messages.

3. Hushmail

When you send an email with Hushmail, the recipient can read the message on a secure web page. While this happens automatically if the recipient uses Hushmail, other recipients can easily check the “Encrypted” option to enable the feature.

How to Safely Use the Dark Web on Mac

Not every Mac user is aware that the internet consists of three layers: the Surface Web, the Deep Web, and the Dark Web. The Surface Web (or Clear Web) consists of all the widely available sites you access every day. These websites can be easily found through various search engines like Google or Safari. The Deep Web makes up the biggest part of the online world and includes all sites that aren’t available to the general public. As these websites are not indexed by any search engines, to access them you need a valid form of authentication like a username or password. A good example of a Deep Web site is your online banking account or university library. The Dark Web, or the Darknet, is a part of the Deep Web, but it’s a lot more difficult to access. As all of the websites on the Dark Web are hosted through encrypted networks to hide their IP addresses, you need an ultra-secure browser like Tor to even find them. This makes all the activity on the Darknet fully anonymous and untraceable. Despite its negative reputation, the Dark Web provides access to various websites and information that you wouldn’t be able to access through your Mac’s usual browser, including online marketplaces, digital medical services, and more. Though it’s legal to access the Dark Web, it’s important to remember that apart from its positive aspects, you can come across various illegal activities. To browse through the Darknet, you first need to know how to safely access it from your Mac. Using a Tor browser while exploring the Dark web will protect your device by encrypting your data and deleting your browsing history after use so you can’t be tracked or targeted. To install Tor, follow these 5 easy steps: Unfortunately, the Dark Web is a popular platform for many illegal activities due to the anonymity it provides. That’s why it’s crucial to remember that to be fully protected, you need to take additional safety precautions before connecting to Tor. To stay fully anonymous and safe on the Dark Web, I highly recommend getting a secure VPN provider for your Mac, such as NordVPN.

4 Best Security Practices for Mac

There are 3 main ways in which your Mac’s security can be compromised: over the internet, through malicious emails, and by direct access. This means that as soon as you’ve purchased your Mac, you’ll need to implement safety measures to safeguard your privacy. To help you maximize protection against these threats, I compiled a list of 4 of the best security practices for your Mac:

Quick Guide: 4 Best Security Practices for Your Mac

1. Make Sure All Your Apps Are Updated

Apple regularly releases security updates for their apps. You can find security patches and other updates on the Apple Support page. Make sure you enable automatic updates to get the latest security patches as soon as they’re available. To enable automatic updates on your Mac, take the following steps: Alternatively, you can use the App Store to install app updates. To do this, simply follow the 3 steps below:

2. Encrypt Your Hard Drive

There have been many reports of stolen identities and financial fraud. Usually, criminals obtain this sensitive information from unsecured files that were stored in the victim’s laptop or computer. Luckily, encrypting your hard drive will keep your personal data safe, not only in case of a cyberattack, but also if your Mac gets stolen. MacOS comes with a built-in encryption feature called FileVault, which uses 256-bit XTS-AES-128 encryption to protect your Mac’s startup disk. When you activate it, hackers will need a recovery key or a login password to access your Mac. To enable this feature, follow the 4 simple steps below:

3. Watch Out for Phishing Scams

Most phishing scams are designed to steal your sensitive information. Cybercriminals pretend to be working for legitimate companies to trick you into giving them your login credentials and passwords. They can use these details to access your bank accounts, credit cards, and other personal online profiles. To avoid becoming a cybercrime victim, you should learn how to identify different phishing methods. Follow the instructions below to stop potential threats from compromising your Mac’s security. The Safari browser on your Mac also has a feature that protects you against phishing and malware. Follow these 3 basic steps below to activate it:

Never share sensitive information such as your Apple ID or confirmation codes with anyone. Use two-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to your Apple account. Only use Apple Pay for transactions with people you know and trust. Ignore random warnings from untrusted sources that pop up while you’re browsing on your Mac. Don’t click “OK” unless you trust the source. Don’t give out personal information to unknown parties, even if they claim to be calling from Apple. Never click on links or open attachments in suspicious emails. Report any suspicious activities directly to Apple.

4. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To ensure that only you can access your Apple account, you should enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your Mac. When you activate this feature, Apple will send you a confirmation code whenever you try to log into your Apple ID. Hackers can’t get into your account by using your username and password — they’ll need access to your phone as well. I provided steps for activating two-factor authentication on both the Mojave and Catalina operating systems:

Get Serious About Protecting Your Privacy on Your Mac

Macs are a great choice for both work and leisure. However, you can’t ignore the importance of securing your personal data, especially after recent cyberattacks on macOS. Mac users have become vulnerable to various online threats that attempt to compromise their private information and security. The attacks are only going to get worse as hackers are learning more about bypassing Mac’s security updates. Luckily, there are many ways to keep your personal data and Macs safe, like optimizing your settings and installing security tools. Always stay vigilant and remember — even as a Mac user, you’re still susceptible to online hacker attacks that put your device in danger.