The macOS operating system does much to protect its users from malware. This includes blocking the installation of unverified apps by default. But what happens when you know the app is safe, yet macOS stubbornly refuses to give the green light, with a “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” message? This guide explores how to navigate this situation, assesses the risks involved in overriding this security measure, and discusses what steps to take when faced with other related security prompts.
To Install or Not to Install: Weighing the Risks of Unverified Apps
Apple has set up a virtual bouncer for your Mac’s safety. The bouncer’s name is Gatekeeper, and its job is to ensure that only trusted software runs on your Mac.
When deciding which apps to let in, Gatekeeper checks for an Apple-issued Developer ID certificate and notarization, each serving a distinct purpose to ensure the security and integrity of the software you use.
- Code signing is like a tamper-proof seal on software. When a developer signs their app with their Developer ID, they’re making it possible to verify that the app hasn’t been altered or corrupted since they last touched it.
- Notarization, on the other hand, involves sending the app in question to Apple for malware scanning. It’s an additional layer of assurance that the app is safe to run on your Mac, having been examined and cleared by Apple.
The problem is that code signing and notarization cost time and money. Specifically, developers are required to pay an annual fee of $99 to join the Apple Developer Program and obtain a Developer ID certificate.
For many developers of free apps, especially those that are also available on other platforms, the cost may not seem justifiable. As a result, their apps, while safe and valuable, sometimes lack the official credentials that Gatekeeper looks for. In such cases, it’s perfectly safe to proceed with installation or execution, despite the warning message.
However, the same can’t be said about all software. Caution is paramount, especially with apps sourced from less reputable platforms or distributed via peer-to-peer networks. As unverified apps can be easily tampered with, you should never install any third-party app that doesn’t come from a developer and a distribution channel you completely trust.
Tip: it’s a good idea to test potentially dangerous apps in a virtual environment.
How to Open Unverified Apps on macOS: A Simple Guide
Have you decided that the app is trustworthy? Would you now like to proceed? There are two options that can open an app when macOS gets a bit overprotective.
The most straightforward way to bypass the “macOS Cannot Verify That This App Is Free From Malware” message involves right-clicking (you can also hold the Control key and left-click) the unverified app or its installer, and selecting the Open option.
A new window appears, informing you that you’re about to override system security and potentially expose your computer and personal information to malware. If you’re confident that the app is 100 percent safe, click Open again, and the app should launch without any issues.
Alternatively, after an unsuccessful attempt to open an unverified app, head to the Security & Privacy section of the System Settings app, scroll down, and click the Open Anyway button under the following message: ” ‘[App name]’ was blocked from use because it is not from an identified developer.”
Just know that the Open Anyway button is available for only one hour from the initial attempt to open the application. If you don’t click it within that window, the option will vanish.
Tip: when installing third-party apps on Mac, it’s useful to know how to check a package file for malware.
What About the “X Is an App Downloaded from the Internet” Message?
You may have also come across the message that “X is an app downloaded from the Internet.” This alert is part of Apple’s built-in security measures, specifically XProtect, which scans downloaded applications for malicious content and ensures that only safe apps can run.
Every time you download an app from the Internet and attempt to launch it for the first time, XProtect kicks in, scans the app, and displays the message below.
In previous versions of macOS, if you were confident about the safety of your apps, you could disable these warnings in the Security & Privacy settings. However, with the release of macOS Monterey, that option has been removed. Apple decided it’s better to keep you on your toes, ensuring that you consciously make the decision to open each new app.
However, you can simply click Open to launch the app. Once you’ve done this, your Mac takes it as a cue that it doesn’t need to ask you about this app again – at least until the next update rolls around.
Now that you know why your Mac keeps bothering you with these messages, you can navigate these prompts with confidence. While they may seem like a nuisance, they exist for your digital safety, just like the system’s Security and Privacy permissions.
Image credit: Pexels. All screenshots by David Morelo.
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