OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

GateKeeper

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

GateKeeper at work keeping out Trojans.

Over the last year, the pervasive belief that Macs are invulnerable to malware hasn’t just been tested… it’s been completely shattered.

In April of this year, Russian antivirus vendor Dr. Web published evidence that over 500,000 Macs were infected by a variant of the Flashback trojan that installed itself using a Javascript vulnerability. According to some estimates, that may mean that Flashback, at the height of the epidemic, was installed on as many as 1% of all Macs out there.

Previously, most Mac users believed either that they were invulnerable to malware, or that malware developers wouldn’t target the Mac platform because it was obscure compared to Windows. Flashback changed all that, and Apple has consequently started taking security a lot more seriously, both publicly and privately.

GateKeeper is Apple’s biggest new security feature in Mountain Lion. It’s probably not going to make Macs any more invulnerable to malware, but GateKeeper is still certainly a step in the right direction in regards to keeping Mac users more aware of the origins of the software they are installing.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

OS X has long blocked known malware, but GateKeeper takes this layer of security to the next level.

Ever since OS X Tiger, the Mac has had a feature called File Quarantine, which was essentially a download validation system: if you downloaded a potentially unsafe file or app, the system would warn you before you opened it. Starting in OS X 10.6, File Quarantine would compare the files you downloaded against a known list of malware, and warn you to trash the file if it turned up as a match with Apple’s own system.

GateKeeper is essentially File Quarantine taken to the next level. Instead of just warning you when an app has been downloaded from the internet or warning you if it’s known malware, GateKeeper will prevent you opening any app that comes from an untrusted source.

What is an untrusted source? That’s up to you. By default, GateKeeper only allows you to open apps that are downloaded from the Mac App Store and other identified developers who have registered with Apple and received a personalized digital certificate. If you feel like this is overkill, you can tell GateKeeper to allow any app that hasn’t been registered as malware, which essentially makes GateKeeper work exactly like File Quarantine; likewise, if you want to make absolutely sure your apps aren’t trojans, you can tell GateKeeper to only allow Mac App Store apps, which have all been individually vetted by Apple.

OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion [Review]

GateKeeper’s designed to keep these out of your Mac.

The big question about GateKeeper that many users have, though, has little to do with security, and everything to do with whether or not it’s a sign of things to come. In iOS, Apple has made a considerable amount of money — thirty cents off every dollar — thanks to the fact that iOS is a completely locked down operating system that simply can’t run apps that Apple hasn’t signed and approved. Since the launch of the Mac App Store in OS X 10.6.8, Apple has seemed interested in generating the same revenue source on the Mac, but have been hampered by the Mac’s more open architecture. It would be ironic if GateKeeper was Apple’s own Trojan Horse, designed to get Mac users used to running on locked-down systems.

We think this perspective is a little bit paranoid. In practice, we found that about 90% of the apps we downloaded with the default GateKeeper setting kept on installed without a problem, even if they didn’t come from the Mac App Store. The 10% of apps that didn’t install under GateKeeper’s default settings were obscure apps by small, sometimes one-man teams.

It would be ironic if GateKeeper was Apple’s own Trojan Horse, designed to get Mac users used to running on locked-down systems.

For most users, the default GateKeeper setting is probably going to be fine even when Mountain Lion launches, and we hope that this will inspire even smaller teams to register with Apple as trusted developers.

The bottom line is that GateKeeper isn’t encouraging developers to exclusively release their software through the Mac App Store — it’s encouraging them to register with Apple and basically promise not to release malware on the Mac. If you make that promise, Apple gives you a GateKeeper certificate; if you don’t, Apple’s going to require that users make an explicit choice to install your app; if you break that promise, Apple will revoke your certificate, classify you as malware, and ban you from all Macs. GateKeeper isn’t the sound of a boot stomping on a human face forever… it’s the sound of sensible, lenient security that aims more for awareness than lockdowns.

No need to be paranoid, GateKeeper is sensible, lenient security that aims to make users more aware, not lock down your Mac.

Next Page: Power Nap

Related
  • Clem_E

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

  • brownlee

    We can’t read it later!!!!! :p
    Any link for the full article in one page?

    We have this functionality, but it isn’t working for some reason. We’ve got our tech team coming. Soon!

  • FatSquirrel

    None of the pages seem to be working at all.

  • joewaylo

    I can see GateKeeper being the most annoying feature introduced to Mountain Lion. This reminds me of Windows Vista. “Permission to run blahblahblah” of a third party program. Vista kept freezing my computer every time I ran a non-microsoft product.

  • Kalvin Chan Loc

    Multiple monitor support still sucks. Fullscreen mode support wasn’t what I expected, as the other monitor still turns into a useless grey screen when going into fullscreen mode on the other.

  • John Owen

    WHY would Apple take our RSS reader support our of Safari????? I try to load the Cult of Mac feed and it takes me to Mail…I HATE that!!!!!

  • Edwin Torres

    Glad to see that the dictionary has been updated… :)

  • Edwin Torres

    Since safari got an update, has the lag that has been reported for the retina MBP while scrolling been fixed?

