These are the apps that I will install first on pretty much any new Mac that I get. I’m a huge fan of free and open source software, and no other platform has free software of the same quality and calibre as Mac OS X. Most of these are Mac-only apps (a couple are cross-platform). I’m listing free applications wherever possible, but if there is a paid-for app that I consider best-of-breed, I mention those too. Hopefully this list will help all of the techie switchers get the apps they need quickly. This list is a work-in-progress, so I’ll be adding to this it over time.
If you’re only interested in my recommended security apps, they’re at the bottom! Feel free to post in the comments if you have any you think are worth mentioning.
Last updated: 14/04/2015
The Fortuitous Day of Exalted Happiness – aka the release of Portal 2 – is fast approaching. Steam currently have the release pegged for the 21st of April. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, or why I’m talking about games at all, Portal is a physics-based game where the player must use well-placed portals and other objects in order to escape from the level. In security terms (because that’s all some of you understand), you have to manipulate or bypass a variety of access control mechanisms through the clever use of basic objects and environmental features, in order to defeat physical security and get out. Failure to do so generally results in death by falling, drowning, squashing or other similarly unpleasant ends.
Although the original Portal was excellent, Portal 2 takes this to the next level with significantly improved graphics, much larger environments, new interactive elements and co-operative multiplayer. Thanks to Steam it will run on both Mac OS X and Windows.
I’ll stop talking now so you can watch the video below and then pre-order it… go on… I’ll wait here.
The guys at GPGTools have taken control of the MacGPG2, GPGMail, GPG Keychain Access and GPG Services projects, and have released a single unified installer that installs all of these apps. They are maintaining these tools, which are all 64-bit and Snow Leopard compatible. The package also include Enigmail, a GPG-compatible plugin for Thunderbird (Mozilla’s free email client).
For more information, check out my tutorial on using GPGMail to send encrypted emails on Mac OS X.
The Mac App Store was released in the recent 10.6.6 update, allowing Mac users to buy and install apps in the same, easy, one-click fashion as iPhone and iPod Touch users. Over 1 million apps were downloaded in the first 24 hours. Although the Mac App Store doesn’t make use of a sandbox like the iOS App Store does, there are still several mechanisms developers can use to prevent their software from being copied and shared between different users.
Hackers have discovered that one of the simpler methods used to authenticate an app is actually stored as a separate plist file within the application bundle. This means that an app can be copied, and the authentication files within its bundle can be replaced with those from an app that was legally purchased (even if it’s a free app).
In order to resolve this, developers should not rely solely on the data found within the plist file external to the binary, and perform some checks against hard-coded values within the binary itself. Some simple tips are available here. Ultimately all software is crackable, Mac App Store or not, so my suggestion to application developers is: spend more time developing great new features, and less time worrying about anti-piracy. This is what itself Apple does. In the long run most people will follow the simplicity route and buy the app.
In related news: How not to store passwords in iOS (developers take heed)
When Snow Leopard came around, it completely broke support for GPGMail, and there were no other solutions that enabled similar functionality. This caused a significant issue for Snow Leopard users needing GPG functionality. The original developer of GPGMail unfortunately did not have the time to update the plugin and restore support for Snow Leopard.
Since then the GPGMail project has been handed over to a new team of developers who have been working on restoring the full functionality of the plugin under 10.6. This tutorial shows you how to easily install GPGMail and start sending and receiving encrypted emails!
[Updated 21/01/2011] The team at GPGTools have now created a unified installer which consolidates MacGPG2, GPG Keychain Access, GPGMail and GPG Service. Their all-in-one installer simplifies the install process, and installs everything you need for encrypting/signing files and emails.
If you’ve used the GPGTools package, please post your experiences in the comments!
Sophos have released a free home edition of their anti-virus for Mac OS X users. This brings automatic on-access detection, and disinfection capabilities that cover Windows viruses/worms/trojans, as well as the few pieces of malware that currently exist for Mac OS X. Sophos claim that their antivirus does not use many resources, and thus does not slow the machine down like some A/Vs do.
They make the following statement which describes the current Mac malware situation fairly well:
Although malware is more common on Windows than it is on Macs, there is a growing concern that, as Mac OS X market-share continues to grow, the operating system will become a more attractive target for cybercriminals.
Even though I would rate the current malware threat to Macs as fairly low, we will undoubtedly start seeing more and more of it as Macs gain market share in the home. Attackers know that companies are getting better and better at protecting against malware, however home users are notoriously bad at protecting their systems and keeping them patched. Surely if you’re a regular visitor of Security Generation, you’re not one of those people ;)
I haven’t tested this yet, and Sophos aren’t the first to arrive on the Mac AV scene. ClamXav is a good free open source alternative, however one benefit of Sophos’ solution is the experience of their research team, and vast database of malware (don’t expect this to remain free forever). Although I personally wouldn’t pay for Mac AV just yet, there are also some good solutions from Kaspersky and Intego’s VirusBarrier.