Introduction: Protect Your Mac From Thieves

Picture of Protect Your Mac From Thieves

In this Instructable, I'm going to show you how to protect your Macintosh computer from thieves. While these techniques aren't 100% effective, they'll improve your chances of getting your Mac back by an infinite factor... The reason I say this is that without any of these techniques, you have no chance of ever getting it back.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an episode of Dateline NBC that covered iPod thefts and how they caught the thieves. It got me to wonder how I could protect my own iPod and computers. A little previous knowledge and Internet research reveled some great techniques. Unfortunately, nothing for the iPod except a way to register the serial number.

I'm sure there are similar techniques that can be used on Windows and Linux machines, but I don't own them. I welcome someone else to publish a similar Instructable for those machines.

I have no affiliations with any of the software mentioned herein, except that I'm a happy and paying customer.

Step 1: Lock It Down...

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This is probably one of the simplest and most ignored techniques! Every Mac ever built included a special hole in the case exclusively for cabling the computer to your desk. The cables are readily available from many sources and simple to install. On many desktop Macs, there is an additional lockable latch to keep the side panel from being opened.

Use this feature if you don't go everywhere with your Mac. An intruder will likely give up quickly and take your TV instead.

Step 2: Back It Up!

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I can't emphasize this strong enough! Back up your data! No mater what precautions you take, there's always the chance you won't get it back or if you do, the drive will be toast.

There are various techniques and levels that you can back up.

The simplest, and in my opinion the most worthwhile is to get a Dot Mac account and use the Sync feature along with Apple's Backup Utility. Syncing with Dot Mac keeps a copy of all of your Bookmarks from Safari, Calanders from iCal, Contacts from Address Book, Keychains and Mail Account information on your iDisk. This can be kept in sinc with all of your Macs too! Backup will backup all of your Personal Settings to iDisk daily and follow a weekly regiment of backing up your other data to CD or DVD. iDisk was recently upgraded to 10GB of space. Well worth the $99US (as low as $70 on Amazon or eBay).

Another technique uses an external drive and Disk Utility. This makes an exact and bootable copy of your entire hard drive. Because it's an exact "Ghost" image, all of your Applications and their associated registration details are retained. To do this, locate the Disk Utility program in the Utilities folder of your Applications folder and run it. Select your main drive and then the Restore tab. Drag your main drive to the Source field and your Backup drive to the Destination field. If it's a really big backup drive, you can alternatively create a disk image the same size as your main drive and use it for the Destination. If you check Erase destination, the drive will have the same name and icon as your main drive as well. Not checking it will leave whatever is already on that drive intact.

There are alternative techniques as well. Some pricey and some free. They're all fine. Just be sure to use them!

Step 3: Protect Your Personal Information and Files

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First and foremost, set your Administrator password(s) to something that won't be readily guessed. It should be contain at least one number and a combination of upper and lower case letters. This is a password that you need to use on a regular basis, so it should be something that you can remember.

I like to pick a phrase and build an acronym out of it. For instance, one might choose "Four score and seven years ago," creating the acronym "4s&sYo.;" Don't use this one though... Don't use the most common password, "Catch22" either!

Now create a new "Guest" account without Administrative access and without a password. This removes the need for the thief to try too hard to get access to your other accounts. With this account, they have access to the Net as well as your games, which is likely what they'll go for initially.

Step 4: Now, Keep Them From Changing Things...

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This process removes the ability to erase or replace the hard drive as well as blocking booting from an alternate drive or the CD.

This can be overridden by an experienced Mac Tech or Power User, but most thieves aren't that smart. No. I won't tell you how to override it and I ask that you don't post that info either.

Insert your original Mac OS X Install CD. This can either be the disc that came with your Macintosh or a newer OS X Install disc.

Scroll down the CD's window and you'll find an Applications folder. Open this folder and then open the Utilities folder within it. Here, you'll find a utility called Open Firmware Password.

Do not copy this utility to your hard drive! It's important that it's only available from the CD. Go ahead and double-click the application to open it.

Use a unique password here and store it in a safe place. You'll need this password if you ever need to re-install or update OS X with a CD. You'll also need it if you use Boot Camp or need to install a Firmware update.

Note: While newer Macs that use Intel processors don't use Open Firmware, this feature is still present within the computers firmware.

Step 5: Use Your Mac's Remote and Motion Sensor!

Picture of Use Your Mac's Remote and Motion Sensor!
Newer Mac Notebooks, including most Powerbook G4s, iBook G4s and all Mac Books and Mac Book Pros contain a motion sensor that shuts down your hard drive if the computer is dropped. There have been a number of Shareware publishers that have created utilities to use this sensor as a protective device, setting off an alarm if the computer is moved.

This only protects your computer if you're within range to stop the theft before it gets started. The utility I'm using is called TheftSensor. With this utility, you can activate it by pressing the play button on your remote. Once activated, it sets off an alarm if the computer is moved or closed. See the video of it in action.

