How to begin a career in Mac security
Cybersecurity is a hot field for students and career changers — and increasingly, for people who love macOS security as well! At the moment, there’s a massive shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers worldwide. That, coupled with the rise of the Mac in the enterprise, means that there are more opportunities than ever for those who want a career in Mac security. Here are some ideas on how to get started:
Master the basics
If you’re just starting out in tech, and you already know that you want to specialize in security, that’s great. But it’s important to build your cybersecurity career on a strong foundation of general IT knowledge.
This doesn’t mean that you need to go get a CS degree, or that you have to become some sort of elite programmer. But you do need to understand the basics of computers and networks before attempting to keep them safe!
The CompTIA A+ certifications are a great place to start, even if you don’t want to take the actual certification exams or pay for the official prep courses. They have certs covering general IT support, networking, and basic cybersecurity. The popularity of these certifications means that folks on a budget can find lots of free learning resources online created for people who are studying for the exams. You can use these to build a DIY self-study program that helps you learn the fundamentals of IT in an organized way.
Learn some languages
If you’re going for a career in Mac security, you should be conversant in programming languages used in the field. That means Swift and a shell scripting language. To a lesser extent, it also means Objective-C — not as easy to learn as Swift, or as common in newer applications, but still useful for reading older code or working with tooling that hasn’t caught up to Swift yet. You may also want to look into learning Python 3, as many cybersecurity tools these days are written in that language.
Again, the goal at the outset is not to become the world’s greatest programmer. But you should be able to read code at a basic level — meaning that you can look at, for example, a chunk of Swift and work out (more or less) what it’s doing. If you have an iPad, Apple offers a free app called Swift Playgrounds that provides a gamified and very accessible introduction to the language. If you decide to specialize in building Mac security apps or doing reverse engineering later on, you can always level up.
In addition, since a lot of cybersecurity work happens via the command line using the Terminal app, you need to get comfortable using it — along with the simple but powerful programming languages that operate there. There are plenty of useful introductions to the macOS Terminal online. You should also be able to write basic shell scripts, either using bash or zsh (They’re similar, although zsh is now the default on macOS).
Become a Genius
Here’s a cybersecurity axiom: If you want to help secure an operating system, you need to understand how it works.
That’s a tall order. A career in Mac security means the studying will never really end, because macOS is always going to change and evolve. But when you’re just getting started, the first thing to do is acquire a basic grasp of the current version of the OS.
One of the best ways to do this is to teach yourself how to troubleshoot a Mac — just like an Apple tech support person would! Apple offers IT support tutorials that are a good place to start. To dive deeper, you can work through a book like macOS Support Essentials, using the edition that covers the most recent release of macOS.
Theoretical knowledge, training courses, and certifications are all great. But if you don’t apply what you’ve learned, your skills will never develop. There’s no substitution for practical, hands-on experience.
To this end, make a point of trying to put the things you study into practice in your day-to-day work. If you’re learning scripting, for example, write a simple script to help you calculate your monthly budget. If you’re studying the basics of how a Mac app bundle works, or how threat actors imitate Apple’s dialog prompts, fire up Xcode and build yourself a simple desktop app (even if all it does is tell you the local weather).
You can also experiment with macOS as a way to improve your productivity and learn at the same time. For example, if you have a regular task that you need to perform on your Mac, see if you can use Automator to get macOS to do it for you. This will give you a deeper insight into how a Mac’s automation tools work, and save you a few minutes every day!
If you’re reluctant to experiment on your daily driver, remember that you can always use tools like Parallels and macOS virtual machines to test new things out without needing to worry about breaking your Mac!
Half of job seeking (and let’s face it, probably more) is networking. If you’re on the path to a career in Mac security, it’s wise to begin making connections as soon as you can.
LinkedIn is the obvious place to start — just do a search for #Mac or people with “macOS” in their job title you’ll find thousands of like-minded Mac security professionals. You can also participate in the Mac security community through Apple-focused security conferences like Objective by the Sea.
Beyond that, you can find local user groups on platforms like meetup.com, or simply search for local security or hacking groups in your area. Lastly, SecureMac’s Principal Malware Research Engineer (and veteran hacker) Israel Torres has a word of advice for cybersecurity newbies: “Don’t be afraid to start your own group! If you build it, they will come.”
Study special topics
When you begin to get into more specialized topics in Mac security, look for books or courses on the subjects that interest you.
If you’re curious about Mac malware research, Patrick Wardle’s The Art of Mac Malware is an excellent introduction.
For aspiring macOS vulnerability hunters, Jonathan Levin’s MacOS and iOS Internals books are a good way to learn how macOS works under the hood (and what can go wrong when things don’t work as they should!).
If you’re looking into macOS penetration testing, red teaming, and exploit development, Csaba Fitzl’s macOS Control Bypasses course is a training for advanced learners (and the first Mac-focused course offered by Offensive Security).
For DFIR students, Mac forensics expert Sarah Edwards teaches Mac and iOS Forensic Analysis and Incident Response through SANS.
Is a career in Mac security for me?
If you love Macs, and are fascinated by cybersecurity, a career in Mac security might be just what you’re looking for. But the only way to know for sure is to get started.
The one thing we can say about Mac security (and about cybersecurity in general) is that you have to love learning about it if you want to succeed. Cybersecurity is constantly evolving, and so to go into the field is to sign up for a lifetime of learning — and to accept that there’s always going to be more to learn. Cybersecurity is less of a 9-5 job than many other professions. It rewards those who are passionate about it, and who are driven to improve the security posture of the organizations they protect.
In other words, if you start to study Mac security it feels like a grind, or just isn’t your cup of tea, then you might want to reconsider a career path that will mean studying this stuff until retirement. On the other hand, if you find that the more you learn, the more you want to learn, and that nerding out over Mac security is your idea of a good time … then congratulations, a career in macOS security may be for you!