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Last updated Aug 30 2015


This is a collection of thoughts on securing a modern Mac running OS X Yosemite and some steps on how to improve privacy.

It is targeted to “power users” who wish to adopt enterprise-standard security, but is also suitable for novice users with an interest in improving their privacy and security on a Mac.

There is no security silver bullet. A system is only as secure as its administrator is capable of making it.

I am not responsible if you break a Mac by following any of these steps.

If you wish to make a correction or improvement, please send a pull request.

Preparing Yosemite

There are several ways to install a fresh copy of OS X Yosemite.

The simplest one is to boot into Recovery Mode by holding Command and R keys at boot. One can then download and apply an image right from Apple. However, I don't like this way because the machine's serial number and other identifying information is sent to Apple over HTTP.

An alternative way is to download Yosemite build 14A389 or later from the App Store or some other place and create an installable system image which you can customize and reuse.

The file needed to create an installable image is InstallESD.dmg, which is inside the Install OS X Yosemite application bundle. Just right click, select Show Package Contents and navigate to Contents > SharedSupport to find the dmg.

The following are cryptographic hashes of the file. You can use shasum -a256 InstallESD.dmg for example, and compare the output to make sure you got the same, authentic copy. You can also Google these hashes to ensure your copy is genuine and hasn't been tampered with.


SHA-256: af244af020424d803ea8fc143bdd2c067db19f663484d735d6b6733a0feeeb4d
SHA-1:   eebf02a20ac27665a966957eec6f5e6fe3228a19
MD5:     8d3187fa7699366e1723c28abd78acc8

Next, mount and install the OS to a temporary image, or use this GUI app

hdiutil attach -noverify -mountpoint /tmp/installesd /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\
hdiutil create -size 32g -type SPARSE -fs HFS+J -volname "OS X" -uid 0 -gid 80 -mode 1775 /tmp/output.sparseimage
hdiutil attach -noverify -mountpoint /tmp/os -owners on /tmp/output.sparseimage
sudo installer -pkg /tmp/installesd/Packages/OSInstall.mpkg -tgt /tmp/os

This part will take a while, so just be patient. You can tail -F /var/log/install.log to check progress.

Next, install the 10.10.4 combo updater. The 10.10.5 update (and later?) will not install until 10.10.4 is.

Download and install 10.10.4 Combo Update from


SHA-256: eccebbfcda10ac6f1dc63c389421c73007b44fa836da563e0830de47543890a2
SHA-1:   301087ef9ac268c61ebd9d79d001419539dea8ff
MD5:     50023d1cf9567bffc0723ef0a49266e2


hdiutil mount osxupdcombo10.10.4.dmg
sudo installer -pkg /Volumes/OS\ X\ 10.10.4\ Update\ Combo/OSXUpdCombo10.10.4.pkg -tgt /tmp/os
hdiutil unmount /Volumes/OS\ X\ 10.10.4\ Update\ Combo

Download and install 10.10.5 Combo Update from


SHA-256: 40865b9021f4e0534181af100f48be1150b3e8ba80bfabe42cb0c7623717ae27
SHA-1:   ddc31ba75b4b67e9aa450a9ab66232e30c718bed
MD5:     c2df0cc14d39e6f3a232d2cc524d6d83


hdiutil mount osxupdcombo10.10.5.dmg
sudo installer -pkg /Volumes/OS\ X\ 10.10.5\ Update/OSXUpd10.10.5.pkg -tgt /tmp/os
hdiutil unmount /Volumes/OS\ X\ 10.10.5\ Update

(Optional) Install any other packages to your new image, such as Wireshark.

hdiutil mount Wireshark\ 1.99.5\ Intel\ 64.dmg
sudo installer -pkg /Volumes/Wireshark/Wireshark\ 1.99.5\ Intel\ 64.pkg -tgt /tmp/os
hdiutil unmount /Volumes/Wireshark

When you're done, detach, convert and verify the image.

hdiutil detach /tmp/os
hdiutil detach /tmp/installesd
hdiutil convert -format UDZO /tmp/output.sparseimage -o yosemite.dmg
asr imagescan --source yosemite.dmg

Now, yosemite.dmg is ready to be applied to one or many Macs. You can further customize the image to have premade users, applications and preferences to your liking.

