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How to Use Snow Leopard’s FileVault to Protect Your Privacy

Snow Leopard offers a feature called FileVault, which helps you protect the privacy of your Mac files. FileVault provides Home folder encryption that prevents just about anyone except the NSA or FBI from gaining access to the files in your Home folder. (You’ll notice that things slow down just a bit when logging in and out or working with files that are several gigabytes in size, but for those who need the peace of mind, this minimal performance hit is worth it.)

These days, everyone’s interested in securing his or her personal files from prying eyes. Granted, this isn’t a problem if you’re the only one using your Mac. However, if you’re sharing a computer in a multiuser environment, you might want a little more protection than just user permissions for those all-important Fantasy Football formations that you’ll unleash next season.

To enable the FileVault feature, go to System Preferences and open the Security pane. Two alter passwords control access to your Home folder when FileVault is active:

  • The Master Password can unlock any Home folder for any user. Only someone with an admin account can set the Master Password. The Master Password must be set before you can turn on the FileVault feature for any account on your system.

  • Your Login Password unlocks your Home folder.

Do not forget your Login Password, and make doggone sure that your Admin user remembers that all-important Master Password!

Mac OS X displays a dire warning for anyone who’s considering using FileVault: If you forget these passwords, you can’t retrieve any data from your Home folder. Period. As Jerry Reed says, “It’s a gone pecan.”

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