Mac OS X 10.4: About startup items security

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger makes it possible for you to avoid possible security problems that might occur with startup items. What's a startup item? It refers to any item that opens as part of the system startup process when you start up your computer; you'll find these items in the Startup Items folder (/Library/StartupItems).

For example, a startup item can be an application that starts automatically when you turn on your computer. If an item in the Startup Items folder doesn't have proper security settings, it could cause issues with your computer. Mac OS X Tiger checks the security of items in this folder.

Mac OS X 10.4 itself does not install any items in the Startup Items folder. However, a third-party application may place items in this folder when you install it, or when it's opened for the first time.

Before installing any application in Mac OS X, be sure that the application will not perform any malicious activity. Check out our safety tips for more information.

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Automatic security check

When your computer starts up, Mac OS X Tiger checks the security settings of items in the Startup Items folder prior to running them. If it detects an item without appropriate security settings, you will see this alert during startup (you'll see one alert per item detected):

    The startup item "/Library/StartupItems/" has problems that reduce the security of your computer.
    This may be caused by recently installed software. If you trust this startup item, click Fix to repair the problem. To always prevent this item from starting up, click Disable. Click Decide Later to skip the item this time.

The alert presents you with the following three button choices ("Fix" is the default). Here's what each button does:

  • Decide Later—The item will not be opened during the current startup. Click this if you need time to think about it or to research the issue. The next time you restart your computer, you will see the message again so you can decide how to handle the item. Tip: Check with the software manufacturer for more information about why the item might be causing this alert message (an update may be available from the manufacturer's website that resolves the issue).

  • Disable—The startup item will not open, and you will not be asked in the future if you want to open it (you may be prompted for an administrator password). Disabling the item may adversely affect the function of the application that installed it. Be sure to check with the application manufacturer for more information.

    Note: If you disable an item but later decide that you want to use it, you can either install the application again or see "I disabled a startup item, but now I want to use it," below.

  • Fix (default)—Click this button to apply the correct security settings to the startup item (see "What are the correct security settings for startup items?," below, for more information). You may be prompted for an administrator password. If the corrected settings remain in place after a restart, the item will open normally each time your computer starts up.

    If you click Fix for any startup item, you'll see this message:

      "Some startup items have been repaired. To use the repaired items, you must restart your computer."

    You need to restart your computer to ensure that the application that relies on the repaired item will function properly. If you click Cancel, the repaired item won't open until the next time you restart, so the application associated with it might not function correctly.

Tiger checks the StartupItems folder too

Some application installers can reduce the security settings of the Startup Items folder itself, which can reduce the overall security of your computer. If Tiger detects this, it displays the following alert (with "Fix" as the default button choice):

    The Startup Items folder ("/Library/StartupItems/") does not have the proper security settings.
    To fix the security settings, click Fix. To skip using items in this folder and show this message again, click Decide Later.

Click Fix to correct the security settings of the Startup Items folder. You'll be asked to enter an administrator password for the action if you aren't already authorized as an administrator.

If you click Decide Later, no startup items within this folder will be opened. You will see this message again the next time you start up your computer.

I disabled a startup item, but now I want to use it

If you disabled a startup item but you're now certain that it's associated with a trusted application, you can install the application again. Or, if you're an advanced user (and an administrator) who's familiar with Terminal, you can use the following steps instead of reinstalling the application (we're using "TrustedApp" as our example application; please substitute it with your trusted application's name):

  1. Open Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities).
  2. Type the following line, then press Return:

    cd /Library/StartupItems/

  3. Type the following line, then press Return:

    sudo rm .disabled

  4. From the Apple menu, choose Restart.
  5. When you see the alert about the startup item you want to use, click Fix.
  6. Click Restart in the second alert. After your computer restarts, the item should work as expected.

More about startup items

A startup item may not be clearly named to associate it with the application that installed it. In this case, it's most likely related to the application that you most recently installed before your last restart. If you have any questions about whether to fix or disable an item, contact the application's manufacturer.

What are the "correct security settings" for startup items? (advanced)

Directories and executable files should have permissions of "0755," with the owner set to "root" and group set to "wheel." Other (non-executable) files should have permissions of "0644," with the owner set to "root" and group set to "wheel."

System Startup Programming Topics (advanced)

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