Installing Yosemite

I prefer to install this image using another Mac and Target Disk Mode.

If you don't have another Mac, create a bootable USB drive from the Yosemite app bundle you already have, and boot the Mac you wish to image to it by holding the Option key at boot.

If you don't have an external drive or USB stick to use, it's possible to create a small partition with Disk Utility and use that. There are several guides online on how to do this.

To use Target Disk Mode, boot up the Mac you wish to image while holding T and connect it to another using Firewire, Thunderbolt or USB-C.

Run diskutil list to identify the connected disk, usually /dev/disk2

Erase the disk to Journaled HFS+

diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk2
diskutil partitionDisk /dev/disk2 1 JHFS+ OSX 100%

Restore the image to the new volume

sudo asr restore \
  --source yosemite.dmg \
  --target /Volumes/OSX \
  --erase --noverify \
  --buffersize 4m

Alternatively, open the Disk Utility application, erase the connected Mac's disk, then drag yosemite.dmg in to restore it to the new partition.

If you've followed these steps correctly, the target Mac should now have a fresh install of OS X Yosemite.

If you want to transfer any files, copy them to a folder like /Users/Shared on the mounted disk image, e.g. cp xcode_6.1.1.dmg /Volumes/OS\ X/Users/Shared

Recovery partition

We're not done yet! You will need to create a recovery partition in order to use Filevault full disk encryption.



SHA-256: f6a4f8ac25eaa6163aa33ac46d40f223f40e58ec0b6b9bf6ad96bdbfc771e12c
SHA-1:   1ac3b7059ae0fcb2877d22375121d4e6920ae5ba
MD5:     b669cdb341b2253a843bf0d402b9675a

Attach and install

hdiutil attach RecoveryHDUpdate.dmg
pkgutil --expand /Volumes/Mac\ OS\ X\ Lion\ Recovery\ HD\ Update/RecoveryHDUpdate.pkg /tmp/recovery
hdiutil attach /tmp/recovery/RecoveryHDUpdate.pkg/RecoveryHDMeta.dmg
/tmp/recovery/RecoveryHDUpdate.pkg/Scripts/Tools/dmtest ensureRecoveryPartition /Volumes/OS\ X/ /Volumes/Recovery\ HD\ Update/BaseSystem.dmg 0 0 /Volumes/Recovery\ HD\ Update/BaseSystem.chunklist

Where /Volumes/OS\ X is the path to the target disk mode booted Mac.

This will take several minutes.

Run diskutil list again to make sure Recovery HD now exists.

Once you're done, eject the disk with hdiutil unmount /Volumes/OS\ X and power down the connected Mac.

First boot

On first boot, hold Command Option P and R keys to clear NVRAM.

Wait for the loud, obnoxious gong and keep holding while the Mac reboots once.

When OS X first starts, you'll be greeted by Setup Assistant.

Do not connect to networking yet; skip that part of the setup for now.

When creating your account, use a strong password without a hint.

Don't use your real name for your account as it'll show up as So-and-so's Macbook through sharing services to local networks.

Full disk encryption

Before continuing, I strongly recommend turning on Filevault 2 full disk (technically, full volume) encryption.

Filevault encryption will protect data at rest and prevent someone with physical access from stealing data or tampering with your Mac.

With much crypto happening in hardware, the performance penalty for OS X FDE is, in my experience, negligible.

Enable Filevault with sudo fdesetup enable or using System Preferences. Reboot.

I recommend forgetting the recovery key, but if your password is too complicated, you may wish to write the key down and store it in a safe place.

Your encrypted data will be lost forever if you can't remember the password or recovery key.

If you want to know more about how Filevault 2 works, see the paper Infiltrate the Vault: Security Analysis and Decryption of Lion Full Disk Encryption [pdf].

