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Troubleshooting 'insecure startup items'

One problem that may occur when logging in to OS X is an error warning that mentions insecure startup items.

Depending on your OS X configuration, you may run across an issue where the system may issue a warning at log-in about insecure startup items. When this happens, the warning will state the folder /Library/StartupItems/ has improper security settings and that items in it were not started.

Startup items are scripts and applications that launch and remain active when the system boots, and is an old method of automatically starting background tasks that should run regardless of what user account is logged in. The Startup Items folder is in the global Library folder at the root of the hard drive, and startup items are different than log-in items because they do not depend on an account being logged in, though they serve a similar purpose.

Startup Items warning
This warning will appear at log-in if the Startup Items folder is not configured properly. Screenshot by MacFixIt reader Andre

Instead of the startup items, Apple now prefers people use Launch Daemons and Launch Agent scripts that instruct the system launcher to manage automatic tasks; however, Apple still keeps the Startup Items folder around for legacy support.

The problems with the Startup Items folder is that they must be properly accessible, so if the folder or items in it have improper permissions or other odd configuration settings, then the system will issue this error, which MacFixIt reader Andre recently wrote in about:

[This insecure startup items] pop box shows when you turn on when you first turn on the computer. I've tried everything that I know to delete the "Startup Item" but nothing happens. There's no change in what I can tell as far as the computer working but it's annoying checking off this startup message box EVERY day.

As we discussed in previous coverage of this insecure startup items error, the problem can sometimes happen because of improper permissions on the Startup Items folder, and if running a permissions fix on the boot drive with Disk Utility does not correct the issue, then you can run the following commands in the Terminal to reset permissions on this folder and its contents:

sudo chown -R root:wheel /Library/StartupItems

sudo chmod -R 0755 /Library/StartupItems

Terminal Commands
The Terminal commands suggested that the Startup Items folder being missing was the root cause of the error. Screenshot by MacFixIt reader Andre

Because this is usually the problem, I recommended this to Andre; however, upon running these commands his system issued the warning that there was no such file or directory. Upon hearing this I suggested Andre go to the /Library folder and create the missing "StartupItems" directory, followed by rerunning the commands, and after restarting, the system no longer showed the insecure startup items warning.

If such a problem happens, then while resetting the folder's ownership and permissions may be a quick fix in some cases, it is not always the solution. Check to ensure the folder is present, and create it if it is not (followed by resetting its permissions as Andre had done). A final step would be to empty the folder of any of its contents, as corruption or other problems with the script files themselves may result in the system not properly launching them and issuing the warning. If the startup items are your own scripts then you can try re-creating them, but if they are part of a third-party application then you can try reinstalling the application or contacting the developer to see how they should be configured.

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