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This might be a bizarre but crucial question, can I fully trust leaving my laptop in repairs (Genius Bar) while they have full access to it ?

I recently went to the genius bar to get my display fixed, and apparently they asked for my laptop's password just in case they need some "testing" after they're done. Can't they do that as a guest account ?

I got sensitive information on my laptop such as passport copies etc, as well as passwords saved in Safari's keychains for my bank account, paypal, amazon etc ..

The service is due later on today, shall I change my password and ask them to contact me directly if they need something specific ?? They're going to fix in 3 hours so I'll be in the mall whilst they finish.

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I added a quite long general answer, but in the narrow specifics of your question. Any MacBook can be totally rebuilt from new parts including a data transfer off and back on in 3 hours - so they might feel a part will need admin permissions to re-load software and are offering to save you time. It could also be standard procedure and they don't ever intend to see the OS under your account. I hope you answer with what happened - how things went on the flip side. –  bmike Nov 23 '12 at 14:34
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If you don't trust them, don't. Backup your data, and do a clean install, so no personal data will be on there. But as we all know, that won't actually erase the hard drive, for better security, you can do "erase free space" after you've done reinstalling you laptop. –  Shane Hsu Nov 23 '12 at 16:50
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you are safe unless some of the "Geniuses" considers you an asshole: "...or we just erase people's hard drives that are assholes..." gizmodo.com/5936324/… –  Marek Nov 23 '12 at 16:54
    
thanks @Render i was going to ask same question. My macbook pro is not even turning on , so i don't have any option to do anything like creating another account. –  Vivart Nov 23 '12 at 17:18
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When I've had to leave my MacBook Pro for repairs, I'd create a separate account that they can use for testing. In fact the genius suggested it as an alternative to me telling them my password. –  g . Nov 28 '12 at 9:37

10 Answers 10

up vote 14 down vote accepted

From a pragmatic standpoint, yes you can probably trust the average genius team (since the machine will be under the watch of many people while it is out of your possession).

But why not be a bit skeptical and ask why you might trust them. Sure they are probably trained to protect personal data of customers and respect privacy and there is social pressure to not be a jerk (or worse words that come to mind) with your personal data.

From a pragmatic standpoint, some devices (iPhones, iPads, Air and retina MacBook) require advanced skills and potentially damage to the equipment to remove the storage module, so this is something worth exploring a bit as not everyone can simply pop out the hard drive during service like older MacBooks allowed.


I would say don't ever give your password until you understand why it is being used and you are fully informed and willing to take that risk by disclosing your secret. I would also say, when I choose to not entrust a specific password, that I've done one of four things when I have something in for service that was in the category of data requiring more protection than none.

  • Wipe the drive - if things are truly sensitive - I have no business saving time by not wiping securely all data that's sensitive before it leaves my control.
  • Change the password to either my account or my keychain.
  • Make a new temporary account for the testing and give that. Sometimes I give them admin rights - other times I do not.
  • Give them a cell phone number and permission to call me 24/7 if they need the password and can explain why it's needed at that point of the repair.

Basically, If you hand your computer to Apple - you are handing it to someone with the tools and support to bypass all passwords (including firmware and normal physical security of the case) and read the data from the hard drive or just take the storage and keep it. Unless you have file vault or other encryption (like 1Password) and withhold that pass phrase. A technician could if they wanted, make a full copy of your data and perhaps even go snooping. I would ask the genius (or technician) to help educate you to how security works before you proceed with this repair.

There are many repairs where a password is needed to complete the service if your service involves software changes. Normally, this password is asked for to speed up the repair for you and let them replace any and all parts needed to complete the repair. If they are in and find you need a new motherboard, they could just do that if you give them the extra permission and password they need to do all possible work without stopping to contact you and explain what/why.

In your case, I would simply say you'd like to know a bit more about how they secure your password and your data during service. I would bet that the person asking for your password was lulled by the 100th time they've checked in a machine and forgot to ask you if you had any questions or perhaps missed your uneasiness about what was being asked. Once you've made your concern concrete by asking why they need it - you can then say you'd feel better not giving it and ask if that will either delay or prevent the repair. Any shop I trust will spend time to address these concerns to your satisfaction before they would accept your password. They would also lay out for you how to secure things again after the repair - change these three passwords, etc...

As a class, my opinion and experience is that Apple service technicians are highly professional, trained on privacy of your equipment and information and have thought out very well what, how and why they ask for someone's password. But even if bad things have never happened despite good training and policy, mistakes can and will happen in returning the wrong laptop or theft and your data is at risk when in the shop.