You may wish to enforce hibernation and evict Filevault keys from memory instead of traditional "sleep" to memory.

sudo pmset -a destroyfvkeyonstandby 1 hibernatemode 25

For more information, see

and paper Lest We Remember: Cold Boot Attacks on Encryption Keys [pdf]

Firmware Password

Setting a firmware password in OS X prevents your Mac from starting up from any device other than your startup disk. It can also be helpful if your laptop is stolen, as the only way to reset the firmware password is through an Apple Store.

  1. Shut down your Mac.

  2. Start up your Mac again and immediately hold the Command and R keys after you hear the startup sound to start from OS X Recovery.

  3. When the Recovery window appears, choose Firmware Password Utility from the Utilities menu.

  4. In the Firmware Utility window that appears, click Turn On Firmware Password.

  5. Enter a new password, then enter the same password in the Verify field.

  6. Click Set Password.

  7. Click Quit Firmware Utility to close the Firmware Password Utility.

  8. Click the Apple menu and choose Restart or Shutdown. The next time your Mac starts up, your firmware password is active.


Before connecting to the Internet, it's a good idea to first configure a firewall.

There are three basic types of firewall for OS X.

Application layer firewall

Built-in, basic firewall which blocks incoming connections only.

Controlled by the Firewall tab of Security & Privacy in System Preferences.

Enable ALF, logging and "stealth mode" with the following commands, or through System Preferences:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ \
  globalstate -int 1
sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ \
  allowsignedenabled -bool false
sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ \
  loggingenabled -bool true
sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ \
  stealthenabled -bool true

Computer hackers scan networks so they can attempt to identify computers to attack. You can prevent your computer from responding to some of these scans by using stealth mode. When stealth mode is enabled, your computer does not respond to ICMP ping requests, and does not answer to connection attempts from a closed TCP or UDP port. This makes it more difficult for attackers to find your computer.

Note, ALF does not offer the ability to monitor or block outgoing connections.

Third party solutions

Programs such as Little Snitch, Hands Off and Radio Silence provide a good balance of usability and security.

They are capable of monitoring and blocking incoming and outgoing network connections. However, they may require the use of a (closed source) third party kernel extension.

If the number of choices of allowing/blocking network connections is overwhelming, I recommend using Silent Mode with connections allowed, then periodically check your settings to gain understanding of what various applications are doing.

It is worth noting that these firewalls can be bypassed by programs running as root or in kernel space, but they are still worth having - just don't expect absolute protection.

Kernel level packet filtering

A highly customizable, powerful, but also most complicated firewall exists in the kernel. It can be controlled with pfctl and various configuration files.

Can also be controlled with a GUI application such as IceFloor.

There are many books and articles on the subject of pf firewall. Here's is just one example of blocking traffic by IP address.

Put the following into a file called pf.rules

set block-policy drop
set fingerprints "/etc/pf.os"
set ruleset-optimization basic
set skip on lo0
scrub in all no-df
table <blocklist> persist
block in log
block in log quick from no-route to any
pass out proto tcp from any to any keep state
pass out proto udp from any to any keep state
block log on en0 from {<blocklist>} to any

And use the following commands

  • sudo pfctl -e -f pf.rules to enable the firewall
  • sudo pfctl -d to disable the firewall
  • sudo pfctl -t blocklist -T add to add hosts to a blocklist
  • sudo pfctl -t blocklist -T show to view the blocklist
  • sudo ifconfig pflog0 create to create an interface for logging
  • sudo tcpdump -ni pflog0 to dump the packets

Unless you're already familiar with pf, I don't suggest worrying too much about configuring it on OS X.


Before you connect to the Internet, you may wish to disable some Apple services which phone home to Apple (

Services on OS X are managed by launchd. See, as well as Apple's Daemons and Services Programming Guide and Technical Note TN2083

Here are the basics:

  • Use launchctl list to view loaded user agents
  • Use sudo launchctl list to view loaded system daemons
  • Specify the service name to examine it, e.g. launchctl list
  • Use defaults read to examine job plists in /System/Library/LaunchDaemons and /System/Library/LaunchAgents
  • Use man, strings and Google to learn about what the agent/daemon runs

For example, to learn what a system launch daemon or agent does, start with

defaults read /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

Look at the ProgramArguments section to see which binary is run, in this case apsd. To find more information about that, look at the man page with man apsd

If you're not interested in Apple Push Notifications, disable the service

sudo launchctl unload -w \

Here's an example of disabling a bunch of user launch agents,

function disable_agent {
  echo "Disabling ${1}"
  launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchAgents/${1}.plist


And the same for system launch daemons,

function disable_daemon {
  echo "Disabling ${1}"
  sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/${1}.plist


Be careful about disabling any services you don't understand, as it may render your system unbootable.


