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Firewall Setup Guide for Mac OS X

written by: Steve Mallard•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 5/6/2010

Have a Mac and think you are safe? No computer is safe from malicious activities on the internet. While Mac and Windows users debate the safety of each operating system, Mac users should be aware that growing popularity has made Mac a target.

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    Firewalls play a critical role in protecting the assets on any computer. Users often don't know that there are over 65,000 ports on the back of a computer. These ports are networking ports that allow certain applications access across a network or out to the internet. Firewalls monitor inbound traffic (things coming into your computer such as websites, downloads or email) and outbound traffic (applications accessing the web such as a browser or email).

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    The Mac OS X Firewall

    The Mac OS X has the ability to enable a software firewall included with the operating system. This firewall like all firewalls analyzes network traffic that is incoming and outgoing. Again, firewalls help to protect your data and limits network traffic to your computer. Like all other firewalls, the user has to configure ports to be open when the operating system is on a network.

    Common port numbers that may have to be opened include the internet on port 80, pop3 (incoming email) 110, smtp (outgoing email), FTP (Transferring files to or from) port 21 and other ports that may be required by other applications. If you decide to share files on your Mac, you will have to open ports 427 and 548 whereas Microsoft Windows uses port 445 for File and Print Sharing. Many of these port numbers are designed into the Mac OS and these cannot be deleted.

    Turning on the Mac Firewall

    Go to the Sharing control panel of System Preferences

    Under the Sharing control panel, you will see the Firewall tab in the center at the top of the window

    After clicking on the Firewall tab, you will have to click the Start button (the firewall is OFF by default) Once you click start, you will see the button turn to Stop. If you enable the firewall, you will limit connectivity to the Mac.

    To the right of this Start/Stop button you will see services that are preconfigured. You can check these services to enable access to them or you can click on New and add a port or service to open.

    By enabling port filtering, you are limiting access to and from the computer.

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    The Mac Firewall

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    Conclusion

    Computers and devices that have network and internet connections are vulnerable to being hacked or broken into by other employees. Being complacent or feeling that you are 'hack-proof' is a bad way to look at network security. Mac users are going to be targeted more and more as their operating system becomes more popular. Enabling a firewall on your Mac is just the first step in defending your files. Users should create complex passwords, get updates as necessary and protect their electronic assets.