It is you in the end who have the right (and I would say responsibility) to be a little suspicious - especially when it's not clear how your password will be used during a repair. The clearer you can be with your concerns - the more comfortable you will be with your choice to trust the specific team you interact with on a case-by-case basis.

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I once gave them my password (only because it was a brand new machine with no PII or any useful data on it) and the invoice/receipt they gave me had my password printed on it! You can easily misplace that or they can misplace their copy, etc. The employees probably are trained professionals when it comes to not snooping for PII, but your password info is being moved around in such low-tech ways, that it can easily be stolen. –  rm -rf Dec 24 '13 at 17:14
    
@rm-rf Has a very good point. I would consider leaving the password on a sticky note - handwritten and folded or attached to the bottom of the Mac while in for service before I would agree to have it stored as plain text in a database of user passwords linked to serial numbers and addresses. My guess is Apple has beefed up the security of the repair tracking system, but why trust that if you don't use unique / oddball passwords and choose to give it anyhow. –  bmike Dec 24 '13 at 17:35

YES. You should be 'paranoid' about this. I had a quick fix to my laptop- no need to get into my files. They ended up taking an extra day... Well long story short, I went back to grab my recent work files and found they weren't there. The recent files were all of my private pictures and information.I was able to check the history & found that my files had all been dug through. DO NOT TRUST THEM. I don't know how to avoid this, but I was completely violated...

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The problem with FileVault2 is that any admin user, once logged in, can look at any other user's data.

With that said, I will typically create a second account called "Apple Tech Support" when I leave a machine with Apple for repair. But if I'm really concerned about the data, I'll copy it all to an external drive (they only cost $99), wipe my system, and do a clean install. When I get the system back I do a restore from the external drive to the internal drive. I use SuperDuper or CarbonCopy for that, rather than Apple's migration utility (which requires that you reinstall a lot of software.)

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I think some people here are being paranoid. When it comes right down to it, they are not interested in your personal data. They are pushing through, trying to get your problem fixed, so they can push on to the next one.

There are a lot of repair related things that require an admin password to accomplish; things which cannot be done from a guest account. I am the Mac tech support person at my work place, and there is nothing worse than coming across the "password needed," and the person has not left you their password. So far, I've always been able to figure out their passwords, but it would have been so much faster if I had just had it from the beginning.

When I come across something I can't figure out, I take my hardware to the Genius Bar. I usually stand there and wait while they work on it, but at times, I have even left a Mac with them for several days at a time, and am none the worse for it.

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What do you mean by "So far, I've always been able to figure out their passwords" ?? Please clarify that particular point .. I doubt you manually typed down the most basic 100 passwords without help by software. –  Render Nov 27 '12 at 19:29
    
Nope, no software needed. I'm just pretty good at remembering/figuring out people's passwords. Good thing I'm not a hacker, huh? –  Gavin Anderson Jan 22 '13 at 19:47
    
Doubt it really. This is exactly why I don't really trust employees sometimes, thank you for the perfect example. –  Render Jan 23 '13 at 15:13

What kind of question is this?

How do you ever know you "can trust" someone?

Trust involves data. You must have past experience that shows they can be trustworthy. If you're really worried about it, find a different service: one that you trust.

Or move your sensitive stuff off your laptop while they work on it. There's a process I imagine that HR does to avoid getting unethical workers in. It's called an interview. 100% accurate? No. Employees will always follow rules? No.

This is the world we live in. Protect yourself, but I always extend others the same trust as I would want them to extend me. I give an appropriate amount of access and I take it on faith that it won't be abused. If I find there's a breach, I look for how I failed, not how to blame the other. Because indeed, it is my failure. I didn't have to give them my sensitive information and full access to it.

EDIT: with regards to "What kind of question is this?" - what I'm getting at, is this is not a question of technical nature. It is highly subjective and worse still, may inspire fear, without basis, into readers of it. There's no actual, real answer to be had here: it's about who you're willing to trust. Keep your security in mind and evaluate for yourself.