Disable Spotlight and Safari suggestions which log and send your keystrokes to Apple.


If you've upgraded to Mac OS X Yosemite (10.10) and you're using the default settings, each time you start typing in Spotlight (to open an application or search for a file on your computer), your local search terms and location are sent to Apple and third parties (including Microsoft).


I recommend installing Homebrew to make installing many software easier.

If you have not already installed Xcode or Command Line Tools, run xcode-select --install and a prompt should appear to download and install CLI Tools.

After that's finished, Install Homebrew

ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL"

Homebrew uses SSL to talk with github and verifies checksums of downloaded packages, so I would consider it to be pretty safe. There is some discussion in


Here are a few ways to improve your security and privacy with DNS.

Hosts file

Use the hosts file to block known malware, advertising or otherwise unwanted domains.

Edit the hosts file as root with sudo vi /etc/hosts

To block a domain, just add 0 (0 means, a null route)

There are many lists of "bad" domains available online which you can paste in, just make sure each line starts with 0 or

For example, see and


Install and use dnsmasq to cache replies, prevent upstreaming queries for unqualified names, and even block entire TLDs.

Use it in combination with dnscrypt-proxy to also encrypt outgoing DNS traffic.

Install with brew install dnsmasq

Edit the example configuration

mkdir -p /usr/local/etc
cp /usr/local/opt/dnsmasq/dnsmasq.conf.example /usr/local/etc/dnsmasq.conf
vim !$

Have a look through the commented-out options. Here are a few recommended settings to enable,

  # Never forward plain names
  # Never forward addresses in the non-routed address spaces
  # Forward queries to dnscrypt on localhost

Install and start the program

sudo cp -fv /usr/local/opt/dnsmasq/*.plist /Library/LaunchDaemons
sudo chown root /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.dnsmasq.plist
sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.dnsmasq.plist

Open System Preferences > Network and select your interface, then the DNS tab.

Select the + and add as a DNS server.

Make sure dnsmasq is running with sudo lsof -ni UDP:53 or ps -ef | grep '[d]nsmasq'


Use dnscrypt to encrypt all going DNS traffic to your provider of choice.

Install with brew install dnscrypt-proxy

Install the program

sudo cp -fv /usr/local/opt/dnscrypt-proxy/*.plist /Library/LaunchDaemons
sudo chown root /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.dnscrypt-proxy.plist

If using in combination with dnsmasq, edit /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.dnscrypt-proxy.plist to have this line


Below the line


Finally, start the program

sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.dnscrypt-proxy.plist

Make sure dnscrypt is running with sudo lsof -ni UDP:5355 or ps -ef | grep '[d]nscrypt'

By default, dnscrypt-proxy runs on localhost (, port 53, and under the "nobody" user using the DNSCrypt-enabled resolver. If you would like to change these settings, you will have to edit the plist file (e.g., --resolver-address, --provider-name, --provider-key, etc.)

This can be accomplished by editing /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.dnscrypt-proxy.plist. I recommend hosting your own dnscrypt server in a trusted location or "cloud".

multicast advertisement

Turn off multicast DNS if you don't need it. It spams information about your machine and its services to the local network.


sudo -E vim /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

Copy the line <string>/usr/sbin/mDNSResponder</string> and paste it twice (yy and pp in vim)

Replace the argument with -launchd and -NoMulticastAdvertisements

sudo killall -9 mDNSResponder to restart mDNSResponder

You can also use this script to accomplish this.

Captive portal

When OS X connects to new networks, it probes the network and launches a Captive Portal assistant utility if connectivity can't be determined.

An attacker could trigger the utility and direct a Mac to a site with malware without user interaction, so it's best to disable this feature.



