Little Snitch keeps Mac apps from going rogue


little snitch network map view
It sounds impossible, but Little Snitch 4 makes network security fun.
Photo: Objective Development

Little Snitch, from the maker of the sublime LaunchBar, just got updated with a new Silent Mode that makes the app about a million times better to use, especially the first time you install it. Little Snitch is a network monitor that tattles on every other bit of software on your Mac, telling you when an app connects to outside servers.

That’s pretty much its only function, but Little Snitch Version 4 packs a ton of neat touches that tell you everything about how your Mac is connecting to the outside world. I’ve been using it for the past week or so, and it makes keeping your Mac safe far less annoying.

The new Little Snitch Silent Mode

Little Snitch is designed to alert you when an app makes a connection. You can then decide whether to deny or allow that connection in the future. Thus, you build a set of rules about what’s allowed to connect to where, while also getting an alert every time something new happens — whether malware, or just a newly installed app.

The old alerts are still there, they just don't bother you until you switch them on.
The old alerts are still there. They just don’t bother you until you switch them on.
Photo: Objective Development

The trouble is that your Mac makes a lot of connections. Like, a lot. Previous versions of Little Snitch were almost unusable at the beginning, because every time your Mac checked for an email or synced your Photos library, an alert would pop up. Whenever you visited a page in Safari, an alert would pop up for every connection. A single web page could generate many alerts as it tried to connect to various servers to gather its content.

This led to the user frantically clicking alerts just to get on with their day. And, of course, many people would end up clicking “allow” without really checking the warning.

Little Snitch 4 launches into a new Silent Mode the first time you run it, and this fixes those first-run blues. Instead of overwhelming you with popups like a 1990s-era porn storm, Little Snitch now allows all connections, and adds them to a list in a tidy, beautifully-designed window. You can then review those connections at your leisure, allowing or disallowing them in bulk.

Maps and Research Assistant

There are lots of neat ways to help you work out what a process does — after all, for every connection with a simple name like Dropbox or iTunes, there’s a nsurlsessiond or an ocspd. Two of the handiest diagnostic tools are the Research Assistant, and the map. The Research Assistant lets you look up the selected connection with one click. It queries developer Objective Development Software’s online database and tells you what the connection is for, although not everything is covered.

Everything you need to know, almost literally.
Everything you need to know, almost literally.
Photo: Objective Development

Even cooler is the map view, which shows the connections from your computer to the rest of the world in real time, so you can keep track things visually. If your computer suddenly starts hooking up to locations across Russia, for example, then you know you might be in trouble. Unless you’re on a Whitehouse computer, in which case it’s business as usual.

For the paranoid, Little Snitch is as essential as it has always been. But now, with the 4.0 redesign, it is now a great tool for the curious, too. It’ll cost you €45 (around $51) for a new license (there’s a free trial available too), and if you previously used the app and gave up, Objective Development will give you a discount if you bought a license, charging just €25 (~ $29).


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