Little Snitch keeps an eye on your Mac's Internet connections

After last week’s column on Apple’s built-in firewall, Frank Lowney asked the following question in the column’s comments section:

Although, we’re focused on incoming connections here, shouldn’t we also be concerned about outgoing connections as well? This seems especially important where there are data caps or outrageously expensive cellular data plans being used.

We need a comprehensive and coordinated gate keeping strategy for all connections.

Frank raises an interesting and important point. While Apple’s Application Level Firewall is great at putting on a good defense, monitoring your outbound traffic can be enlightening and possibly even a little disturbing. It can clue you in to which of your running applications are accessing and sending data to the Internet when you might not be expecting it to and it can help you to see if unexpected applications are sending data out when you don’t want them to.

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Fire up your Mac's firewall

A few weeks back, after the Working Mac column about scanning your Mac for viruses I received an email message from Yolanda:

Hope you can help your readers with something that I haven’t found. I’ve just purchased my first Mac after being on Windows for about 15 years, so I’m looking around for reputable recommendations of free and good anti-virus/firewall programs.

The article Yolanda linked to recommended ClamXav for scanning your Mac for viruses, but Yolanda was correct, there was no mention made of firewall applications.

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Spam filtering on the cheap for your domain's email

A little over a year ago I was faced with a spam filtering problem, but it’s not what you might expect.

I had been using the paid Postini service for filtering spam sent through my domain, when Google acquired Postini and, once acquired, killed it off and forced users to transition to their Google Apps platform. I found the Google Apps interface to be clunky and, worse, my users found it difficult to use. In addition, I had no interest in sending all the mail for my private domain through Google’s servers. Suddenly the bang I was getting for my Postini buck had lost its pop, so I went looking for an another solution.

There are plenty of apps you can install on your Mac to filter spam, but, as is the case with virus scanning on PCs, most desktop software solutions are playing a game of catchup that requires training time and constant updates, which is why I was looking for a web-based solution.

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Checking your Mac for viruses -- wait, what?

As we talked about in last week’s Working Mac, you may have been led to believe that you don’t have to worry about computer viruses on your Mac. And, to some extent, there’s truth to that. While your Mac can definitely be infected with malware, Apple’s built-in malware detection and file quarantine capabilities are meant to make it less likely that you’ll download and run malicious software.

Apple introduced malware detection to the Mac OS with Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6). This system consists of the quarantine of any app downloaded from the Internet, the use of Code Signing certificates to verify that an app is coming from a legit source, and regular security updates that include databases of known malware targeting the Mac OS.

Because of this system, called File Quarantine and occasionally referred to as XProtect:

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Save your bandwidth by using a caching server

Small office, large office, home office, school, home user... unless you're in IT it's unlikely you've given much thought to setting up Apple's Server app. In fact, maybe even if you're in IT you haven't given it much thought because, well, why? You're already running Windows servers, right?

With the proliferation of Mac and iOS devices in every corner of your home and office, you may have no idea just how much of your Internet bandwidth is being used to download content from Apple's servers. A caching server can help you make sure all your devices are up to date while leaving your Internet bandwidth almost untouched.

According to Apple, Apple's Caching service, which is a part of Apple's $20 Server app:

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