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07.12.2013

Making life more difficult for laptop thieves with 'Find My Mac'

MacBooks are valuable items, and as they are very portable this makes them a target for thieves. There is free software that you can use to try to combat theft, called 'Find My Mac' - which can help you pinpoint your laptop's location. You can send a message to the person using it (accompanied by a loud noise to alert them or other people); and you can also lock it, or erase data from it.

Setting up Find My Mac

You'll need to take advantage of a free iCloud account. Go to 'System Preferences > iCloud'. Once logged in, just check the box marked 'Find My Mac' (you may even find that it's already been checked for you). Now, open 'Security & Privacy > Privacy > Enable 'Location Services', then click the 'Power Adaptor' tab and choose 'Wake for Wi-Fi Network Access'. That's it! Now, in the event of a theft, you have a few options.

If your MacBook is Stolen

The first thing to do is call the police to report the theft and get a contact name, and a reference. Then, if you do locate your MacBook, you can pass the information to the officers dealing with the theft. You can track it in two ways:

  1. if you have an iPhone or an iPad, the 'Find My iPhone' app can be used to track any device that uses iCloud; or
  2. by logging into iCloud.com and going to 'Find My iPhone', which will do the same thing.

If you don't have the app, it is a free download from the Mac App Store. This app will be able to locate your MacBook so long as it is connected to the internet.

Using 'Find My iPhone'

The app will show any iPhones, iPads, laptops and desktops that are linked to your iCloud account. Each will have either a grey or green/blue dot underneath it, together with the last known location (i.e. the last place it connected to the internet). A green or blue dot means that the app found the device via the internet; a grey dot means that the device is offline, or out of range, and can't be located. For any device that is online, you can view its location on a map.

What Next?

Assuming you've located your MacBook, you can pass that information to the police. Depending on the urgency with which they investigate the theft, you might be able to send them to a house or shop, recover your machine, and even apprehend the thief. You also have further options, but it's important to understand exactly how these work.

Option 1: Alert the person using your MacBook

You can send a message informing whoever is using your machine that it is stolen and that you know where it is. If you select the 'Play Sound' option then this will be accompanied by a 100% volume high-pitched noise (even if speakers are muted) which is sure to grab their attention, and also the attention of anyone else nearby.

Option 2: You can remotely lock your MacBook

This might seem like a useful feature, but in reality it's actually pretty useless. Here's why: once you enable remote lock then you can no longer track the location of your MacBook! In addition, if the drive from it is disconnected and connected to another machine then data on it is still accessible. If you do want to take this course of action, then you'll be asked to enter a passcode to lock the machine.

Option 3: You can remote erase your MacBook

If you're concerned about information falling into the wrong hands, then you can remove it from your MacBook. Be warned: first, this can take up to a day to complete; second, it's not always a reversible process. Independent testing of this particular feature indicates that SSDs may not always be recoverable. As with the remote lock feature, you'll be asked to enter a passcode to authorise this, and the same code will (theoretically) help you start the data recovery process (which is also a very lengthy one).

Finally, remember that this will only work for INTERNAL drives. So if you have a Time Capsule or other backup at home, it's safe. But, if an external drive has been taken along with your laptop, you cannot stop that data being accessed.

Finally...

Remember, that all of these features can only be implemented when the stolen machine is connected to the internet. You can set each of the three options in advance, so that they will occur when the next internet connection takes place. You can also get email notification of internet connection if you check the 'Notify Me When Found' box.

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