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It's interesting that you proffered an answer if you truly believe no useful answers can be offered. Some subjective questions are encouraged and allowed - despite the angst they can cause users, moderators and the site owners. –  bmike Nov 27 '12 at 20:28
    
@bmike OK - how does one decide then if it's subjective and should be encouraged or not? And yes, you're right. My answer was emotionally charged because I feel like it's not right to ask the question in this way, on this board. It's based on your own evaluation and sense of ethics. Thanks for calling me out on that. –  Harv Nov 27 '12 at 23:40
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The best place to ask about why something is good or bad for the site is Ask Different Meta. The short answer is the community decides what is too subjective by voting to close questions that are too subjective. This seems to be a reasonable appeal to ask experienced people to share their experiences and not something that's surveying everyone for all possible preferences on trust. I also could be dead wrong or the question could edit into something else and need to be closed / locked / re-edited. –  bmike Nov 27 '12 at 23:56

The answers to this are very good, and I wanted to relate my experience in follow up to the service event.

I went to the store and gave my laptop to the Genius Bar. They told me they will contact me if they need anything. They asked me if the password is correct in the system, and I told them it is when it really wasn't. I actually changed the password and created a guest account. Then, I told the guy if the password didn't work they can try the guest account, and he said "Oh yeah certainly". So I'm not sure why they needed the password in the first place. Anyway after 3 hours, another guy (who I was told was fixing my laptop) came and delivered my machine with the brand new screen. I asked him if they needed to access my laptop and he said "Well you can do that now if you want" and I logged in my account. Basically he did not need to access my laptop for testing. However, maybe it is due to the fact that it was repaired in 3 hours (as I requested) and was not left with them for days.

TLDR : I changed my account's password and created a guest account + I deleted Safari's saved passwords just to be safe -> They did not need to access my laptop to check if the screen has been fixed.

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I had a laptop scratched by them once when repaired and they just shrugged it off.

I would just make sure that the look at the laptops condition very carefully. I would (and did) trust them with data.

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Here's your answer:

I agree that:

[...]

• Apple is not responsible for any loss, corruption, or breach of the data on my product during service; and

[...]

The Genius Bar is staffed by people, not robots. Apple can't force them to follow the rules, so there is always a chance that they do something with your data that they're not supposed to.

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Very nice summation of where the responsibility lies. I believe the OP realizes the responsibility is hers/his - and worded it bring up trust which is what happens when you delegate responsibility for a span of time or temporary situation. You are totally correct, that despite good intentions, Apple clearly places 100% responsibility on the person leaving the Mac for service in their legal agreement and terms. –  bmike Nov 27 '12 at 20:35

Would it be possible to temporarily transfer all your sensitive/important information to an external drive, and restore them later on back onto your laptop? For keychains you can use the Keychain Access utility application to export all your keychains, delete the saved ones on your MacBook, and then import them back when you get your MacBook back. Same applies for other save data. But if you have time, it would be most effective if you can do a Time Machine backup, and just wipe the machine with a brand new OSX install.

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But that is very hectic ... I do not have time to do a backup and wipe my machine. I was wondering if I can activate File Vault, change my password, and let them access a Guest account. –  Render Nov 23 '12 at 14:31
    
This is a great option. If time were limited, I would secure erase the sensitive files once they (and only they) are in the trash. If you had time, you would securely erase all free space on the drive if you were paranoid. The best long term strategy is to learn how FileVault works and perhaps use 1Password or another encrypted store for sensitive passwords, files, account information. –  bmike Nov 23 '12 at 15:01

They can boot your mac from an external hard drive for testing (and if your laptops hard drive is not encrypted, they can access your files that way), so they don't need your password. I even removed the drive before repair and there wasn't a problem here.

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So I can just change the password right ? They don't really need it do they ?? Plus do I need to encrypt sensitive files and passwords ? Or am I safe to leave them the way it is ? –  Render Nov 23 '12 at 13:59
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You may turn on FileVault, if you have sensitive files. It comes with Mac OS and encrypts your hard drive. This takes several hours to complete, I think. The keychain is encrypted anyway and cannot be accessed without your user account. So: add a second user account (without admin rights) and that should be ok for the repair. –  Purple Tentacle Nov 23 '12 at 14:03
    
I worked as a Genius for awhile - I never saw any employees just 'snooping' through customer hard drives (we were usually too busy doing actual hardware repairs). Officially, the only thing in Apple's training that requires the tech to stop work and inform supervisors is child pornography. But yes, if you're concerned about it, encrypt the sensitive information and change your password once the laptop has been returned. –  da4 Nov 23 '12 at 14:07
    
@ComicSans can I remove the encryption after the service ? any side effects ?? –  Render Nov 23 '12 at 14:27
    
@da4 Would you guys still manage to do your testing on a Guest account ? –  Render Nov 23 '12 at 14:28

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