Certificate authorities

Yosemite comes with over 200 root certificate authorities capable of issuing SSL or code signing certificates.

For more information, see Certification Authority Trust Tracker,

and papers Analysis of the HTTPS certificate ecosystem [pdf]

and You Won’t Be Needing These Any More: On Removing Unused Certificates From Trust Stores [pdf]

You can inspect system root certificates in Keychain Access, under the System Roots tab.

To remove an unwanted certificate, copy its SHA1 sum, then

echo "4F 99 AA 93 FB 2B D1 37 26 A1 99 4A CE 7F F0 05 F2 93 5D 1E" | tr -d ' '

sudo security delete-certificate -t -Z 4F99AA93FB2BD13726A1994ACE7FF005F2935D1E /System/Library/Keychains/SystemRootCertificates.keychain

Here's an example of removing a list of roots

function remove {
  echo "Removing ${2}"
  sudo /usr/bin/security delete-certificate \
    -t -Z $1 \

remove "D1EB23A46D17D68FD92564C2F1F1601764D8E349" "AAA Certificate Services"
remove "4F99AA93FB2BD13726A1994ACE7FF005F2935D1E" "China Internet Network Information Center Root CA"
remove "8BAF4C9B1DF02A92F7DA128EB91BACF498604B6F" "CNNIC"
remove "8C941B34EA1EA6ED9AE2BC54CF687252B4C9B561" "DoD Root CA 2"
remove "10F193F340AC91D6DE5F1EDC006247C4F25D9671" "DoD CLASS 3 Root CA"
remove "8C96BAEBDD2B070748EE303266A0F3986E7CAE58" "EBG"
remove "51C6E70849066EF392D45CA00D6DA3628FC35239" "E-Tugra Certification Authority"
remove "905F942FD9F28F679B378180FD4F846347F645C1" "Federal Common Policy CA"
remove "FE45659B79035B98A161B5512EACDA580948224D" "Hellenic Academic and Research Institutions RootCA 2011"
remove "D6DAA8208D09D2154D24B52FCB346EB258B28A58" "Hongkong Post Root CA 1"
remove "D2441AA8C203AECAA96E501F124D52B68FE4C375" "I.CA"
remove "270C500CC6C86ECB1980BC1305439ED282480BE3" "MPHPT Certification Authority"
remove "06083F593F15A104A069A46BA903D006B7970991" "NetLock Arany"
remove "E392512F0ACFF505DFF6DE067F7537E165EA574B" "NetLock Expressz"
remove "016897E1A0B8F2C3B134665C20A727B7A158E28F" "NetLock Minositett Kozjegyzoi"
remove "ACED5F6553FD25CE015F1F7A483B6A749F6178C6" "NetLock Kozjegyzoi"
remove "2DFF6336E33A4829AA009F01A1801EE7EBA582BB" "Prefectural Association For JPKI"
remove "8782C6C304353BCFD29692D2593E7D44D934FF11" "SecureTrust CA"
remove "E19FE30E8B84609E809B170D72A8C5BA6E1409BD" "Trusted Certificate Services"
remove "3BC0380B33C3F6A60C86152293D9DFF54B81C005" "Trustis FPS Root CA"
remove "B091AA913847F313D727BCEFC8179F086F3A8C0F" "TW Government Root Certification Authority"
remove "1B4B396126276B6491A2686DD70243212D1F1D96" "TurkTrust 1"
remove "7998A308E14D6585E6C21E153A719FBA5AD34AD9" "TurkTrust 2"
remove "B435D4E1119D1C6690A749EBB394BD637BA782B7" "TurkTrust 3"
remove "F17F6FB631DC99E3A3C87FFE1CF1811088D96033" "TurkTrust 4"
remove "0B972C9EA6E7CC58D93B20BF71EC412E7209FABF" "UCA Global Root"
remove "8250BED5A214433A66377CBC10EF83F669DA3A67" "UCA Root"
remove "CB44A097857C45FA187ED952086CB9841F2D51B5" "US Govt Common Policy"
remove "FAA7D9FB31B746F200A85E65797613D816E063B5" "VRK Gov. Root CA"
remove "E7B4F69D61EC9069DB7E90A7401A3CF47D4FE8EE" "WellsSecure Public Root Certificate Authority"

These may be updated or re-added during system updates, though.

