Protect Your Mac From Thieves





Introduction: 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...

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!

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

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...

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!

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!

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...

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.




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    164 Discussions

    Just found this, some still works today

    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.

    Tip: DISLABLE Autologin on your laptop

     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.

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

    I see your logic, though!   :)


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

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

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

    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!)

    5 replies

    tehehe thats funny....

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

    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

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

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

    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

    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.

    1 reply

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