IT guru Bob Gendler took to Medium last week to share a startling discovery about Apple Mail. If you have the application configured to send and receive encrypted email—messages that should be unreadable for anyone without the right decryption keys—Apple’s digital assistant goes ahead and stores your emails in plain text on your Mac’s drive.
More frustrating, you can have Siri completely disabled on your Mac, and your messages will still appear within a Mac database known as snippets.db. A process known as suggested will still comb through your emails and dump them into this plaintext database. This issue, according to Gendler, is present on multiple iterations of macOS, including the most recent Catalina and Mojave builds.
As Gendler writes:
“I discovered this database and what’s stored there on July 25th and began extensively testing on multiple computers with Apple Mail set up and fully confirming this on July 29th. Later that week, I confirmed this database exists on 10.12 machines up to 10.15 and behaves the same way, storing encrypted messages unencrypted. If you have iCloud enabled and Siri enabled, I know there is some data sent to Apple to help with improving Siri, but I don’t know if that includes information from this database.”
Consider keeping Siri out of your email
While Apple is currently working on a fix for the issues Gendler raised, there are two easy ways you can ensure that your encrypted emails aren’t stored unencrypted on your Mac. First, you can disable Siri Suggestions for Mail within the “Siri” section of System Preferences.
Second, you can fire up Terminal and enter this command:
defaults write com.apple.suggestions SiriCanLearnFromAppBlacklist -array com.apple.mail
There’s also a third method you can use—installing a system-level configuration profile—which Gendler details out on his post.
Regardless of which option you pick, you’ll want to delete the snippets.db file, as disabling Siri’s collection capabilities doesn’t automatically remove what’s already been collected (obviously). You’ll be able to find this by pulling up your Mac’s drive (Go > Computer) and doing a quick search for “snippets.db.”
Apple also told The Verge that you can also limit which apps are allowed to have Full Disk Access on your Mac—via System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy tab—to ensure that they can’t access your snippets.db file. You can also turn on FileVault, which will prevent your emails from appearing as plaintext within snippets.db.