Systems and Technologies

Disable automatic login in Mac OS X

We strongly recommend that all Mac OS X computers have automatic logins disabled. Unfortunately, automatic login is the default behavior for new Mac OS X computers and fresh installations of Mac OS X.

Why is this the case? Apple allows Mac OS X to act much like "Mac OS classic". The classic Mac OS had virtually no login security and no way to protect files and folders on the hard disk. This makes the computer more approachable for novices and people upgrading from Mac OS 9.

Mac OS X is different. It forces everyone to log into the computer in order to run applications and work with files. However, out of the box, Mac OS X will automatically set itself up to log in as the first account that is created by the Mac OS X Setup Assistant. As long as you only have one account on the computer, you will be able to get to the Desktop -- not a login window -- when you start up the computer. (Behind the scenes, the computer is still logging in with your account. It is just picking your account and entering the password for you.) We feel that automatic login degrades the security of Mac OS X computers. With automatic logins enabled, anyone who can reboot your computer can get into your account.

Therefore, we recommend you disable automatic login. (The following instructions are designed for Mac OS X 10.3 "Panther.")

  1. Open the System Preferences application. It is found in the Apple menu.
  2. Click on the "Accounts" icon in the System Preferences window.
  3. Click on the "Login Options" item in the list of accounts on the left side of the "Accounts" System Preferences window.
  4. Set the "Display Login Window as" option to "Name and password." This improves the security of the computer by forcing each person to log in with a username and password, rather than picking from a list of accounts. (If a lisf of accounts is shown, then someone who is trying to break into the computer just has to guess a password, not a username and a password.)
  5. Turn off the "Automatically log in as" option.

That's it! You've set up our recommended Login Options to make your computer more secure.

Keywords: desktop computer, laptop computer, mac os x, security, system administration
Question: How do I improve the security of my computer by changing Mac OS X's Login Options?
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