For the most part, especially when compared to Windows versions going back to XP and beyond, OS X for Mac has a good security record. Despite more Mac users now that ever, despite the Mac holding its own as PC sales drop in the post-PC era, and despite growing sophistication of malware, Mac users have far less security issue to worry about that Windows PC users.
After all, Apple ships each Mac with OS X’s firewall turned off. OS X is based on various flavors and components of Unix whose permissions structure makes the Mac difficult to hack and difficult to do much damage should it be hacked. As most tech support people will tell you, ‘the biggest problem in security in the person using the keyboard.’
Alright, so why should a Mac user install Little Snitch? It’s not a malware detector. Instead, Little Snitch works more like a reverse firewall, which, instead of stopping those on outside networks from connecting to the Mac, prevents the Mac from connecting to outside networks. And that’s where it gets interesting. Why? Dozens of Mac apps ‘phone home’ so to speak, making outbound network connections that Mac users never know about. Little Snitch stops, tracks, and controls those connections.
Every attempt that a Mac app, utility, or even OS X tools make to connect to the network is met with this:
Most connections your Mac makes to the network are for good reason; Safari, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, iCloud sync, and many others are legitimate reasons to connect from the Mac. As much as anything, though, Little Snitch is an extra layer of security which prevents outbound connections, and gives you a little education on the many and varied apps, utilities, and tools which, indeed, try to ‘phone home.’
One of my favorite Little Snitch eye candy functions is the Network Monitor which can float over the Mac’s screen and tell you what’s going on with the outbound network connection.
Not only will you be able to view network traffic history for each process, port, protocol and server, but they can be filtered, and display total traffic amounts over time.
Little Snitch recognizes that not all networks are created equal, so you can setup a profile for your home, your office, or for while you’re traveling and need to connect to unknown Wi-Fi networks.
The network connection alerts that pop up give you quick options to allow the connection forever, until the connection or app quits, and even to specific domains and ports. So you won’t be deluged with such requests upon installation, Little Snitch has default settings for most frequently used apps from your Mac (Mail, Safari, etc.).
While Little Snitch is drop dead easy to setup initially, it’s also a geek’s delight with plenty of additional options to thwart unnecessary or unwanted outbound network connections. But not only outbound, Little Snitch can act as an incoming firewall, too. The same detailed protection goes both ways.
In short, this is the Mac app to have if you’re concerned about inbound and outbound security, and want an extra layer to close off connections to and from your Mac. Remember, ‘only the paranoid survive.’