One of the main reasons many of us turned to Apple’s machines and its OS X operating system is the belief that the company’s software is more secure than Windows, its biggest rival. However, Eugene Kaspersky, CEO and co-founder of Kaspersky, one of the industry’s leading security specialists, believes that Apple is “10 years behind Microsoft in terms of security,” and that Apple need to invest more into security audits for its software.
Apple uses digital certificates and code signing in various ways to help keep Macs secure. One common example is that apps sold through the Mac App Store are digitally signed, which allows an individual Mac to know that it’s getting the genuine article when a user launches the App Store app. It also allows a Mac to ensure that an application hasn’t been tampered with by a malicious user or a piece of malware each time that app is launched (Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper feature will be based on the same technology).
The same process is used with Apple’s Software Update servers. Each update from Apple is digitally signed using a certificate that let’s each Mac know that they’re getting genuine updates from Apple.
Digital certificates are designed to expire periodically and tomorrow, March 23, 2012, the certificate associated with Apple’s Software Update functionality will be expiring. Apple already has a new certificate ready that won’t expire for seven more years (2019). The transition to the certificate will be transparent for almost all Mac users, but it may create problems with some OS X Server installations.
One of the new features of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion has been the addition of Gatekeeper. By only allowing apps to be installed from the Mac App Store, Mountain Lion’s Gatekeeper feature gives users a new level of security from malicious software.
Some users feel Gatekeeper is a sign that Apple is moving toward a completely closed desktop operating system that will only allow apps from the Mac App Store to be installed. Easing concerns of this draconian controversy, this afternoon Apple announced the Developer ID program that will help third-party developers distribute their apps safely outside of the Mac App Store.
Although Apple just announced OS X Mountain Lion last Thursday, Mac apps are already getting updated for compatibility with the next-gen OS. Mountain Lion is only available as a developer preview, but that hasn’t kept Smile from updating its popular PDF editor for the Mac, PDFpen, with Gatekeeper compatibility.
Smile makes great productivity apps for the Mac, like TextExpander. With this latest update to PDFpen, a Gatekeeper-friendly Developer ID has been added to help future Mountain Lion users install the app in a secure environment.
Apple hasn’t made the Mac App Store the only source for Mac software, but the company is nudging both developers and users in the store’s direction. That’s fine for consumers, but it may create problems for businesses that need to buy software in bulk and distribute it to a large number of Macs.