A Macs User Guide to Data Protection

No operating system is invulnerable to cyber risks, and while Macs are considered more secure than most, they are not immune to all threats. Besides the weaknesses in macOS code that can be exploited, a pressing cybersecurity vulnerability is related to you and me, the users.

Coming with a solid Unix-based architecture, native encryption options, and a recent transition from kernel extensions to system extensions, Macs probably have never been more secure. The latest version of Apple’s operating system, macOS Big Sur, brought important upgrades not only in terms of design but highly improved security and privacy features as well. Furthermore, the company’s new homegrown, Arm-based M1 processors promise to ensure security not only from the software but the hardware side too.

At the same time, Macs’ growing popularity for both individual users and in enterprises has made them attractive targets for malicious outsiders. With hackers becoming increasingly clever and greedy, it’s essential that macOS users take steps to protect their data against breaches. Apart from outsider threats, Macs can be just as vulnerable as devices running on other operating systems to human error, taking the form of negligence or targeted attacks such as social engineering and phishing. Many data breaches occur because users or employees fall for these attacks and inadvertently reveal their credentials or sensitive company information.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged and changed the ways companies operate, many being pushed to switch to remote work almost overnight. This means that work computers, both Apple Mac endpoints and Microsoft Windows PCs, have been taken out of the security of company offices. The work-from-home era creates new cybersecurity risks, emerging from both inside and outside of companies.

It’s clear that in 2020/2021, Mac users can no longer rely on the perceived invulnerability of the OS and must undertake measures to ensure data security. Let’s check the essential cybersecurity tools for Macs that provide efficient protection for data.

1. Antivirus & Antimalware

The most basic way to mitigate outsider threats is to install a traditional antivirus solution. With Apple gaining market share, the number of Mac-targeted attacks keeps increasing and malicious outsiders often shift their sights because macOS users tend to neglect antivirus tools. The majority of big players in the Antivirus industry provide Mac versions of their products, some of them offering 30-day free trial options, and a few of them even free versions. When picking an antivirus for your Mac, you should consider the impact it has on the speed of your device and the types of threats it protects against.

Taking it one step further, while antivirus software defends against traditional, more established threats, antimalware solutions can detect more advanced forms of malware. Although many antiviruses offer malware protection, they usually provide only a minimum layer of protection. Therefore, in order to defend against more sophisticated forms of malware, it is recommended to opt for a standalone antimalware solution.

2. Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

Many data breaches occur not because of outsider attacks but due to the malicious intentions or the negligence of insiders. The human factor plays an essential role when looking to ensure the security of data. Macs include several features that can safeguard against certain types of threats, such as FileVault and Open Firmware passwords, but these offer no protection when the perpetrators are the users themselves.

DLP solutions, such as Endpoint Protector by CoSoSys, can help mitigate insider threats and prevent data leakage, data theft, and exfiltration. By deploying such a solution, it can be ensured that sensitive information such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII) does not get outside the company network or to a user without access. Through DLP policies, the software can keep track of sensitive data, block or log its transfer, delete or encrypt it when found on the Macs of unauthorized users. It can also help you monitor all ports and devices on Macs, flagging any suspicious activity.

3. Encryption

Encryption offers an efficient way to safeguard data, especially in case of device loss or theft. Apple provides data encryption with FileVault, a native macOS feature that allows users to encrypt their entire drives. Once enabled, FileVault will continue to encrypt your data on the fly and will work seamlessly in the background. It also ensures that no one without a key can access your data. Moreover, with its 64-bit Apple File System (APFS) and the possibility to set a firmware password that prevents non-standard booting through USB sticks, Apple has shown its commitment to provide its users improved security methods.

However, besides taking care of your local hard drives, files transferred to portable storage devices should be protected too. DLP solutions like Endpoint Protector can help in these cases too. With its Enforced Encryption feature, Endpoint Protector can automatically encrypt sensitive files when they are transferred to removable devices. Being a cross-platform solution, encrypted USBs are usable on Windows devices too.

4. Backup

Having a backup strategy is critical as there exist so many threats that can destroy data. Viruses, ransomware attacks, hardware defects, accidents, and other risks cannot be controlled or prevented.

macOS has a built-in backup tool, Time Machine, that can be set to run automatically in the background to continuously save copies of files, applications, and system files to an external or secondary drive. Other options include popular bootable backup solutions and the possibility of online backup through cloud or third-party storage services.

Although Apple strives to offer as many security features as possible natively within the OS, it does not have designated tools to fight against malware or human error. As the popularity of macOS devices keeps growing, ensuring their security cannot be overlooked anymore, especially in the era of work-from-home and stricter data protection regulations such as the GDPR or CCPA.

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