As joejoerowley pointed out; There is also the utility iAlertU by Slapping Turtle. This utility does the same thing as TheftSensor, but has the added features of a visible alarm and reaction to keypresses and power cord removal. See the attached video here:

Note: To prevent the use of another remote to disable this utility, pair your remote with your Mac by pressing and holding the Play/Pause and Menu buttons simultaneously for about 4 or 5 seconds.

Step 6: Now... to Get It Back!

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Okay... You've done everything you can do to protect your Mac should it be stolen. Now we want to get it back! The same group, Orbicule, publishes another utility UnderCover ($49US, one time fee) that, once the theft is reported, monitors the computer's use on the net and reports all of that information to your local police as well as the thief's Internet Provider. This will help the authorities and give them the incentive to catch the thief and get your Mac back!

When the thief connects to the Internet, your Mac immediately starts sending emails containing the thief's IP information, screen shots, and even photos of the thief if your Mac has a built-on iSight.

If the authorities are unsuccessful at capturing the thief, UnderCover will start simulating a hardware error by gradually dimming the screen until it's unreadable. This will hopefully force the thief into taking the computer to a repair facility or selling it. When the technician or recipient gets the computer and connects it to yet another network a message is displayed, explaining that this is a stolen computer and who to contact to return it.

All of this is done transparently in the background. The thief will never know (s)he's being monitored!

Step 7: Don't Advertise...

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When you take your computer with you on a trip, package it securely in a decent carrier. Try to choose one that doesn't look like a computer carrier. You'll be less apt to be targeted by the thief in the first place.

Using all of these techniques won't take away from the speed or your enjoyment of your computer, but will do a great deal for your peace of mind. If you've got any additional techniques or know of similar software, please post a comment! If you've got a Windows or Linux machine and know of similar techniques, post a sister Instructable to help those users.



RosaR21 (author)2017-02-28

Just found this, some still works today

Sassah122 (author)2013-01-28

How do you unlock it or bypass it? Some one PLEASE tell me. No I'm not a theif. Just wan't to learn about macs.

techboy411 (author)2011-12-17

Tip: DISLABLE Autologin on your laptop

007dna (author)2010-02-21

 Or, for easier and cheaper, just use iAlertU. For free. (Macbooks only...)


LasVegas (author)007dna2010-02-21

 iAlertU is good. The $4.95 version is better and it's the only solution for iPods and iPhones, but UnderCover is better and more tightly hidden within the System of the computer. This makes it harder for a thief to detect its presence and remove it.

007dna (author)LasVegas2010-02-23

 Ah, but for those of us that do not spend money online, this is a good option.

I see your logic, though!   :)


Ipodgeek2009 (author)2010-01-16

I wish I knew about this BEFORE I got my MacBook stolen :(

M4industries (author)2009-12-31

 Yeah, my mac pro is worth 3K. We got it for free though with PS CS3 and Final Cut Pro 6.

elpec (author)2009-05-30

thanks for post, nonwise of this tool, ;) greetings

ReCreate (author)2009-04-16

In the past,caveman arguded over who's pet dinosoar ran faster Now,people argue which computer is better faster adn everything. Boy do thingschange,no? (Stupid spell checker,it doesent even work!)

fwjs28 (author)ReCreate2009-04-17

tehehe thats funny....

ps, if you use a decent browser (IE doesn't vut it) they usually have an option for spell check....)

ReCreate (author)fwjs282009-04-17

Oh no,i was using konqurer,google it,i had no option,firefox was unstable and would crash slax every 10 seconds,you gotta do,what you gotta do

fwjs28 (author)ReCreate2009-04-17

try opera for slax...i prefer it over the others....are you using 6.0.0 or 6.0.1?

ReCreate (author)fwjs282009-04-17

I was Using 6.09 Know Then i was using 6.10,Know i am using Ubuntu 8.10,the latest of its kind

ReCreate (author)ReCreate2009-04-23

And know i am back to slax 6.10,I ran DSL Linux On my laptop,I also tried Puppy Linux,but i got a kernel panic

gyromild (author)2007-08-15

simulating a hardware error by gradually dimming the screen until it's unreadable

Thats an interesting approach, I'm quite impress that someone actually thought of things to that extend.

Have 4 G5 at the office, we simply chained them to the desk, the problem is with the fancy Studio Displays, haven't found a practical way to secure them properly.

ReCreate (author)gyromild2009-04-23

or even better,turn off the backlight

rockyt (author)2007-08-14

Mac? I say let them steal it. Thats just me tho.

josh92176 (author)rockyt2007-08-14

PLEASE don't start the whole mac v windows v linux argument again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Metal4God (author)josh921762007-08-31

why not

josh92176 (author)Metal4God2007-09-01

Its just really annoying becuase we have some serious Mac, Windows and mabe Linux enthuseiasts (sp?) on this site who are all into argueing. ;-)

Metal4God (author)josh921762007-09-01

oh and hey i haven hear from you in a lon go time (go jar jar blinks)

josh92176 (author)Metal4God2007-09-01

Yeah, I'm guilty of that, havn't been around much in the last 2 weeks (been busy with my new gizmondo ;-), you have to buy one its awesome). Well hows you these days.

