Full Disk Access and why you shouldn’t be afraid of It
Full Disk Access as a term first appeared on macOS 10.14 Mojave. That macOS update introduced unprecedented restrictions on third-party apps that operated on your Mac. These restrictions made it impossible for apps to easily access your content, Calendar, Contacts, Camera, and Microphone. With global data leakages happening on the daily, no wonder that Apple placed a kind of “an Iron Curtain” that sealed up your most important data, namely, Full Disk Access permission.
What is Full Disk Access in macOS Mojave?
Full Disk Access feature is much like a security check at an airport. When you grant “Full Disk Access” to an app, it is added to the whitelist of applications that are now marked as safe to work with your data. At the same time, all other applications will be greeted with “You Shall Not Pass.” The protected areas that require Full Disk Access permission are your Mail, Messages, Safari, Home, Time Machine.
What if an app tries to go beyond its allowed zone?
According to Apple: “So if your app attempts to access any data that is part of one of the protected categories, the system will automatically terminate it.” And by “terminate,” Apple really means a forced crash.
What does Full Disk Access mean to you?
Full Disk Access doesn't sound exotic as of 2021, because every app today asks for permissions the very moment you install it. More so on the mobile.
The Internet now is much more regulated than even a couple of years ago. It's no longer the Wild West it once was. Unless you download an app from a torrent tracker, it's likely to operate under an official data regulation rules, like EULA. Today, it's economically unviable for an app to mistreat your data.
Explore the latest security features of your Mac
What you should do, though, is to go to your System Preferences and spend a few minutes studying the security layers built there.
In System Preferences, click on Privacy and Security. In the sidebar on the left you can scroll down and find Full Disk Access. In Files and Folders you can specify exactly which of your folders are open for access.
- Screen Recording
Check the apps that have access to these devices because most people think they can be used for spying.
When should you grant Full disk Access for an application?
First, if an app comes from a credible developer and you want it to do its job properly. Obviously, a daily scheduler or some an app from the “Productivity” category would absolutely need to access your Calendar in order to simply function. On the other hand, if a Chess application asks to access your Mail, you should be concerned about its real intentions.
Normally, credible apps would politely explain why they want to access your disk and specify their activity limits. For example, like disk cleaners or disk backup software, apps from the utility category are designed to analyze your disk contents to do their job properly, so giving them “Full Disk Access” makes sense. But even if you don’t, these apps will still retain much of their functionality, though be limited in certain actions. To sum it up, providing “Full Disk Access” is perfectly normal if you follow these 2 main conditions:
- An app comes from a trusted source.
- The explanation for the FDA is reasonable.
If you doubt the app’s declared intentions, you can contact the app developers — usually, their response will be quick and to the point.
How to give Full Disk Access?
We've just seen that Full Disk Access is administered via System Preferences > Security & Privacy. Easily enough, you can drag & drop your apps onto a pane right from the Applications folder. But before that, you should “unlock” this dialogue window.
How to see Full Disk Access utility:
- Click on Apple icon > System Preferences...
- Go to Security & Privacy.
- Click on a Privacy Tab.
- Click the Full Disk Access section in the sidebar.
Now click the “lock” icon and enter your system password to unlock the panel settings. Well done! Now you can drag & drop apps directly from your Applications, so they have Full Disk Access. You can also do it in bulk by adding many apps at once. Alternatively, you might click the “+” sign to add apps one by one.
Note: For more security of your accounts, you can click “Advanced…” in the same window and tick the checkbox that reads “Require an administrative password…”. This will prevent other users of your Mac from accessing the most important system parts and thus minimize the potential damage from such actions.
What are Full Permissions, and how to give them?
How is Full Disk Access different from standard permissions requests on macOS? Permissions are granted for individual actions, like accessing your Photos, whereas Full Disk Access gives unrestricted rights to do multiple operations on your Mac. System permissions come in 3 types.
Permission-protected areas are contacts, microphone, webcam, Mail, remote desktop control, and Calendars. Whenever an app wants to have access to your a, b, c... it will initiate a standard dialogue box (you’ve seen it million times) where you can click either “Ok” or “Don’t Allow.” In the second case, an app will crash if it attempts to access the restricted areas on your Mac.
The new reality is that permissions become an important part of data culture, not just a boring thing to click through. You should rather view permissions as a tool, which means you can grant and revoke permissions when necessary. For example, if an app is overdoing it with notifications, you can easily take away its privileges in System Preferences > Privacy. The reality is such that this pane is to be visited much more often than before.
The problem comes when some user permissions get lost or broken. One morning you may find that you no longer can open a file or access a certain folder on your Mac. Luckily, there is an easy way to fix it.
I usually fix disk permissions with a tool called CleanMyMac X, which has a pretty strong reputation within the Mac community.
To fix broken disk permissions:
- Download CleanMyMac from the developer’s site (free version you can download)
- Click the Maintenance tab.
- Check Repair Disk Permissions.
If you perform the rest of the maintenance tasks from the said section, you may even see your Mac running faster and smoother.
The following part was written for newcomers to macOS Mojave. If you have a different or newer macOS, skip this fragment and go the Final Thoughts
Privacy Permissions not working on Mojave (Camera and Mic)
An often reported issue on macOS Mojave is camera and microphone permissions not working properly. While Apple’s own apps handle camera and mic perfectly well, many third-party apps (like Skype) end up becoming totally unusable due to missing permissions or “Full Disk Access denied.” In such cases, a dialogue box that requests permission is never displayed, for whatever reason. And if a program hasn’t requested permission — you guessed right — there is no way to make it work. What can you do?
- Reinstall the app in question
- Add the app to the Full Disk Access folder (see above)
- If nothing else helps, you may want to downgrade to macOS High Sierra
macOS Mojave privacy changes (and challenges)
Apple’s decision to harden security requirements on macOS Mojave was a long-expected move. During the first days of the macOS Mojave release, the users faced a swarm of software conflicts linked with macOS permissions. Some have reported their audio apps crashing while attempting to enable microphone access. Still, the stronger grip on security will be beneficial for all of us in the long run.
To save yourself from the misfortune of constantly crashing software, it is recommended that you update all your apps to the latest available versions. The good news, it no longer means hours of googling. You can use the tool I described above, CleanMyMac X, which has a quick built-in Updater module.
- Run CleanMyMac X (Download a free version here).
- Click Updater.
- Mark apps you want to update.
This will reduce the chances of your apps crashing on macOS Mojave.
Final thoughts: Check your app permissions with CleanMyMac X
We've seen that you can grant and revoke permissions, like Full Disk Access in System Preferences.
But what you are suspicious about a particular app? Or want to quickly say no to many permissions request? The app we've just mentioned, CleanMyMac X has a nice tool for that, sadly not widely known.
If you have CleanMyMac X, click on the Privacy tab from the sidebar.
Next, choose Application Permissions.
Voila! Now I can see which app can do what. Apparently, many apps will have more permissions than you thought.
Under today’s security standards, users must explicitly authorize an app i.e., “an opt-in” logic will become prevalent. Previously, malicious programs could simulate the consent using the so-called synthetic clicks — a term from a hacker universe. This practice becomes more difficult, but it doesn’t mean “data leaks” will disappear anytime soon.
The described pre-authorization logic is nothing new for iOS users and has gradually become an industry standard. But who would complain about having stronger security on their Mac? Eventually, we’ll get there, even if it means a few more thoughtful clicks on our part every day.