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Top Five Security Tools for Mac OS X

There are plenty of cool tools and options for securing the MacBook Pro

2:20 PM -- After waiting for nearly a month, my new Apple MacBook Pro arrived on Wednesday to replace my aging Apple PowerBook G4. My PowerBook served me well, but I can’t say I was sad to toss it aside as I went through the Applications folder on the PowerBook, noting all the things I'd need to install.

If you’ve not spent time with Mac OS X, you may not realize the abundance of security-related software available for it. Some are native applications built specifically for Mac OS X, while others originate from Unix-based (*nix) OSes like Linux and FreeBSD, which usually just require that they be compiled from source code (an easy task with some of the tools I mention below).

Here is my Top Five list of security tools for Mac OS X:

  1. FileVault: It's a built-in feature that provides AES-128 encryption for all the contents in your home directory. Along the same lines, Apple includes Secure Virtual Memory, which encrypts the swap space -- preventing recovery of sensitive information written to swap. While these are more features than applications, they are not enabled by default, and must be configured in the Security pane in System Preferences.

  2. KisMAC and iStumbler: If you do any wardriving, war walking (like Tim enjoys doing around the White House), or surveying wireless networks, these tools will come in handy. They have advanced features like GPS support for mapping, cracking wireless encryption, and detection of wireless networks that are not broadcasting their SSIDs.

  3. VPN client: Most companies have a VPN of some sort that requires a software client or configuration of the OSes' built-in VPN support. I personally use both the Cisco VPN Client and IPSecuritas. Mac OS X supports L2TP over IPSec and PPTP out of the box. IPSecuritas is an IPSec client that supports all the advanced options I needed to get connectivity to my Zyxel firewall at home.

  4. MacPorts: While MacPorts isn’t security-specific, it enables you to install lots of security-related open-source software like nmap and wireshark. It does require, though, that you have the Apple Xcode Tools and X11 installed to compile and use XWindows applications.

  5. VMware Fusion: I use VMware Server on a daily basis to test new security tools and analyze malware. While I could have used Parallels, which currently has a few more features than Fusion, I decided to stick with VMware because of backwards compatibility with virtual machines I've already pre-built for testing.

There are many other tools that deserve mentioning (like the built-in firewall ipfw and WaterRoof for configuring ipfw), but the five above are the top of my list for daily use.

If I missed one of your favorites, please tell me about it via the "Discuss" link below. It might just be something I’ve not heard of yet, and it could come in handy.

— John H. Sawyer is a security geek on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. He enjoys taking long war walks on the beach and riding pwnies. When he's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading

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