A cool idea is to write a custom proxy which monitors and logs certificate chains seen on the wire.


The version of OpenSSL which comes with Yosemite is quite dated. It doesn't support TLS 1.1 or higher, nor does it support Elliptic Curve ciphers.

Apple claims OpenSSL is deprecated in their Cryptographic Services Guide document. Their version also has patches which may surprise you.

Grab a recent version of OpenSSL with brew install openssl && brew link openssl

The version of curl which comes with OS X uses Secure Transport for SSL verification. If you prefer to use OpenSSL, install curl with brew install curl --with-openssl


Here are a few recommended self explanatory options to add to ~/.curlrc

user-agent = "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:31.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/31.0"
referer = ";auto"
connect-timeout = 10
max-time = 90


I recommend using privoxy as a local proxy to filter HTTP traffic.

Install and start privoxy

brew install privoxy
ln -sfv /usr/local/opt/privoxy/*.plist ~/Library/LaunchAgents
launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/homebrew.mxcl.privoxy.plist

By default, privoxy listens on local TCP port 8118.

Set the HTTP proxy for your active network interface in System Preferences to and port 8118.

Confirm it's working by visiting http://p.p/ and with the command scutil --proxy

Privoxy already comes with many good rules, however you can also write your own.

For example, edit /usr/local/etc/privoxy/user.action to block elements by domain or with regular expressions,

{ +block{unwanted stuff} }|plugins)/(login_status|like(box)?|activity|fan)\.php

{ +block{ad images} +handle-as-image }

Write simple or complex rules for redirection, such as to HTTPS,

{ +redirect{s@http://@https://@} }

{ +redirect{s@}}

You can even replace all ad images with pictures of kittens by running a local web server.

I recommend logging all privoxy requests so you can be inspired to write custom rules.

Web browsing

Your web browser is probably the biggest security and privacy risk, as its fundamental job is to download and execute untrusted code from the Internet.

I recommend using Google Chrome for most of your browsing. It offers separate profiles, good sandboxing, frequent updates (including Flash) and has many useful extensions.

I recommend creating at least three profiles, one for trusted web sites (email, banking), another for untrusted (link aggregators, news sites), and a third for a script-free experience.

  • One profile without cookies or Javascript enabled which should be the preferred profile to visiting new web sites.

  • One profile with uMatrix installed. If uMatrix looks too complicated, uBlock is a fine alternative. Use this profile for visiting mostly trusted sites with customized uMatrix/uBlock rules. Take the time to learn how these firewall extensions work.

  • One or more profile(s) for your real name, signed-in browsing needs such as banking and email.

The idea is to separate cookie stores and compartmentalize your data.

Take some time to read, then disable any Chrome settings you don't want, for example DNS prefetching.

If you don't want to use Chrome, Firefox is an excellent browser as well.

Don't use any of those Chromium derived browsers. They are usually closed source, poorly maintained and make dubious claims to protect your privacy.

Don't use Safari. The code is a mess and security vulnerabilities are frequent, but slow to patch.


Don't download or install Internet plugins like Silverlight unless you really need them. Netflix works with HTML5 on Yosemite.

Java, Flash, Adobe Reader and others plugins are a big security risk because they are poorly written, and should not be installed.

Really, only use them in a disposable VM.

See,, and


PGP is a standard for encrypting email end to end. That means only the chosen recepients can decrypt a message, unlike regular email which is read and forever archived by providers.

GPG, or GNU Privacy Guard, is a GPL licensed program compliant with the standard.

GPG is also used to verify signatures of software you download and install.

