What Is GateKeeper and How Does It Defend My Mac?

If you've ever tried opening a macOS application downloaded outside of the App Store, you've run into Apple's Gatekeeper. The tough security tool acts as a bouncer for your Mac, warning you when software looks cluttered and denying access to apps that are likely to cause problems.

Gatekeeper is one of many macOS built-in features designed to protect you, your data, and your computer. Let's take a closer look at Apple's strict but fair virtual security guard.

How gatekeeper works

The first time you open an application, macOS determines whether or not Apple has verified the software. Of course, App Store apps always start without any problems, but Gatekeeper prevents all unknown apps from opening. Even applications from identified developers can generate alerts the first time they occur, depending on your security settings, and you may need to authorize their use.

The gatekeeper's behavior depends on several factors, including your settings, where an app comes from, and an app's review status. Apple uses an authentication process to mark software as safe and divides applications into three categories: App Store, Identified, and Unknown. Let's take a closer look at the three classifications.

Applications from the App Store

App Store apps are as secure as they can get. Fully verified and considered malware free, software downloaded directly from Apple always passes gatekeepers. If you are unsure about using the internet and don't want to make a mistake, the App Store is the best place to get safe apps.

Notarized applications from identified developers

If you need software that isn't available on the App Store, you'll have to look elsewhere. Downloading an application directly from the developer is common practice, and Apple offers software makers a way to keep macOS gatekeepers happy and not worrying users. Notarized software – even if it is obtained from outside the app store – offers a certain security guarantee and is generally fine.

Not verified applications

If the software hasn't gone through Apple's authentication process, the situation becomes uncertain. In these cases, Gatekeeper always issues a warning and tries to block applications from starting. However, you shouldn't automatically consider an app malicious that hasn't gone through Apple's verification process.

Related: Internet security features built into your Mac

Many developers fail to submit their software for certification, and many secure applications can annoy gatekeepers. Whenever you open unverified software, you should act to the best of your knowledge. If you know and trust the developer, you can bypass gatekeepers to bypass macOS security and allow an application to start. We'll discuss ways to bypass Gatekeeper shortly.

Gatekeeper authentication explained

Notarization is the key to a satisfied gatekeeper. Apple's rigorous verification process allows the company to securely distribute virus-free software on its app store and vouch for other third-party applications found elsewhere.

When a developer submits a notarization application, an automated process scans the submission for malware and checks for co-signing issues. When an app passes the test, Apple provides an authentication ticket that is attached to the software.

Related: Easy Ways to Infect Your Mac with Malware

Because gatekeeper warnings are daunting and can deter people from using legitimate applications, it pays off for many developers to complete the verification process. Disk images, installation packages, and other bundles can all go through the authentication process, which means that the verification program covers the most common software delivery methods.

Gatekeeper settings

You can access your gatekeeper settings in System settings > safety > Generally. From here you can Allow from downloaded apps two locations: Appstore or App Store and identified developers. To make changes you need to have the safety lock in the lower left corner.

In previous versions of macOS, you had the option to allow apps from Somewhere. These settings have effectively turned gatekeepers off and allow you to freely launch software regardless of where it came from. Apple removed these settings in later iterations of its operating system. However, you can restore the legacy entry using a Terminal command – which we do not recommend unless absolutely necessary.

Generally the App Store and identified developers Setting is ideal for most of us, but you can use the more restrictive setting Appstore Option if you want to further secure your Mac. Stricter security measures are useful when children or less tech-savvy people are using the Mac.

How to bypass the gatekeeper

Gatekeepers can be overprotective at times and get in the way of a good cause. You can download applications that you know are safe but that have not yet been notarized. In these cases, you will see a message like this when you try to start the app: Application cannot be opened because Apple cannot scan it for malware.

Fortunately, getting around security is easy when you know how. In newer versions of macOS, you have several options for bypassing gatekeepers.

Handle gatekeepers with the ctrl-click method

Perhaps the easiest way to bypass Apple's cumbersome gatekeeper is to launch software from the Ctrl-click Menu. To open an unverified application, do the following:

  1. Find the app or installer in finder.

  2. Ctrl-click the object.
  3. Choose Open minded of the Ctrl-click Menu.

  4. click Open minded when the warning dialog box appears.

Bypass gatekeeper via the system settings

Alternatively, you can allow apps to open the Gatekeeper in your. hinders safety Preferences. To allow a blocked application to start, do the following:

  1. Navigate to System settings > safety > Generally.

  2. For details on the blocked app, see Allow from downloaded apps.

  3. click Open anyway.

In most situations, you should use one of the two bypass methods described to get around gatekeepers. Disabling the security measure with a terminal command is also an option, but is rarely required. Gatekeeper is here to help and we should heed his warnings when appropriate.

Gatekeeper is your friend

Security and protection are the main features of macOS, and tools like Gatekeeper can help keep your device free of malware. While apps downloaded from the App Store get a free pass, you may have to vouch for offers from other developers.

Notarization is key to Gatekeeper's satisfaction, and Apple puts the submitted software through a rigorous verification process. Even when this security measure is in place, you still have the freedom to bypass the bouncer if necessary, but you should always be careful when doing so.

Security features in macOS are designed to provide security while maintaining the functionality of your device. In an increasingly online world, any extra layer of protection is valuable and Gatekeeper is just one of many tools designed to keep you safe while you use your Mac.

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About the author

Matt Moore
(23 articles published)

Matt is an Australian freelance writer with a degree in creative and critical writing. Before his studies, he worked in technical support and gained valuable insights into the technology and its users. His real passion is storytelling and he hopes to one day write a well-published novel.

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By Matt Moore

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