Tips for avoiding a Mac disaster

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When your laptop goes missing: 5 steps to take to prepare for the worst

Losing a laptop can be a traumatic experience. You not only have to deal with the cost of buying a new one, but with the loss of all the personal files that were on it. And if you haven’t taken steps to make that data secure, you open yourself to a lot of problems. Here are some steps that can make losing your laptop (or having it stolen) a little less painful.

1. Keep Paperwork: Note your laptop’s serial number, and make sure you have a copy of the original receipt in a safe place. You’ll need both for insurance purposes, and the serial number will help identify the computer if it turns up. You can find the serial number on the laptop, usually under the battery, or in the Hardware Overview of System Profiler (select Apple: About this Mac, then click More Info).

2. Encrypt Your Files: If you keep sensitive files on your laptop, make sure to use FileVault, turn off auto-login, protect your Keychain. All of these measures can help prevent anyone from getting to your files or your personal information.

3. Leave Your Calling Card: Create a special account named “guest” with no password. In this account, set up a TextEdit document with your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, and reward information. Go to the Accounts preference pane, click Login Items, and add this document. If someone finds your laptop and turns it on, the login window will show this account, and a good Samaritan might log into it. When they do, they’ll see all this information, and may give you a call.

4. Get Tracking Software: Consider using laptop tracking software, such as SealthSignal’s XTool Computer Tracker. This software communicates with a central server when the Mac is connected to the Internet. If you lose the laptop, contact the vendor, and there’s a good chance they’ll be able to find out where your computer is.

5. Act Fast: If your laptop is lost or stolen, act immediately: as soon as possible, change every password you can at every Web site that has your credit card: your bank, eBay, Amazon, the iTunes Music Store or any other on-line vendors you use. If someone gets hold of your user name and password, these accounts might be in serious jeopardy—especially if you haven’t set a different password for your Keychain and you use Safari’s AutoFill feature to automatically fill in your user names and passwords online. —Kirk McElhearn

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