As I mentioned in the previous post, after getting robbed I was thankful I’d taken steps to protect the information stored on my electronic devices. Today, I’ll discuss a few specific security measures that served me well (and one that I wish I’d had in place).
Find My iPhone (iCloud)
The Find My iPhone, iPad, or Mac apps allow you to locate a lost or stolen Apple device, as long as it is turned on, and remotely manage the Find My features. Once you locate your device, you can turn on an alarm, display a message on the screen, lock it down, or wipe it clean. I did have Find My Mac activated on my computer, but, unfortunately, the thief reformatted the machine before I could find it and probably sold it.
I still have one more option with my Mac. Because I reported the device stolen with Apple and with the local police, the fine people at Apple have flagged my computer as stolen. If it ever enters an Apple store for service, the genius who is in charge of fixing the machine will hold it and tell the person that it’s stolen property, refusing to help him or her after that. If the customer decides to cooperate and can help identify who sold him the computer, it will hopefully get me closer to finding the people who broke in to my house.
Doing some research after the robbery, I came across a piece of software called Prey. With Prey on your machine, you can turn on the webcam and take pictures of the person using your computer, you can find out which Wi-Fi network he or she is connected to, and you can even see what is on the screen. It’s a little creepy and a lot awesome. The person will not know that you’re running Prey, and you can send the information, including photos, from Prey to the police.
Here are a few stories of Prey in action:
- Canadian Mounties Retrieve Stolen Laptop
- How I Got My Stolen Laptop Back
- Boston Man Recovers Stolen Computer
Encryption is a great way to ensure that all your documents are unusable or unreadable if they fall into the wrong hands. Fortunately, each of my laptops was encrypted. Even if the thieves had been computer experts, they wouldn’t have been able to pull my hard drives and access the data. Any computer that tried to access my hard drives would have found their contents unrecognizable.
For PCs, I suggest using BitLocker, which is baked into the Windows 7 Ultimate edition. It’s worth the extra money to upgrade to Ultimate to get BitLocker. For Macs, just turn on FileVault, which is Apple’s version of BitLocker. Both are very lightweight and don’t require any other software, and both allow you to repair your operating system without decrypting it. Finally, both can be turned on or off easily in Control Panel (Windows) and Settings (Apple).
I know this is going to sound crazy, but I only know two passwords: one to get into my authenticator and one to get into LastPass. LastPass is a program that generates and stores secure passwords, so you never use the same password twice and you always have a hard-to-crack password. That’s great and all, but do you know what the best part about LastPass is? You guessed it—LastPass uses two-factor authentication. Not only do I need my password, but I also need my cell phone to access my passwords.
Now, you’re thinking—“What if I lose my phone?” You can print out a 10-use key when you set up your authenticator and keep it in a safe location, in the event you don’t have your phone. Once LastPass is authenticated, you can have it remember the computer you regularly use for up to 30 days at a time, before you have to reauthenticate. Using LastPass means that even if you lose your computer, nobody can access your passwords. Combine Google Chrome (which needs authentication to remember sites and passwords) and LastPass with two-factor authentication and your data is about as safe as it can be.
The bottom line
You may be reading this and thinking one of two things: “Come on, Justin, everyone knows this,” or “Oh man, I’d better follow Justin’s data security advice.” If you’re in the latter category, don’t delay. I hope a robbery never happens to you, but in case it does, make sure you have the right protection on your devices and online accounts so you can start putting your life back together as quickly as possible.