You never know what’s going on inside your computer. Sometimes, an application’s trying to get out, phone home, ‘snitch’ on you. Do you know which ones?
Mac OS X is relatively secure, though outsiders are always trying to find ways to break in.
Amazingly, even on Mac OS X, many of today’s major applications are trying to break OUT of your Mac; they “phone home” to link up with the publisher via your Internet connection.
Most of the time, you won’t even know that the application has connected to the publisher’s web site; perhaps sending important information—information you want to keep private. Applications “snitch” on you more than you know.
No more, thanks to a nifty little Mac application called Little Snitch.
One day I was working on a report on my laptop. Across the room I could see the wireless router and all sorts of activity (little green lights made blink blink). Normally, that wouldn’t bother me except I was NOT browsing at the time and my email application (Apple’s Mail) wasn’t even open. What was going on?
Who was using my Internet connection? It wasn’t me (at least, that’s what I thought at the time). Was it a neighbor connecting to my Airport link? Nope. I had password security in place to prevent that.
What was using the Airport Internet connection? Was it incoming out outgoing.
It turns out that it was, sorry to say, me. Except I wasn’t doing anything at the time. An application on my Mac was trying to get out. Actually, ‘trying’ is the wrong word. Succeeding.
With some investigation I found out that about half a dozen applications that I use regularly were “phone home” applications; from time to time they’d start an executable (curl or something else that resides quietly in Mac’s unix underpinnings), connect to the Internet and send/receive information.
Yikes. I didn’t authorize that, for sure.
A little digging around in OS X’s Activities Monitor pointed out a number of little applications in use; and some that could be identified by name.
A little more digging around at VersionTracker and I found a neat application that “snitches” on the applications that phone home. Little Snitch.
Little Snitch comes from Objective Development. It acts like a firewall. In reverse.
A firewall locks down most ports which let others communicate with your Mac and let’s your Mac communication with the rest of the world. Some ports have to be open or you’d never be able to browse or get email or upload files or connect to remote printer.
But a firewall usually prevents others from getting INTO your Mac from the outside. Little Snitch prevents applications already on your Mac from getting out, connecting to sites elsewhere.
Many Mac applications connect through your internet connection to a host server and exchange information. Little Snitch installs as a System Preference pane. It stops almost all outgoing traffic by default; allowing browsing, email, and a couple of other ‘acceptable’ connections. Then, when an application on your Mac tries to ‘phone home,’ Little Snitch tells you with a pop up box.
Then you can allow the connection once, forever, or set other parameters. That’s nifty. You can also build in rules for various applications, too.
Is this a worthy addition to your Mac? Yep. Plus, you can try it first. You’ll be surprised at how many Mac applications love to connect to host servers elsewhere and send your information.
Remember, your Mac’s firewall is tough and tight and prevents others from getting into your Mac. It doesn’t stop applications on your Mac from getting out. Little Snitch does. Click Here for a closer look.
Worried about applications that ‘phone home?’ Me, too. I have a list of applications that are naugthy, not nice. There’s more on Page 2.
Continued from Page 1…
You’re surprised, right? You thought your Mac was ultra secure? No worms. No viruses. No pop-up ads. No trojan horses. No worries. Except for all those applications on your Mac that are going right through your firewall and connecting in the other direction.
Let me do this again.
What Little Snitch does is, well, uh, it’s a snitch for applications that use the Internet to send or receive information without you knowing about it.
You thought the Mac’s firewall woiuld protect you against such dastardly deeds? Yes and no. Yes, it protects quite well against “incoming” attempts to connect to your Mac.
No, there’s no protection whatsoever against “outgoing” attempts to connect your Mac to the Internet or another computer.
Little Snitch changes that.
Objective Development’s web site explains that Little Snitch is an “application supervisor”:
“You start an application that tells you that a new version is available. You suddenly realize that with every start this application connects to the developer’s server. Even statistics information about your computer may be sent this way. Little Snitch helps you avoid this situation.
Trojan horses – i.e. programs transmitting unconsciously data stored on your computer – can be detected by Little Snitch and prevented on the transmission of data.
On a more general basis, network connections to certain servers can be denied.”
Yes, or much more depending on what applications are on your Mac and what they’re doing. I found a dozen apps that phone home; some were simple checks to see if there’s an update to the application. Other attempts were to a central server to let someone (publisher? developer?) know that I’m using their application.
I paid for it. I use it. I do NOT want anyone to know. Little Snitch prevents that.
I like Little Snitch. Click Here to see why.