I recently had something happen, that I must admit, I was not prepared for, and I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned from this experience. Hopefully, you can learn from my story, and not have to go through this yourself. My House was robbed on Sunday. Luckily we were not at home, and neither were our dogs. We spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon on Whidbey Island. We were planning to be back in the late afternoon to make it down to Seattle for dinner with friends. We forgot that Sunday was Mother’s Day, and lots of ferry traffic made us change our plans. So we stayed late on the island to get dinner there. We got home about 12:30am, to a very dark house with no computer equipment in it.
The thieves took 2 iPads, a 2011 iMac, a 5th generation (circa 2006) iPod, 2 MacBooks (also from 2006), an old tablet PC (it looked like a white iPad in a case, that I doubt they will be able to pawn/sell.), and my 2011 MacBook Pro work laptop. Not to mention some cash and all our power adaptors. It could have been much worse.
- Find out the history of your neighborhood and your house. Ask your neighbors, look at crime reports for the area. Though we were aware of other burglaries in the area in the past, we did not find out until we were speaking with our neighbor after the fact, that our house was broken into before.
- If you have new mac products turn on iCloud. It’s now free for all Apple products, and the Find My Mac (or iPhone/iPad/iPod) feature can help you find your old equipment if it connects to the internet again.
- Engrave your driver’s license number on your computer equipment. Not only is it very easy for police to find you if they have your product, but a buyer can easily check that the seller (if they claim to be the first owner) has a matching driver’s license.
- Encrypt your file contents. I have never done this before, because back when I used PC’s, I would recover my lost files by popping out the hard drive, putting it in an external case, and reading the contents like a USB jump drive. I’ve now learned, that the FileVault feature under Security & Privacy in your Mac settings let’s you set a password and recovery key to break the encryption if you ever do need to read your hard drive contents that way. So turning this on only prevents thieves from reading your stuff, not you.
- Set a password on all of your electronics that you can. Most of the stolen products had password protection turned on (All of my stuff did).
- Set the nickname on your apple products from this site: My Support Profile* and if it’s stolen change it to something like this: “Stolen MacBook – Call <my cell #>”. The thieves or the new buyers will not be able to change those nicknames, and someone might be nice enough to call you if they buy your mac.
- Lock up anything that would be devastating if it were stolen. My passport and backup hard drive (with all my pictures on it) were next to my computer on my desk. The thieves did not take those.
- At least try to make things hard to steal (the kensington lock that I own, but haven’t used since college, has been pulled out of retirement). Thinking thieves will have bolt cutters (or knowing they could use your bolt cutters that are in the garage) isn’t a valid excuse to not use a simple lock-up mechanism. Someone who is looking for a fast grab may just say “forget it”.
- Try to keep valuable things out of plain site (if someone looks in my window would it look like a good/easy place to steal from?)
- Checking with your partner/friends/roommates/etc… if they locked the doors/windows before you left is in everyone’s best interest. Don’t take offense, everyone forgets sometimes, you don’t have to see it as a personal attack, micro-management, or an affront to your intelligence.
- Leaving lights on or having lights on timers/sensors, even if you think you will be back before dark, is worth the extra electricity cost and any possible impact to the environment (Buying a bunch of new laptops / replacing stolen goods has a much bigger impact to the environment than leaving a light on for 10 hours).
- Check that your home owners / renters insurance will cover your friends stuff if they leave it at your house and it’s stolen. You don’t want to find that out after-the-fact.
- The stuff you can’t put a price on and would be really upsetting to you to lose (like picture albums) thieves don’t want. Everything else, put a price on it, and make sure your coverage is high enough.
- When you buy a new computer, call your insurance company and add it explicitly to your plan. 30 minutes out of your day is worth it, and if you don’t, what is the point of paying for insurance that’s not going to cover your new stuff?
I have a new perspective of my personal backups. I’ve always done really good backups to recover from equipment failure. If my computer died tomorrow, what would happen? I’d be annoyed for an hour or two. If my computer and back-up hard-drive and my router and my back-up computer were stolen tomorrow, what would happen? Everything being gone never occurred to me. A failed hard-drive, no problem, a never-to-return hard-drive, much bigger issue.
- My house was one point of failure. My back-up hard-drive and back-up laptop where in the same place. Thank goodness my back-up hard-drive was not stolen.
- My back-up back-up hard-drive is now a VPS with an SLA on it that makes me feel much better.
- There are server-safes available to keep a TimeCapsule/Backup server in. It’s a safe that you can bolt down and lock up in your home, but has venting for electronics, is wifi/bluetooth penetrable, and has wire holes. You can also pay for space in a datacenter to keep your hardware.
- Storing your source-code and any other files you want on github/bitbucket/your remove server/dropbox is so easy that you really have no excuse here. It’s free (bitbucket has free private repos), and easy. I didn’t lose any work from my laptop. I did lose some original source files for presentations and graphics files that were only stored locally, but all of them have an exported copy that I have (like jpgs made from Gimp projects, and slideshows I now only have on slideshare). I regret not putting them in dropbox or in a git repo, so now all my folders are now some kind of repository that is duplicated in the cloud. Also, if you do this with settings files it’s so easy to clone down and setup a new machine (You can also use Chef to setup your mac environment).
These a are few things I’ve learned. I hope these tips help you, and remember hope for the best, but plan for the worst.