Install it with brew install gnupg

If you prefer a GUI, check out GPG Suite

Here are recommended options to add to ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf

auto-key-locate keyserver
keyserver hkps://
keyserver-options no-honor-keyserver-url
keyserver-options ca-cert-file=/etc/sks-keyservers.netCA.pem
keyserver-options no-honor-keyserver-url
keyserver-options debug
keyserver-options verbose
personal-cipher-preferences AES256 AES192 AES CAST5
personal-digest-preferences SHA512 SHA384 SHA256 SHA224
default-preference-list SHA512 SHA384 SHA256 SHA224 AES256 AES192 AES CAST5 ZLIB BZIP2 ZIP Uncompressed
cert-digest-algo SHA512
charset utf-8
keyid-format 0xlong
list-options show-uid-validity
verify-options show-uid-validity

Install the keyservers CA certificate

curl -O
sudo mv sks-keyservers.netCA.pem /etc

These settings will configure GnuPG to use SSL when fetching new keys and prefer strong cryptographic primitives.

You should also read OpenPGP Best Practices

If you don't already have a gpg keypair, create one now with gpg --gen-key.

Read online guides and practice encrypting and decrypting email to yourself and your friends. Get them interested in this stuff!


OTR stands for Off-the-Record and is a cryptographic protocol for encrypting and authenticating conversations over instant messaging.

You can use OTR on top of any existing XMPP chat service, even Google Hangouts (which only encrypts conversations between users and the server).

The first time you start a conversation with someone new, you'll be asked to verify their public key fingerprint. Make sure to do this in person or by some other secure means (e.g. GPG encrypted mail).

A popular OS X GUI client for XMPP and other chat protocol is Adium

Remember to turn off logging if you're going to use OTR with Adium.

A good console based XMPP client is profanity which can be installed with brew install profanity

If you want to know how OTR works, read the paper Off-the-Record Communication, or, Why Not To Use PGP [pdf]


Tor is an anynomizing proxy which can be used for browsing the web.

Download Tor Browser from Don't configure other browsers to use Tor as you are likely make a mistake which compromises your anonymity.

After downloading the dmg and asc files, use gpg to verify the disk image has been signed by Tor developers with gpg TorBrowser*asc.

If this is your first time using gpg, you will get a warning that the public key was not found. You can fetch it from the keyserver with gpg --recv-keys 0x2E1AC68ED40814E0 and verify again.

Make sure Good signature from "Tor Browser Developers (signing key) <>" appears in the output.

See for more information.

Tor traffic can be identified on a network. It is recommended to additionally obfuscate it using a pluggable transport such as obfs4proxy.

This can be done by running your own Tor relay or private bridge which will serve as your obfuscating guard node. Set one up and share it with your friends!

For extra security, use VirtualBox or VMware to run a virtual GNU/Linux or BSD machine to do your private browsing on.

For more on browser privacy, see and


If you use your Mac on untrusted networks - airports, cafes, etc. - your network traffic is being monitored and possibly tampered with.

It is a good idea to use a VPN which encrypts all outgoing network traffic (i.e., not split tunnel) with a provider you trust. Ideally, that provider is a server in your house or a trustworthy "cloud".

Don't just blindly sign up for a VPN service without understanding the full implications and how your traffic will be routed. If you don't understand how the VPN works or are not familiar with the software used, you are probably better off without it.

Viruses and malware

There is an increasing amount of Mac malware in the wild; Macs aren't immune from viruses and malicious software.

Some of the malware comes bundled with both legitimate software, such as the Java bundling Ask Toolbar, and some with illegitimate software, such as Mac.BackDoor.iWorm bundled with pirated programs.

See Methods of malware persistence on Mac OS X [pdf] and Malware Persistence on OS X Yosemite to learn about how garden-variety malware functions.

You can periodically run a tool like Knock Knock to examine persistent binaries (e.g. scripts, binaries). But by then, it is probably too late.

Anti-virus programs are not useful for advanced users and will increase your attack surface against sophisticated threats. See Sophail: Applied attacks against Sophos Antivirus [pdf] and Analysis and Exploitation of an ESET Vulnerability. The best anti-virus is Common Sense 2015.

Local privilege escalation bugs are plenty on OS X, so always be careful when downloading and running untrusted programs or trusted programs from third party websites or downloaded over HTTP (example).

Have a look at The Safe Mac for past and current Mac security news.

