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What Is GateKeeper & How Does It Help Protect My Mac? [MakeUseOf Explains]

Justin Pot 24-07-2013

Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The ones who want to install whatever freaking software they want on their own Macs. Since Mountain Lion, however, those people know what part of the world they want to change: their Mac itself. Certain programs won’t load anymore – a message about Unidentified Developers shows up instead. There isn’t even an obvious option to run the app. Will your favorite programs ever run again? And what is this crap, anyway?


To answer you’re first question: yes. You can get all of your apps running again without much difficultly, so keep reading for that. To answer your second question: what you’re seeing is called GateKeeper, and it’s one of the new features of Mountain Lion (and later versions of Lion). The key idea is security – apps from third parties could contain malware. Gatekeeper is stopping you from using your own apps for your own protection.

“The safest and most reliable place to download and install apps is via the Mac App Store,” so says Apple on a support page about Gatekeeper “Apple reviews each app before it’s accepted by the store, and if there’s ever a problem with an app, Apple can quickly remove it from the store.”

Gatekeeper just might be the worst of the iOSification of OS X The iOS-ification Of OSX - The Beginning Of The End? Or A Natural Harmonisation? [Opinion] Recent announcements about the next major upgrade of OSX, named Mountain Lion, have garnered mixed reactions from the community. Some are proclaiming the death of the Mac; some think it's the first step in dumbing... Read More . Then again, it offers less advanced users some peace of mind. For now, users don’t need to jailbreak their Mac to run unapproved software – they need only know a few tricks.

Why Can’t I Open My Apps Anymore?

So what’s the big deal? To demonstrate, I downloaded Super Mario War Super Mario War: Multiplayer Chaos That's A Ton Of Fun Read More , mostly because I knew this fan-made-16-bit-style-stomp-off predates Apple’s Gatekeeper. When I tried to run the software, I saw this message:



Confusion. Anger. Betrayal. These are a few of the emotions you might feel as you gaze at your screen, wondering why an app you’ve long loved is now cut off from you. Messages like this show up by default in Mountain Lion anytime you try to run an app compiled by someone without a developer’s license – including most open source games.

On the other hand, most malware on Windows comes from users installing insecure software. Gatekeeper being installed by default should, in theory, deter this by making it a bit of work for users to run corrupted software. And software by licensed developers should generally be trustworthy, as Apple can revoke the license of people who prove untrustworthy.

To put it simple, GateKeeper blocks apps written without a license from running on your Mac, potentially protecting you from your own stupidity. If you regularly install software from untrustworthy sources, it’s probably a worthwhile protection to leave on. If you’re generally smart, it’s probably more annoying than anything else.

So… is there a workaround? I’m glad you asked.


Workaround 1: Control-Click

The simplest way to open your App is to Control-Click (or right-click) it. You’ll see this menu:
Click “Open” and you’ll see a window not entirely unlike the one you saw before – but with more buttons.


How is the user supposed to know about this? Good question! I’ve no idea.

Anyway, Click “Open” again and your app will run just like it always has. Your Mac will remember your choice, and not stop you from running this app in the future. Apple, for their part, advises you only to do this if you’re absolutely sure you can trust the source you’ve downloaded from.


Workaround 2: Gatekeeper Settings

The first workaround isn’t difficult or onerous, but it’s possible to open apps without any extra steps at all. To do this you’ll need to find the Gatekeeper settings. Open the System Preferences app, then head to Security & Privacy:


You’ll find the Gatekeeper options on the General tab:



There are three levels. The strictest will allow only apps from the Mac App Store – set this if you really, really enjoy the refreshing taste of Kool Aid. The middle option – and default in Mountain Lion – blocks only apps compiled without developer licenses. The third option, Anywhere, allows you to run any app without restriction. If you want to avoid nags entirely, this is what you’re looking for.


This is a legit security feature, isn’t it? You didn’t need to be such a dick about it.

You’re right, it’s not as simple as “Apple Bad, baaaaaaaad!” but I’m concerned to see freedom take a back seat to security – on computers or otherwise.

I’m curious about other features from Mountain Lion. Is there a complete document outlining everything in easy-to-understand language?

Why yes there is! Check out our Mountain Lion Guide A Complete Beginner's Guide to macOS: Get Started in Just 1 Hour Our complete guide to macOS will show you everything you need to get started and comfortable with a brand new MacBook or iMac. Read More  today!


I’ve got some bad news about Windows tablets…


Your logic and reason compelled me to change my mind! Leave now, secure in your victory, and never comment online again. You’ll simply never top this moment, and you shouldn’t even try. 

Install Linux!

Man, you guys are really pushing the definition of “question” today. For the record I love Linux, but I also kind of need Photoshop to do my job… and before you say anything about W…

Use Wine!

Gah, nevermind. I’m done. If you have any real questions feel free to leave them below!

Image Credits: Outer sanctum Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Mac App Store, OS X Mountain Lion.

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  1. What?!
    August 11, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Winblows?! Forever? Yeah right! Try using a real OS, use Unix!

  2. Anomaly
    July 28, 2013 at 12:16 am

    In the not too distant future you won't be able to turn Gatekeeper off. You will need to hack the machine just like iOS crap boxes. Apple wants total control over your life and they will merge OS X and iOS at some point for sure. The problem is all the perplexed primates that just accept this crap. They need to reject it and show Apple this is crap.

    Microcrap is trying this with their tablets and it is failing miserably. I refuse to be locked into an app store and have jack offs determine what apps I can and cannot put on my devices.

    I use Mac, Windows, and Linux daily but I see the day in the not too distant future when I kick Mac and Windows to the curb and run only Linux. I already have decided Windows 7 will be my last Windows OS. The Modern UI and app store BS in Windows 8 is not something I will tolerate. If Apple locks down OS X and I have to jump through hoops to use it they will be finished to.

    • Justin Pot
      July 29, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      I sincerely hope that day never comes...

    • What?!
      August 11, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      I would have to agree with most of what you posted here.

  3. Sassah122 S
    July 24, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    MAc OS X forever!