AMITIAE - Tuesday 4 November 2014

System Preferences in OS X 10.10, Yosemite: Security & Privacy

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

The update of OS X to version 10.10, Yosemite, has seen a number of changes to System Preferences. The Security & Privacy Preferences is similar to what was available in OS X 10.9, Mavericks. There are additions to the apps that now interact with the operating system. These are to be found in the Privacy pane.

Security should be a priority for all users. While Mac users claim that OS X is more secure than alternative operating systems, there is no reason for complacency, particularly after recent revelations concerning data-sharing and government surveillance.

The Security & Privacy Preferences section works with other parts of System Preferences (like Accessibility, Users & Groups, and Sharing) for a safer environment. The Security Preference pane has four sections: General, FileVault, Firewall and Privacy. There are some minor changes here.

Security & Privacy


The content of the General pane is almost indistinguishable from the same pane in the last two versions of OS X. At the top of the pane is a button that allows a user to change the login password if one has been set for the account on the computer. Using this does not need Admin account privileges: users may change this on their own as long as the padlock at bottom left is open (that will require an Admin password. There is now an additional option that allows use of the iCloud password. I keep these separate.

Security & Privacy

If the "Change Password" button is pressed, a panel appears that requires the old password, new password (+ verify), with a panel at the bottom for a password hint.

There are three checkboxes below the Change Password button:

  • Require password specified time after sleep or screensaver activates.

    This is controlled by a button that allows the selection of a time when the screen saver begins. "Immediately" will give the best security, but if hot corners are used the screen saver may be activated accidentally, so an option of 5 seconds is available. Other settings here are 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 1 hour, 4 hours and 8 hours (new).

  • Show a message when the screen is locked. A button allows the user to "Set Lock Message...". Before 10.7 this was only possible with a third-party utility like Onyx. The button opens a panel into which a message may be typed. I leave a message - with my phone number - for a potential finder, should I ever lose the Mac.

  • Disable automatic login. The automatic login may make access to the Mac easy, but it is dangerously insecure. Used with the screen-saver lock and Firmware Password Utility (available now by starting up in the Rescue partition - use Command + R) this may prevent unauthorized use of a computer.

    Note, with newer Macs the way to reset the Firmware Password Utility, if the password has been forgotten, has been changed and may require several days work at an Apple authorised agent. It is recommended that if Firmware Password Utility is used, the password is written down and locked away.

In the lower half of the General panel are controls connected to the sandboxing of apps that Apple introduced a while ago: Gatekeeper. There are 3 settings: Allow apps downloaded from

  • Mac App Store
  • Mac App Store and identified developers
  • Anywhere

With App Store only apps, there is a built-in secure process for developers to follow before their apps can be authorised for sale: these apps are supposed to be completely secure for users to install.

Identified Developers have registered with Apple and while their apps are not sold via the Mac App Store, the registration with Apple should give users a relative peace of mind as to the safety of the apps. This may apply also to developers who sell via the Mac App Store but who make available trial or beta versions of their software.

By selecting the third option, it is possible to install any downloaded app, but this may have unacceptable levels of risk for some. There are certain developers, however, whose products are worthy but who have not registered with Apple for this. Users may still want to download and install these while maintaining a higher level of security.

If a user tries to install any such App from an unrecognised developer a warning panel will appear. To install, the user should find the icon in the Applications folder. Control click on the icon and select Open. For those who work in a user account, this needs Admin privileges. Once the password is entered the app will open.

Information on Gatekeeper and other aspects of Security, is available from the Apple OS X pages.

At the bottom right of all panels in Security & Privacy preferences there is a button marked "Advanced...". This has 2 checkbox options (reduced from 4 in Mountain Lion and 3 in Mavericks) as well as wording changes:

  • Log out after a certain time of inactivity (this option has a box in which a time from 1 - 960 minutes may be entered);
  • Require an administrator password to access system-wide preferences


The feature of FileVault was introduced with OS X 10.3 Panther. It is claimed to use military strength encryption and is intended to protect a user's data: the files that are in the Home folder.