Check out Hacking Team malware for Mac OS: root installation for MacOS, Support driver for Mac Agent and RCS Agent for Mac. Good example of malware which hides from userland (ps, ls, etc). and is very difficult to detect.

Gatekeeper and Xprotect

Gatekeeper and the quarantine system try to prevent unsigned or "bad" programs and files from running and opening.

Xprotect prevents the execution of known bad files and outdated plugin versions, but does nothing to cleanup or stop existing malware.

Both offer trivial protection against common risks and are fine at default settings.



and also be aware of


You can generate passwords with gpg, openssl or just get creative with /dev/urandom output.

openssl rand -base64 30
gpg --gen-random -a 0 30
dd if=/dev/urandom bs=1 count=30 2>/dev/null | base64

You can also generate passwords from Keychain Access password assistant, or a command line equivalent like

Keychains are encrypted with a PBKDF2 derived key and are a pretty safe place to store credentials. See

Alternatively, you can manage an encrypted passwords file yourself with gpg (shameless plug for my script).


OS X remembers access points it has connected to. Like all wireless devices, your Mac will broadcast all of these access point names it remembers (e.g. So-and-so's Router) each time it looks for a network (e.g. wake from sleep).

This is a privacy risk, so I recommend removing networks from the list in System Preferences when they're no longer needed.

Physical access

Keep your Mac physically secure at all times. Don't leave it unattended in hotels and such.

For example, a skilled attacker with unsupervised physical access to your computer can infect the boot ROM to install a keylogger and steal your password - see

System monitoring

Here are some ways to check up on your system.


OS X has a powerful OpenBSM auditing capability. You can use it to log all process executions and network connections, for example.

Use praudit -l /dev/auditpipe to tail audit logs.

See the manual pages for audit, praudit, audit_control and other files in /etc/security

More on this later ...


Use iosnoop and execsnoop to monitor I/O and process execution.

More on this later ...


Here's a few examples of networking monitoring commands

lsof -ni -P
netstat -atln

You can also use Wireshark from the command line.

Monitor DNS queries and replies

tshark -Y "dns.flags.response == 1" -Tfields \
  -e frame.time_delta \
  -e \
  -e dns.a \

Monitor HTTP requests and responses

tshark -Y "http.request or http.response" -Tfields \
  -e ip.dst \
  -e http.request.full_uri \
  -e http.request.method \
  -e http.response.code \
  -e http.response.phrase \

Monitor x509 certificates on the wire

tshark -Y "ssl.handshake.certificate" -Tfields \
  -e ip.src \
  -e x509sat.uTF8String \
  -e x509sat.printableString \
  -e x509sat.universalString \
  -e x509sat.IA5String \
  -e x509sat.teletexString \
  -Eseparator=/s -Equote=d


If you want to play music or watch videos, use VLC media player which is free and open source.

If you want to torrent, use Transmission which is free and open source.

Watch the system log with Console or the syslog -w command.

Enable tty_tickets in the sudoers file.

Hash your known ssh hosts. To ssh_config, add

Host *
  HashKnownHosts yes

Set your screen to lock as soon as the screensaver starts

defaults write askForPassword -int 1
defaults write askForPasswordDelay -int 0

Expose hidden files and Library folder in Finder

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles -bool true
chflags nohidden ~/Library

Don't default to saving documents to iCloud

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSDocumentSaveNewDocumentsToCloud -bool false

Did you know Apple has not shipped a computer with TPM since 2006?

Additional resources

Apple's security-announce mailing list

OS X Yosemite Core Technologies Overview White Paper

Reversing Engineering Mac OS X blog

Reverse Engineering Resources

Patrick Wardle's Objective-See blog

Managing Macs at Google Scale (LISA '13)

OS X Hardening: Securing a Large Global Mac Fleet (LISA '13)

Yelp's forensic evidence collection & analysis toolkit for OS X

DoD Security Technical Implementation Guides for Mac OS

The EFI boot process

Userland Persistence on Mac OS X

Developing Mac OSX kernel rootkits

IOKit kernel code execution exploit

Hidden backdoor API to root privileges in Apple OS X

Santa: A binary whitelisting/blacklisting system for Mac OS X

IPv6 Hardening Guide for OS X