If you see the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” message on your screen whenever you attempt to open a given app on your Mac, it means that the Apple Store hasn’t notarized the application and the latter might not be safe. Many legitimate applications such “Mysqlworkbench” “Mysql-8.0.21” and “Sourcetree” have issues with notarization.
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One of the main built-in security features of macOS is the so-called Gatekeeper. The function of this technology is to prevent apps that are not trusted by Mac from getting installed onto the computer. This is why, if you attempt to install an application on your Mac that hasn’t been notarized by Apple, the Gatekeeper will show you the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” message, warning you that you should probably not proceed with the installation.
What is GateKeeper?
Gatekeeper is a macOS security feature that enforces code signing and verifies downloaded applications before allowing them to run. The main purpose of the Gatekeeper is to reduce the likelihood of inadvertently executing malware and it builds upon File Quarantine.
Are programs that trigger the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” message dangerous?
The answer to this question depends on the specific program – some of them might be safe but are yet to be notarized by Apple, while others might contain malware elements and endanger the safety of your computer. In many cases, apps that cause this warning to appear are simply ones that have been created prior to the introduction of the Gatekeeper developer ID registration required for an app to be notarized by Apple. Because of this, the app has not been reviewed and macOS can’t check if it is safe and lacks any potentially harmful elements or vulnerabilities.
Even if some of the apps you get warned against are not dangerous, the Gatekeeper function is still essential because one of the most commonly used methods for distributing malware for Mac computers is inserting the harmful code inside a given app and then trying to trick users into downloading the infected app. Only apps notarized by Apple are confirmed to be malware-free so it is advisable to only use them while avoiding any software that gives you the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” message when you attempt to install it.
Can an app that hasn’t been notarized by Apple still be used?
If you are adamant about using a given application even if your Mac warns you that it may not be safe because it hasn’t been notarized by Apple, you can install that app by following the steps posted further down this page.
How to know if a given app that hasn’t been notarized is safe?
Though there isn’t a truly surefire way of telling whether a given app that triggers the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” message is still safe, we recommend using the VirusTotal specialized anti-malware tool to conduct a scan of the app in question and tell you if it detects anything suspicious. The scans carried out by this tool are very thorough and so if there is anything suspicious in the app you want to install, it will most likely come up in the scan results.
Can a seemingly harmless application for Mac turn out to be harmful?
The short answer here is “Yes”, an adept enough hacker would probably be able to disguise the harmful elements of a given app so as to make them nearly undetectable, allowing the malicious app to successfully get installed on a Mac computer. However, there are several different levels of security provided by macOS and each one further decreases the chances of malware getting through to the point where it is extremely unlikely that a harmful app could get installed.
First security level
Аapps that belong here are ones that have been created by independent developers who haven’t been notarized by Apple. All apps created by such developers will be blocked by macOS and the user will not be allowed to install them. In other words, if a given app is from a developer who is unknown to Apple, you won’t be allowed to install that app unless you make some changes in the OS to turn the Gatekeeper off (we will show you how this can be done but it’s not recommended).
Second security level
Аpps that fall in this security category are ones that come from notarized developers and are less likely to have malware in them. However, those are still apps that haven’t undergone a thorough malware scan and so it is still possible that they may contain some unsafe components.
When you try to install such an app, if the app is not available on the App Store, your Mac will warn you about it but still allow you to install the application if you so desire.
The fact that the author of the app is notarized doesn’t mean that the app itself is on the App Store and so there is still another security level that needs to be covered before you can get the maximum reassurance that the app you are trying to install isn’t harmful.
Third security level
Оnly apps that are developed by notarized authors and are allowed into the App Store belong in this category. Those are apps that are created by known and trusted developers and have also undergone a thorough malware scan which is a prerequisite for them to be uploaded to the App Store. A serious benefit of this security level is that the apps that belong in it are subjected to certain permission restrictions meaning that they will typically not have access to any critical OS components which further ensures that they cannot cause harm in the system on the off chance that the app may still carry something potentially unsafe.
Throughout the years, there have been very few instances of potentially harmful apps coming from notarized developers and even fewer instances of such apps that have been allowed into the App Store. Of course, you should still keep an eye out for suspicious apps no matter where you download them from but trusting your Mac’s Gatekeeper function is definitely recommended.
In addition to Gatekeeper, macOS has another potent security feature called X-Protect which functions similarly to an antivirus program that runs background scans in the system and warns the user if anything sketchy gets detected. X-Protect doesn’t require user interaction and operates on an automatic basis which is why you won’t find a GUI for it.
Why are certain apps not available in the App Store?
The fact that a certain application can’t be found in the Store doesn’t necessarily mean that the app is dangerous. The developers of all applications that have been allowed into the App Store are obliged to pay a sizable commission to Apple to keep their apps in the Store. The size of the commission could range anywhere from 10 to 30 percent per app purchase. Understandably, many developers would prefer to sell their products on their own sites or use a third-party software-distribution platform that has lower commission prices.
Furthermore, some of the app restrictions imposed in the App Store could be way too limiting for a given app to be used to its full potential on a desktop OS such as macOS. Over time, this has lead to the absence of many otherwise popular Mac apps from the App Store. One such major restriction is the sandbox requirement which necessitates that apps allowed into the Store only run in a controlled sandbox environment that greatly limits the communication between the app and the rest of the system. This requirement is undoubtedly an important security precaution but it also places serious limitations on the functionality of the apps.
How to override the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” warning – Guide
Only follow the next steps if you are a hundred percent certain that the app you are trying to install is safe:
- Open Finder and find the application that gives you the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” warning message.
- Control-Click on the application.
- Access the shortcut menu and click Open. After you do this, the app will be whitelisted and you will be able to open it from now on without getting the “macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware” warning.
- Another way to whitelist an app is to click the Open Anyway available in Security & Privacy Preferences. Note that this button would only be available for an hour after you try to open a blocked app. To reach this button, open the Apple Menu, go to System Preferences, click on Security & Privacy, and select General.
This short guide should help you install and freely use apps that are not trusted by Apple because they are not in the App Store but, as we said, you should be careful with such apps and only run them if you are certain that they are not dangerous.