  • ddevito

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

  • MC Pearl

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

  • RadTech5000

    I can’t wait to upgrade my new Retina MacBook Pro tonight, super excited! :)

  • extra_medium

    I’d much rather be able to use my TV as a wireless second display than to duplicate my desktop. Using two of my screens to show the same thing simultaneously seems like a waste of a screen to me. It would be nice to be able to get some work done (play games) on the thunderbolt display while content streams on the TV, unrelated to what I’m doing.

    Also, if all it does is mirror your desktop why does the article mention that it only works for “certain types of streaming” content. What doesn’t work? What does work?

  • trexuphigh

    As a customer I love it. As a support tech, I’m scared. This was the easiest OS upgrades I’ve ever done. I started the download, went for coffee, after coffee started the installer, went out, returned in the evening, logged in. Done. Wow. The USB installer is much easier to make than a Windows PE environment, works better, and his more feature rich. So far so good. One disappointment is waiting for facebook integration, why wait for iOS6? Oh Apple, you so eccentric.

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    It’s a great feature until it is though :)

  • Ed_Kel

    Good thing I’m sticking with Lion for a while. waiting until all the short-term bugs are fixed with 10.8.1

    Could you elaborate on the “bugs” you’re waiting to be cleaned up? This is the smoothest upgrade I’ve ever done on my Mac – Period. I would highly suggest upgrading; it’s everything that Lion wasn’t…

  • Ed_Kel

    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

  • Greg

    Good stuff John, it must have taken a while to put this article together. Thanks!

  • Tallest_Skil

    Gatekeeper is DRM under the guise of an antivirus. It will soon be impossible to release an App without it being Apple signed. Mark my words.

    Consider them completely ignored.

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    On the contrary, I own an iMac running Lion (although Lion was a waste of money, Snow leopard was my all time desktop OS fav).

  • ddevito
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    Fuck off and die you stupid fat asshole troll.

    I own more Apple products than you.

  • johnboyhanna

    Why is it a 3rd party app like Air Parrot can get Airplay to work on pre 2011 Macs but Apple won’t? One feature I was really looking forward to with this OS

  • johnboyhanna

    Also really missing the battery time option on the top bar, only % is an option to toggle on and off, not as useful as time, hope this gets fixed in an update.

  • Tallest_Skil

    I own more Apple products than you.

    So zero, then.

  • Ossiann

    Safari in iOS 6 doesn’t have a unified location field! You got that wrong.

  • site7000

    “Unfortunately, once you save a document to the iCloud, there’s no easy way to browse through your files outside of the app you saved it in, nor is there an easy way to, say, drag documents you’d like to keep synced into the iCloud from your desktop into a Dropbox or iDisk-style “syncing” folder.”

    This is bizarre. Isn’t the goal of a user interface design to make content more easily accessible and applications invisible? I don’t get this.

  • Alfred2612

    From the article: “AirPlay Mirroring will help Macs to make an even bigger dent in business environments than they currently have: instead of an expensive projector, all a board meeting needs is a TV, a Mac and a $99 box.”

    Cool feature, but I’ve been doing this for years giving presentations in boardrooms. All I need is a VGA/HDMI out cable and a TV with a VGA/HDMI in socket (which is most TVs nowadays). No $99 box needed. Done it many many times. :)

    And OSX looks GORGEOUS on a big screen TV!

  • Soundcloud Forwardslash GenthenaZero
    *yawn*

    Let the countdown begin to when iOS swallows Os X completely.

    *yawn*

    Quit looking like an idiot and get back to your Chromebook.

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    Furthermore, I’m irritated by Apple’s decision to start rolling out OS upgrades yearly. If the cheangelog is going to look like this then they are really just charging you more for the same amount of changes but in smaller chunks. I like it when I’m excited by new OSX releases, but I feel like one every year is going to make the change log much less exciting.

    If I hadn’t worked so hard to get Lion working on my iMac right now, I might update…. but I did, and I can’t afford to have Airport, Safe Mode and Finder crashing problems again… I’d probably rip my hair out.

  • Stoffe_C

    Another nice Airplay feature incase youve missed it (should work on every mac model).
    If you press the “alt” key and leftklick the volume control icon you can choose to output the sound to Airplay enabled devices. No need for airfoil anymore :)

  • Tallest_Skil

    Quit trolling and realise he’s right. Everything introduced to OS X in the last two instalments was stolen from existing tech on iOS. Its downright lazy.

    And you’re downright stupid. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • RadTech5000

    I’ve had a chance to play around with Mountain Lion for about a week now on my new Retina MacBook Pro and find I’m loving it! Power Nap is awesome and I feel so sorry for those of you who don’t have it. I use Messages a lot and I find the new Notifications to be a very nice as well. I think many of the small things they added of fixed really make you fell like this is a very polished OS and I couldn’t be happier. Way to go Apple you should be very proud. =)

  • coolman1081

    No mention of Game Center?

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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