Loss Protection

Briefly:

Login password 
Screensaver password 
Find My Mac ON 
Encryption 
Lock it up 
Record serial number 
Regular Backup 
iPad/iPhone 

A friend left a precious laptop in an airport bathroom. The computer didn't have a password and wasn't marked with the owner's name, and the owner didn't have a backup, and didn't have the serial number of the computer anywhere. A relative had his car rifled and his Mac stolen, twice, again without backup. Please don't let this happen to you.

Here is a checklist of things you should know and do.

Here is a Apple's advice if your Mac is lost or stolen. (hint: it's a much smaller problem if you set some things up ahead of time.)

You are responsible for the security of your personal computer. Nobody else can do it all for you. The major threats are:

  1. Destruction or failure of your computer or its hard drive.
  2. Theft and misuse of the information on your computer.
    • over the Internet
    • over wireless
    • due to physical access
  3. Theft or loss of your computer.
    • while traveling
    • from your home
    • from your office

Decide how valuable your computer and its contents are to you, and how likely the threats are in your situation. The measures below can make loss less likely, or recovery from loss less costly. Choose the ones that are appropriate for you.

Backup

The information on your computer should be backed up. If the computer is destroyed or lost, you can recover the information that was on it.

Buy AppleCare when you buy a new computer. It extends the Apple warranty from one year to three. If your machine fails under warranty, repair will be free. Then you can reload from your backup.

Passwords

Every account on your computers should have a password. This will help prevent an identity thief from getting at your bank account numbers and personal details, and make your machine less valuable to a physical thief.

In late September [2013], robbers targeted commuters standing in a casual carpool line in Oakland's affluent Rockridge neighborhood, snatching smartphones and other valuables at gunpoint. -- San Jose Mercury News

Set your computer's screen saver so that it asks for a password after some amount of idle time. This protects your data when you leave your computer sleeping or idling.

You can also set a firmware password on your computer in addition to the regular password. This password is requested when someone tries to boot the machine from a different hard disk or CD, install a new version of the OS, or use it in Target Disk Mode. Setting a firmware password is worth doing if you feel there is a risk that someone will get at your machine and try to tamper with it. Setting it also prevents certain kinds of FireWire access that could grab the contents of memory from a running computer. (The cost of doing this is inconvenience when you are updating your computer. If you forget your firmware password on a recent Mac from 2012 onward, you have to take it to Apple service to reset it.)

Uncheck "Allow user to reset password Using AppleID" in Users and Groups.

Disk Encryption

Mac OS X 10.7 and later versions support full disk encryption using FileVault 2. Once it is turned on, you give your password at startup as usual, and the computer works as fast as ever. This feature makes it much harder for thieves to get information from your computer. If you are running 10.7 or better, enable full disk encryption in  ► System Preferences... ► Security. (Initially encrypting your disk may take a very long time.)

Tracking Software

The Apple iCloud service provides a feature called Find My Mac to users of OS X 10.7 and later. It works like Find My iPhone, but since Macs do not have built-in GPS, it locates the machine using Wi-Fi. Once a missing Mac is located, the owner can remotely lock it with a numeric PIN, wipe its disk, send a message, or play a sound. Enable this feature. Understand that Find My Maccan be disabled by resetting the NVRAM; you can set a firmware password to prevent this (see above).

Alternatives to Find My Mac are available. A program called Undercover ($49) samples the WiFi environment and posts the geographic location of your computer, and can spy on a computer marked stolen. LoJack has a similar product, as does GadgetTrak. New products like this are announced all the time: Google for them.

Identifying Your Computer

Keep records of the model number and serial number of your computer, someplace besides on the computer. (I keep all this info in a spreadsheet file, with copies in multiple places.)

Attach a label to the outside of your Mac with your name, address and phone. I tape my business card to each computer. (This will also make putting your machine through airport security safer.) Put a luggage tag on your laptop bag too, with your name, address, and phone.

Change your Mac so that the "login window" shows a custom message. Mine says "property of ..." with my name, address and phone. Set the custom login screen text by opening  ► System Preferences... ► Security ► General. Enter your message in the Show a message when the screen is locked text box.

You can also create a .txt or .rtf document named /Library/Security/PolicyBanner that is displayed before the login screen and requires the user to click "Accept." This is where DoD laptops say US GOVERNMENT PROPERTY and "users may be monitored." See https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202277.

You can also make a graphic file with your contact details and set it as your desktop background.

Physical Security

Keeping your computer in a locked room or container is the basic step. Sometimes that is not enough: many computers are stolen from cars. Use an inconspicuous laptop bag.

Hotels

Putting your laptop in the safe in your hotel room is better than leaving it out on the desk. This keeps the whole machine from being stolen, and also helps protect you from "evil maid" attacks that infect your computer with malware. But many hotel safes can be opened easily.

Locking Cable

In 20 years of carrying laptops, I have never used one of those cable locks that hooks the computer to a desk. Maybe one would work for you.

Airports

600,000 laptops are lost or stolen every year in U.S. airports. Keep an eye on your stuff, especially when you are finishing with x-ray screening. They make laptop bags that you can put through airport X-ray without having to remove your computer. If you register as a "known traveler" with the TSA, you don't have to take your computer out of the bag.

Here is a useful document by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the scanning of laptops at US borders.

Recovery

Despite all precautions, your machine may go astray. If this happens to you, here is some advice: What can I do if my computer or laptop was stolen or lost? and Computer stolen? What to do now. If you have Find My Mac enabled, it might tell you where your machine is, but clever thieves can keep the machine from being found.

If a computer has been lost or stolen, change your passwords, especially your AppleID password; you may want to also put a "security freeze" on your credit report, and report the loss to the police.

Warning: Phishing Scams

There are now scammers who try to take advantage of people whose iPhones were stolen. This article by Brian Krebs describes an attempt to steal someone's AppleID after a family member lost an iPhone. Be cautious about clicking on links in a text supposedly from Apple.

iPads and iPhones

Avoiding the loss of iPads and iPhones, or recovering from their loss, is similar. Here is advice from Apple if your iPhone or iPad is lost: If your iPhone, iPad, user iPod touch is lost or stolen.

Use iCloud or iTunes to back up your iPads and iPhones.

Non-Computer Security

A few more things to think about.

Home | FAQ © 2010-2017, Tom Van Vleck updated 2017-08-16 13:17