Protect Your Mac from Loss or Theft

I have a good friend who contacted me over the weekend with horrible news... his car was broken in to, and even worse, his MacBook Pro (along with his wallet and bag) was stolen! It's bad enough that his expensive laptop was now gone, but the worst part is knowing that his data has now been compromised. To be honest, it makes me feel sick knowing that he is vulnerable now.

There's not a lot I can do to help my friend in this situation, but there's a lot I can do to help you protect yourself in a similar situation. Today's post will walk you through a few very simple things that you can (and should) do to protect yourself in the event that your laptop ends up in the wrong hands.

Use Good Passwords

First and foremost, you should have (and USE) a good password in order to log in to your computer. I know, I know... you hate passwords. Me too, but it's the world we live in. To set a password, go to System Preference > Users & Groups. Highlight your name on the left and choose the "Change password..." button.

A good password is at least 8 characters and includes a combination of numbers, letters and symbols (sorry, you can't use emoji... yet!).

Next, you want to make sure that your account is not automatically logged into. If this feature is enabled, all the perpetrator would need to do is simply turn on the computer, and they will have full access to your system and data. Not good. To disable automatic login, go to System Preferences > Users & Groups. Next, click on "Login Options" and make sure that "Automatic login" is turned off.

Lastly, you want to make sure that you are required to enter your password each time you power on/wake-up your computer or disable the screensaver. This will ensure that your password is required each time you close your lid or invoke the screensaver and walk away. To do this, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy and select the box next to "Require a password..." (you may need to click the lock in the lower left-had corner to unlock the System Preferences screen so that you can make changes). You can choose for your Mac to require you to enter your password anywhere from 0 seconds to 8 hours after you put your Mac to sleep or start the screensaver. My recommendation is to use 5 seconds. I certainly wouldn't go longer than 15 minutes.

Enable Disk Encryption

Even with all those password restrictions in place, it's still possible for the perpetrator to gain full access to your data. While I won't go into the details of how they could do that (I don't want to encourage such activity), there is a way to protect your data in the event that it falls into the wrong hands. This will require us to enable FileVault (Apple's built-in disk encryption utility). Disk encryption puts a protective wrapper around your hard drive. This means that even if someone pulled the hard drive from your lost of stolen Mac, they still wouldn't be able to gain access to your files like they could if we were not using disk encryption.

To enable FileVault, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. Simply click the "Enable FileVault" button and follow the prompts. For more information on FileVault, click here.

Keep Your Data in the Cloud and Backup

In most cases, if your laptop is lost or stolen, it's gone. Gone as in you aren't going to get it back. It's tough to come to the reality that your hardware is gone, but even tougher when you realize that all the data on your laptop is gone. Laptops can be replaced, but data cannot. This is why I rely (heavily) on a good storage and backup strategy. My storage and backup strategy includes three components:

  • Dropbox
    I store ALL of my documents (with the exception of my Photos and iTunes libraries) in my Dropbox account (I LOVE Dropbox!!). If my laptop were stolen, I still have full access to all my data. Learn more about using Dropbox here.
  • Time Machine
    Time Machine is a fantastic local backup app, built-in to every Mac. All you need is an external hard drive (which will set you back about $100), and you can start backing up your data in a matter of minutes. As long as the drive is connected, your laptop is backed up automatically every hour!
  • Cloud Backup
    In additional to Time Machine, I also backup to the cloud. If someone were to break in to my home, chances are, they will take my laptop and backup drive connected to it. If I wasn't using cloud backup, my live data and backup data would be gone, with nothing left to fall back on. Cloud backup protects in situations like this. Learn more about cloud backup here.

Enable Find my Mac... NOW!

The last piece of advice to protect against the loss of a Mac is to enable "Find my Mac". This feature is very similar to the "Find my iPhone" feature, which you are hopefully well aware of. It's available for free as part of your iCloud/Apple ID account. By enabling this feature, you can determine the location of your device each time it becomes available on a wireless network. In addition, you can choose to send a message to the device ("If found, please call..."), lock the device (rendering the computer useless unless you log in) and even wipe the device (remotely erasing all data and settings on the device). This is a super-powerful feature that everyone should be aware of and use.

One thing to keep in mid with this incredibly powerful feature... it must be turned on BEFORE your laptop is gone. You can't turn it on after the fact, and because we never know when our laptop will go missing, we really should turn it on RIGHT NOW! In fact, stop reading this and do it now. To enable "Find my Mac", go to System Preferences > iCloud and put a check mark next to "Find my Mac".

These are just a few simple ways that you can help protect your data. Again, it won't do much in the way of avoiding the loss of your laptop (that's a post for another day), but in that awful event, it will help you to maintain a sense of peace of mind knowing that your data is protected and available to you... always.

Posted on November 2, 2015 and filed under How To, Opinion, Mac.