My MacBook got stolen. What could Apple do to prevent all future thefts and why should they do it?
I think we are living in times when (big) companies can set aside profit as primary objective and start doing things that show respect and gratitude towards their clients. Tesla Motors is a good example — they do almost everything differently — from opening their patents to free for life superchargers. Apple should follow suit.
Bellow is the story of how I got robbed and a simple (but maybe naive) idea that could enable Apple to make all their devices theft proof.
Last week I got robbed. It was the first day of my annual leave when I noticed things missing. I had a perfect day on a deserted beach with my wife, kids and good friends. Everything from sea water temperature to local beer was perfect.
In the evening, while trying to locate an external battery in my backpack I noticed that most of my “gadgets” were missing and this includes a 15′ MacBook Pro Retina (early 2013) and charger, a Sony Nex-6 mirrorless camera with kit & tele lens, cables, batteries, memory cards, etc.
It was the first time I did get robbed and it felt horrible. Not so much about the financial loss (although I cannot ignore that and it clearly affects our work-flow and family budget) but the vulnerability feeling that immediately took over. The thief broke into our car and went through all the things we had in the trunk. I never took out my laptop — so he (or she?) did not know how valuable his prey might be.
Knowing that someone might reset my user password (and it’s very easy to do so from the recovery console) and look through my documents, emails and so on — or just look at pictures with my kids and wife from the camera memory card — makes me sick. Makes me want to do bad things to him.
But of course, most thieves don’t care about your data — and sensitive stuff like browser saved credit cards can be easily cleaned with an Apple ID password change. They just want to make a profit from selling the hardware — so deleting all your stuff and doing a clean install would be a first step.
So — what could one do when they get their Mac stolen? Of course, I filled a report with local police department. Find My Mac was active on the MacBook. So was Orbicule’s Undercover software. Mac is still offline.
I can lock it — but that will take effect only when the Mac gets online. And I will loose tracking abilities or the ability to erase it remotely. I can erase it remotely but that also happens only when the Mac gets online and I will loose tracking ability. Encryption was not set up but File-vault hard-drive encryption can be bypassed, as I’ve recently found out. You just need to delete the CoreStorage volume. The only thing that would prevent the thief from deleting my data and reinstalling the OS would have been a firmware password (something you can easily setup from recovery interface — boot with CMD+R). If I had a firmware password the Mac would become a brick — but there is still no way of getting it back.
The only thing that will never change on my MacBook is the serial number. Well unless you are not some rocket scientist thief that can rewrite chips. There is no official Apple channel that allows you to report a stolen serial number. Why?
So I can declare an iOS device as being lost and that would make it unusable unless the thief knows my Apple ID credentials but I cannot do the same for a Mac OS device.
How easy would it be for Apple to trigger a Mac OS update on on all active OS X versions that would hardcode the ability to immediately pull a flag if a Mac reported as stolen connects to the Internets? Who would not want to install that update? It basically is just an extension of Activation Lock from iOS.
(As a side note, this could be done for all iDevices and why not by all major hardware manufacturers in partnership with OS makers. It’s basically the same technique of tracking a stolen phone via it’s IMEI — something operators can do in partnership with PDs)
What then? Well — if the rightful owner, reports that serial number as being stolen — that Mac should be made unusable OTA. Every time you would boot the machine, a red flashing message should be displayed announcing that the Mac has been stolen and display the owner contact details. This would prevent stolen Macs from being sold in the first place. Eventually thieves would stop stealing Macs because they wouldn’t be able to monetise them. Location tracking could also be enabled based on serial number only — so that it works even if the thief hacks my account, formats the partition and reinstalls the OS.
If I want to legitimately sell my Mac or just change it’s owner — I would just have to type in the Apple ID of the new owner in a special form and the serial number (and the ability to report a theft for it) would get transferred to that new account.
Would new Mac sales decrease because of that? That much so that Apple is justified not to make this move?
Apple — you are doing some amazing things — and you’ve given us such great tools and easy to use tech to boost our creativity. People paying a premium price for Apple products deserve such a theft protection mechanism. Having it will actually increase sales — because guess what — knowing that a Mac cannot get stolen will determine more people to buy one. I’m sure your top engineers can perfect the idea and turn it into a (thief) killer feature!
If your Mac was stolen or you are scared it might be in the future, help me get Apple attention by sharing this article.
And in the end, if you ever purchase a second hand machine, make sure it’s serial number is not C02K36Q1FFT0.