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Security Options in OS X Mountain Lion

The General tab of the Security & Privacy System Preferences pane in OS X Mountain Lion offers several options that can help keep your data safe. They are

  • Change Password: Click this button to change the password for your user account.

  • Require Password after Sleep or Screen Saver Begins: Enable this option if you want your Mac to lock itself up and require a password after the screen saver kicks in or it goes to sleep. It can become a pain in the butt, having to type your password all the time.

    But if you have nosy co-workers, family members, or other individuals you’d like to keep from rooting around in your stuff, you should probably enable this option.

    When enabled, this option offers a pop-up menu that lets you specify how long after sleep or screen saver this password protection should kick in. The options range from immediately to four hours.

  • Show a Message When the Screen Is Locked: Type the message you want on your screen when it’s locked in this text entry box.

  • Disable Automatic Login: One of the login options in the Users & Groups System Preferences pane is automatic login. With automatic login enabled, you don’t have to choose an account or type a password when you start up this Mac. Instead, it bypasses all that login stuff and goes directly to the Desktop of the designated account.

    If you want to disable this feature for all accounts — so that every user of this Mac sees the login screen and is required to choose an account and type a password — you should enable this option.

  • Allow Applications Downloaded from Mac App Store, Mac App Store and Identified Developers, or Anywhere:

    Last, but certainly not least (at least with regard to the General tab), is a new feature called Gatekeeper, which helps protect you from downloading and running malicious software by limiting the applications your Mac can run.

    These three options are mutually exclusive; click the radio button next to the level of protection you desire. Here’s what you get with each:

    • Mac App Store: This option only allows you to run apps you download from the Mac App Store. It’s the safest and most restrictive setting.

    • Mac App Store and Identified Developers: Apple offers a Developer ID program to certified members of the Mac Developers Program. Apple gives them a unique Developer ID, which allows Gatekeeper to verify that their app is not known malware and that it hasn’t been tampered with. If an app doesn’t have a Developer ID associated with it, Gatekeeper can let you know before you install it.

      This is probably the best choice for most users. It allows third-party apps from Apple-vetted vendors, such as Microsoft, Adobe, and thousands more. It’s a lot less restrictive than the Mac App Store option, and a lot safer than choosing Anywhere.

    • Anywhere: What its name suggests; this option lets you run any app, no matter where it came from.

Finally, two items in the Privacy tab of the Security & Privacy System Preferences pane are

  • Enable Location Services: Select this option for each app you wish to allow use of your computer’s current location to provide information, services, and features appropriate to where you are.

  • Send Diagnostic & Usage Data to Apple: Anonymously sends details of system crashes, apps that quit unexpectedly, freezes, or kernel panics to the mothership in Cupertino, Apple’s world HQ. Engineers then pore over the data and issue software updates to eliminate the bugs. At least that’s the theory. . . .

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