Apple introduces Developer ID ahead of Mountain Lion's Gatekeeper

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In an email sent out on Monday, Apple invited developers to prepare their software for OS X Mountain Lion by joining the Developer ID program, which will allow for apps to run on a Mac or iOS device that is protected by the upcoming Gatekeeper anti-malware system.

When Apple's OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion launches this summer, it will feature the new Gatekeeper security system which requires that apps be certified through the Developer ID program to ensure seamless installation.

Gatekeeper is a new anti-malware feature that, according to Apple, will filter out malicious third-party applications and prevent OS X users from "unknowingly downloading and installing malicious software." To that end, the system implements a hierarchy of security that is based on digital certificates embedded in a software's code.

At its highest securty setting, Gatekeeper will only allow the installation of content from the Mac App Store, however the default setting also allows for third-party downloads from "identified developers" or those code writers who have signed up with the Digital ID program.

Gatekeeper works by verifying digital signatures that are generated by the Developer ID program after Apple checks the validity of an app and can be inserted into a program's code with Xcode 4.3.

By using the free Digital ID system, Mac developers can distribute their wares outside of the Mac App Store, and subsequently pass through Gatekeeper's security protocols.

Mac OS X users will soon have the option of turning on Gatekeeper, a new Mac OS X security feature. When a user does this, the system provides an additional measure of safety: it blocks that user from opening newly-downloaded applications that are not Developer ID–signed. In this scenario, the same user is easily able to launch downloaded applications that are Developer ID–signed.

With Gatekeeper and Developer ID, Apple is looking to stop the growing number of Mac-targeted malware.

For users, the system is nearly invisible as warning messages only appear when an unsigned app attempts installation.