In this article I want to cover the topic of security while traveling.

How to improve the security of your MacBook and your data in case of an emergency.

If you often work from different locations or need to sign into public networks, you will not get around ignoring this topic entirely.

Due to an unpleasant event where the laptop from my sister got stolen, the security topic didn’t give me any peace of mind.

Windows users are usually more aware of the topic, but most of Mac users have no clue and also don’t want to bother at all.

Why do you need to care?

Unlike Windows, Apple is based on a UNIX system, which in general offers greater security and his harder to exploit.

With Apple, you need to worry less about spyware, malware, viruses or hacks.

However, this doesn’t mean you are 100% safe.

Its a common misunderstanding that Apple computers are totally immune.

The reason why Windows computers are perceived as more vulnerable, is partly because of the greater marketshare.

If you have to think from a criminals perspective, which system would you rather attack? The one with more than 80% marketshare and is easier to crack, or the one with 12% marketshare?

Yet, with increasing popularity comes greater vulnerability.

But it is not only virtual attacks that you should worry about. If your computer gets stolen and your laptop is not well protected, thiefs could get access to your sensible data easily.

For that reason I want to share some ideas how you can secure your macbook while traveling and working remotely.

Basic Settings

Before diving into the tools, lets start with some basic actions you can take today. You can find most of the following settings in the category “Security & Privacy ” in the Settings-Panel.

You can access most security settings in the "Security & Privacy" Panel in the settings

1. Enable the Apple Firewall

Cost: Free – built in

Similar to Windows, MacOS comes with a built-in firewall which is disabled by default. The firewall monitors incoming connections which is fine in most cases because all software that is installed by Apple is scanned before.

For many people this is totally fine, but if you travel around and use a lot of public networks, it is recommended to enable the firewall and increase the Level of security. You can enable the firewall in the Security & Privacy Panel in the settings.

As with all security settings, you need to unlock by entering your password in order to make changes.
Enable stealth mode to prevent your Mac from responding to probing requests that can be used to reveal your existence. What it means is your computer will be largely invisible on public networks, such as shared Wi-Fi in a cafe.
Enable this setting and your MacBook will logout from your account entirely.

2. Encrypt your hard disk with Filevault

Cost: Free – Built in

Similar to the firewall, Filevault is by default deactivated. Firevault is the onboard encryption for your hard disk. If your MacBook gets stolen, it becomes much harder for criminals to get access to your data. If you enable this for the first time, it will take a while to encrypt the entire hard disk, depending on how much data you have. However, the process runs smoothly in the background and you can still use your mac as usual. The only thing you need to keep in mind is, that the encryption doesn’t work while running on battery. You will find FileVault in the same settings category as your firewall:

The encryption process runs in the background and takes while. You can still continue to work.

3. Enable Find your mac

Cost: Free – built in

Alright, for the worse case scenario that your Mac is stolen, the “Find your mac” feature is the last way to track the location of your device. This requires that you enabled the feature in the iCloud settings and the location services are on.

Enable "Find my Mac" in the iCloud settings.

4. Use a strong password

This should be a no brainer. If you secure your MacBook with “12345” for the login, you shouldn’t be too surprised if thiefs access your data easily. Here are the basics that every good password should have:

  1. A minimum 12 characters or more
  2. A mix of capital letters, numbers, punctuation
  3. No names, places or words that everyone can look up in a dictionary

Always try to mix things up. Using very personal phrases, slang or memories can also be a great way to create an easy to remember and secure password.

5. Enable “Require password after x min”

One last action you can perform to improve local security is to enable “Require password after x min.”. Every time your screen turns off you will need to enter your password to access your desktop. This will prevent strangers from using your laptop while you’re away (you shouldn’t be leaving your MacBook alone for a long time anyway).

This setting will force you to enter your password after the screen turns off after a specific amount of time.

Must Have 3rd party tools

The following are tools that I use myself to monitor my MacBook and keep it safe while traveling.

1. Dashlane – Password Manager

Cost: Free & 40$/year

Every day new digital tools and services are introduced that promise to make our daily lives easier. However, each new tool or service often requires the creation of a new account, which consequently creates another complexity and one more thing we need to remember. Many of us tend to use the same password over and over again and one doesn’t need to be a genius to realize that this is quite a big security issue. A password manager can make your life much easier by auto generating passwords and auto filling sign in forms. You never have to remember and type in passwords again. I personal use Dashlane because it is for free and most importantly, trusted by millions of other users.


2. Little Snitch – Monitor Your Internet Connection

Cost: 45€

Little snitch basically works as your secondary firewall. It’s a small helpful tool that runs in the top bar and monitors your internet connection on incoming and outgoing connections. With that you going make sure that only trustworthy programs are allowed to connect with the outside world. Little Snitch is basically a firewall but works on the application level and not on a system level. For that reason it should be rather seen as an additional protection layer to your system firewall. The OSX firewall comes first in the filter chain and Little Snitch rules are applied after.


3. Private Internet Access – A VPN Service

Cost: 39$ / year

Every time you go online your computer is registered with an IP address. This IP address can be used to track back your location and basically everything you do online. A VPN service helps you to increase privacy by covering your initial IP address with another. How it basically works is that your computer connects to a server somewhere in the world that assigns a new IP address. If someone tries to track you back, he will see the location of the server, but not your real one. Your real IP address is encrypted and it becomes harder to follow your traces.

4. iStat Menus – Monitor Processes

Cost: ~22$

Not necessarily a security tool, but rather an allrounder that helps you to keep an eye on processes and spot bottlenecks. I’ve been using iStat Menus for a couple of years now and cannot imagine living without it. Where it comes in super handy is when your computer runs hot or your internet speed is low. IStat menus shows you exactly what processes in the background occupies bandwidth or processing power.


Summing up

With the methods and tools mentioned above, you already increased the security a lot compared to the average user.

However, it is just impossible to be 100% safe or anonymous all the time and you should always act with a common sense as well:

  1. If you work from a coffee shop, don’t leave your stuff on the table when going to the toilet
  2. Don’t disable the auto lock
  3. Have multiple backups for sensible data
  4. Use cloud backups whenever possible
  5. Keep your fancy technology under the radar when traveling in dodgy areas

I would be happy to hear your thoughts on it and how you secure your devices while roaming the world.
And if you have further recommendations and other tools, feel free to share in the comments below.