The FileVault icon (a house with a safe dial superimposed) signifies the ability to lock the users Home folder by way of encryption. If activated, files are decrypted and encrypted while working. A user enters the account as normal, using the password.

To start this, users press the single button, "Turn On FileVault" at the top of the pane. The text description to its left is unchanged: "FileVault secures the data on your disk by encrypting its contents automatically."

Security & Privacy

There are two parts to this feature: the file vault protection itself, which will need disk space for the file swapping that will occur; and the Master Password. This is a safety net as it will allow unlocking of any File Vault account. If this master password is lost, then you can kiss good-bye to your data.

Text beneath indicates if the feature is on or off for the disk.

An extended discussion of FileVault is available online at the O'Reilly Mac Devcenter site: An Unencrypted Look at FileVault, by FJ de Kermadec. This dates from 2003, but the ideas and comments are still valid.


Anyone who does not use a firewall these days is asking for trouble. The panel in Yosemite is application-focussed rather than port-focussed as it was in earlier versions of OS X.

The Firewall pane has basic information for the user and two buttons: Turn On Firewall (or Turn Off Firewall if it is ON) and Firewall Options... The buttons can be used only if the security padlock icon is open.

The Options panel has three checkboxes. Above the main (applications) list is "Block all incoming connections". If this is selected only essential services (DHCP, Bonjour, IPSec) will be able to use internet access.

Applications in the list panel are allowed the access needed, instead of specifying port numbers as was the case earlier. Above the application list are several OS X features that may have been activated in other preferences, such as DVD or CD Sharing, Screen Sharing or Remote Logion (SSH).

Security & Privacy

At the bottom of the panel are two icons (+/-) for adding applications to or removing them from the list. Pressing the Add (+) reveals a Finder panel which allows us to choose an item to be included. This adding is usually carried out automatically, however, when software is installed. Pressing the remove (-) deletes an app from the list with no warning, although the Cancel button will replace a deleted app. Pressing OK will complete the action.

Below the panel are two checkboxes:

  • Automatically allow signed software to receive incoming connections, will allow software with a legitimate, signed certificate to use internet services

  • Enable stealth mode: any outside probing that occurs (such as that shown in logs) will have no response.


The final pane in Security & Privacy preferences, Privacy, has been updated in terms of the number of apps that are now listed.

To the left is a panel that shows any apps or services that are permitted to access specific types of data. Highlighting each will show in the main panel any apps affected and the type of access allowed. A user will be asked to permit such access when setting up OS X or after installing some applications.

To the left is a panel that shows any apps or services that are permitted to access specific types of data. Highlighting each will show in the main panel any apps affected and the type of access allowed. A user will be asked to permit such access when setting up OS X or after installing some applications.

With Yosemite, the list has been expanded (in the same way as in Internet Accounts and Notifications. Those listed include Accessibility

Security & Privacy

The list of apps will differ with each user. In addition, a number of system applications and services are shown:

  • Location Services - this is enabled and specific applications (now Maps, Calendar, Reminders, Safari and Weather) are able to use Location data. Text information below the box tells users that if the location icon appears beside an app, the location was requested within the last 24 hours.

  • Contacts - certain apps (in my case now Aperture, Pages, System Preferences, iWatermark as well as Skype and Posterino) are allowed to access data in my list of contacts.

  • Accessibility allows the system to use apps that include Little Snitch, Safari and yType.

  • Diagnostics & Usage - when setting up the account, I specifically agreed to allow access to information for the purposes of diagnostics. A text explanation in the panel has information about the purposes of the data use and there is a link to Apple's Privacy Policy page which explains the reasons for collecting data, what data is collected and the uses it is put.

Calendars, Facebook, Linkedin, Reminders, Twitter have no apps listed that have requested access to them so far.

See Also:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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