Apple has been forced to clarify how its Gatekeeper anti-malware platform works after security researchers suggested the system was violating privacy. The company, as spotted by 9to5Mac, has updated its support documentation to explain that the system does not track what its users are doing. At the same time, Apple has said that it will change how Gatekeeper functions in future to further minimize future risks.
This story begins back on November 12th, when a large number of Mac users reported failures opening third-party apps. The issue also spread to Apple’s own platforms, like iMessage and Apple Pay, which started to behave erratically for a short period of time. It was caused by Gatekeeper, a security system Apple introduced back in Mountain Lion to check if it should run a piece of software.
Essentially, if your Mac is connected to the internet, Gatekeeper will check to see if it’s safe to run a piece of software. Say, you click launch on Photoshop, your computer will ping an Apple server to ensure that Adobe still has a valid developer certificate. This process ordinarily is quick and invisible to users, except the volume of people upgrading to MacOS Big Sur overwhelmed the system and slowed it to a crawl.
Researchers, curious as to the cause of the slowdown, began analyzing the data their computers were sending to Apple’s servers. They claimed that the OS was sending details about what you were using in plain text to Apple HQ, which naturally caused plenty of consternation. Such claims were debunked by researcher Jacopo Jannone, who explained that OCSP, or Online Certificate Status Protocol, doesn’t work like that.
Apple has, however, said that it will look to ensure that Gatekeeper will, in future, further encrypt its transmission data and allow users to opt-out of the system. Although that might not be wise since, after all, the point of the system is to prevent malware running on your computer. The company added that it is going to work to ensure that server overloads like the one that happened last week don’t happen again.