Metal4God (author)josh921762007-09-01

great i got a guitar amp a few weeks ago (vox da5) and my dad and i just got back from the music store =-] and i might get a mexican strat for christmas
i got a strap that looks like a police tap and it say "hazzerdis materials"

josh92176 (author)Metal4God2007-09-02

Cool my strap says radioactive :-D

Metal4God (author)josh921762007-09-02

=-] i could of also got that one or a police one that said crime scene do not cross LOL

LasVegas (author)Metal4God2007-09-02

Would you guys please take this private conversation to PM?

Metal4God (author)LasVegas2007-09-02


ReCreate (author)Metal4God2009-04-23

you just got kicked out

Your right, that would be pointless! Just don't steal any Macs! - you'll never get rid them! last one I stole I couldn't give it away! ;-)

LasVegas (author)Patrick Pending2007-08-14

It's always fascinating to read comments from the uneducated on subjects that they have no clue about.

Patrick Pending (author)LasVegas2007-08-14

Yowl, that hurts. I was making a joke and I think that was pretty clear. Don't you have a sense of humour? That was a pretty nasty personal dig at me and on both counts was completely wrong. I'm not the sort to trade insults though, so go ahead and slap the other side if it makes you feel better :-( Cheers, Pat Pending

LasVegas (author)Patrick Pending2007-08-14

Whether you took it as a personal affront is up to you. It wasn't intended as such. I was speaking in general about all such comments. Three in this instructable, so far. It seems everytime I publish anything concerning Macintosh computers I get smart-aleck, anti-Mac comments that have absolutely nothing to do with reality. The reality for your previous post is that Macs tend to retain high resale values long after similar aged PCs are considered door-stops. I see similar comments when someone publishes about Linux. Windows postings are usually are accepted for what they are without such comments. I don't know why. I do sometimes post a Mac alternative when the Instructable is extremely Windows-centric on something that all computers are capable of. I didn't publish Windows or Linux alternatives here because, frankly, I don't know them. I stated this clearly within the Instructable and invited others to publish a like-instructable for Windows or Linux.

Patrick Pending (author)LasVegas2007-08-15

You attached your comment to my post ! it would be reasonable to think you meant me whatever your intention might have been.
Regardless of whether you grouped all three of us or singled me out for the abuse, It would still be personally insulting to call someone "uneducated" and say that they don't have a clue what they are talking about.
Personally, I spent six years in Further Education and have a degree in Electronic Engineering. I spent 12 years working in IT as an IS & IT Manager and have installed, maintained and repaired, PC's, Unix, and Mac's!. I currently run several flavours of Windows and Linux. I don't run Mac's( a decision based on experience of them rather than ignorance). It would appear that you are a little over sensitive and protective of your chosen platform and OS. In my opinion (based on a good education and several years working in the field) they all have their faults and shortcomings.

My attempt to inject a little humour has clearly failed in your case. It had nothing to do with reality as I have never stolen a Mac.
However, I do have experience of large scale theft of IT equipment. During the period of rocketing memory prices we were regularly broken into and lost countless PC's - never lost a single Mac even though they were the least well secured ;-)

Despite you being mean to me (and others) I'm going to "plus" you because you look sad in your picture and I think you need cheering up :-)

Hoping the sun shines on you,

Pat Pending

ReCreate (author)Patrick Pending2009-04-16

Oh my gosh why the long comment? Anyone that even dares to read this will lose will to live after the first 50 million words

ReCreate (author)LasVegas2009-04-16

Oh we do have a clue,big clue

joejoerowley (author)LasVegas2007-08-14

By Chance is your real name Anthony?

LasVegas (author)joejoerowley2007-08-14

Hehe... Good guess. Did the snapshot of the Personal prefs pane help? :)

joejoerowley (author)LasVegas2007-08-15

Just a little bit :)

Yerboogieman (author)josh921762008-07-16

i like all of them, although, because i've never used a mac unless OS 8 counts

joejoerowley (author)rockyt2007-08-14

If you don't like macs you should not read an instructable titled "Protect your Mac from Thieves". It is obviously for people that like and use Macs.

srhadaham (author)joejoerowley2008-08-20

or for people who want to learn how mac users are trying to protect their computers so they can unprotect them

LasVegas (author)srhadaham2008-08-20

Fortunately, intelligent thieves are about as common as hen's teeth.

ReCreate (author)LasVegas2009-04-16

that explains the buck tooth chicken...

srhadaham (author)LasVegas2008-08-21

I would say you have to give some of them a little more credit then that

rockyt (author)joejoerowley2007-08-15


joejoerowley (author)rockyt2007-08-15

What do you mean "maybe"? This is instructable is for MAC USERS!!!

LasVegas (author)joejoerowley2007-08-15

While this Instructable is obviously very Mac-centric, there's ideas and advice that would apply to any computer. Everyone is welcome to read it and contribute.

maker12 (author)LasVegas2007-11-29

like my fly back idea!!!!!!!!!!!lol

? I thought instructables were for everyone

About This Instructable




More by LasVegas:Easy Customizing of Apple Mail StationeryMake Your Regular Mac a NetBoot Server!Protect your Mac from Thieves
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