Is your Mac data safe?

When I first got my Mac Pro I had it set to automatically log me in when it was powered up. It was just so convenient. I’d write letters, and who knows, they might contain the odd bank account number or other personal details. I’d log in to secure websites and if I wanted, Firefox of some other utility might save me the trouble of typing in my user name and password. I was sensible of course, my data was always backed up and I had a note of the important user names and passwords in a safe place.

Does that mean I’m safe? Far from it. Consider for a moment that your precious Mac develops a fault and you need to give it to Apple or one of their repair centres. How safe are you then? Ok, how about if the worst happens and someone breaks in and steals your Mac – what then.

Assume that right now, some stranger is sitting in front of your precious Mac. How long would it be before they knew enough to comit fraud, or find out more about you than you’d like. Be honest now – have you thought through the worst scenario? I went through this exercise a little while back, and now I take just a few simple steps that should help to keep my private data safe, even if my Mac fell in to the wrong hands.

Auto loginStep One – Don’t set your Mac to auto-login, it’s like leaving your front door open! Go to System Preferences, select Security and under the General tab, make sure that Disable automatic login is checked.

Step Two – If you use Firefox, turn off the Remember passwords for sites option, or if you must use it then don’t use it for sites where you use financial data or anything that could give a thief the opportunity to steal your information, and if you must then protect it using the Master password option. Likewise with the Safari autofill option, only use it for sites where data theft wouldn’t be an issue.

Step Three – If you are hooked on automatic form filling in your web browser, invest in a program like 1Password1Password. It takes care of all the hard work and does it securely at the same time, plus it has many other benefits too like the ability to generate secure passwords, make secure notes, thwart keyloggers, etc. $34.95 is a small price to pay if the alternative is letting someone get free access to your data.

PasswordStep Four – Password protect documents that contain sensitive data. For Word users, when you choose Save As to save your document, you’ll see an Options button in the dialogue window. Clicking on it will take you to the Word Preferences window and under Personal Settings – Security you’ll be able to specify a password to protect your document. Try and choose a password that’s 8 characters long and isn’t easily cracked with a dictionary attack. Unfortunately for Pages users, there isn’t the option to save documents with a password (c’mon Apple!). On my Windows PC I use a free utility called EncryptOnClick and I’m keeping my eye open for a similar tool for the Mac as this would solve the Pages problem.

TrueCryptIf you don’t want to start specifying a password for individual files, why not create an encrypted folder? There’s an excellent open-source and free utility called TrueCrypt that lets you create a secure folder using strong encryption techniques. It really is easy to use and you can even set it to load automatically when your Mac starts up. When it launches it’ll prompt you for the password and can then mount your folder so you don’t have to worry about password protecting files each time you save them – just saving them to the TrueCrypt folder means they’re protected. If your Mac is stolen then when the thief powers it up, there’s no way they’ll be able to get in to your secure folder without your password.

Step Five – Take the same level of care in protecting your backups as you do with your ‘live’ data. It’s no good implementing all sorts of security controls on the Mac itself if you have an external hard drive that’s wide open!

Trust me, just a few simple steps will keep your data safe and with the right software the one or two extra precautions you need to take will become second nature. Of course, no-one plans to have their Mac stolen, but there are too many victims out there who thought it would never happen to them, so even if you can’t build an inpenetrable fortress around your Mac, you can take steps to ensure that if it does fall into the wrong hands, then all they’ve got is a lump of hardware and not all your personal details to go with it.