I'm using the great applicaton Prey which hopefully never has to get used, but just in case, I want to be prepared.

So basically I have a request for password after sleep/screensaver enabled, but that would propably lead the thief into the direction of re-installing the OS X, all my data would be gone and Prey would be useless. Therefore I created some other users without a password, so the thief can use the Mac anyway and herewith send me some signals so I can receive his location and all that good stuff.

My problem basically is just that he still can see some Applications, which I can restrict, but the user will see them anyway and get the idea that they aren't full users, so the thief still might have the idea to reinstall. I basically want to make the thief as comfortably in my OS X as possible without giving anything away. What did you guys do? How do you prepare your Mac for the use with Prey ??

  • 4
    In addition to the excellent technological answers below, I would add only this: Make sure you have a copy of your receipt, note down your serial number, take a photo of the Mac (don't store the photo on the Mac). Getting an insurance payout will be a git, it always is, so when you say it was in perfect condition and it gets returned looking like it was used for mixing cement on...
    – stuffe
    Feb 7, 2012 at 19:38
  • 2
    Note that Prey is utterly useless unless your Mac automatically logs in without requiring a password. Which is itself a bad idea. Mar 25, 2012 at 15:43
  • You might also be interested in this question: How can I remotely delete sensitive data and log out from a stolen Mac?
    – gentmatt
    Mar 28, 2012 at 15:22

3 Answers 3


The first thing to do is go to System Preferences » Security & Privacy and enter your name and phone number in the "Show a message when the screen is locked" field. That will give someone who finds your computer a chance to return it to you.

To address the specific issue that you raised about Applications:

You can install the Applications to ~/Applications (that is, create an "Applications" folder inside your home folder) and install apps there instead.

Note that the Mac App Store will automatically install apps to /Applications but you can easily relocate them. You could even automate the process using Hazel or something like it.

Other ideas:

launchd is your friend. You can create scripts or programs which will run whenever anyone is logged into your computer, or you can do the same for when specific users log in. For example, create a new Gmail account and create a script which will send the IP address of your computer every 15 minutes:

curl -s http://whatismyip.org | Mail -s "$HOST address as ofdate" [email protected]

(Note: you will have to setup your Mac to send email from the command line. I wrote a HOWTO for that.)

DynDNS is another good idea. That will give you a hostname to use with ssh. (Be sure that "Remote Login" is enabled via System Preferences » Sharing.) Make sure that it works (i.e. daemon runs/updates) while you are logged into your 'dummy' account.

My Preference

I set a Firmware Password on my Mac so they can't boot from another drive (i.e. trying to wipe it) without entering a password.

I use FileVault 2 (Lion) to encrypt my drive. They only get access to Safari. See Can FileVault 2 and Find My Mac foil thieves? for more details (I didn't write that, I just recommend it).

In sum: I do as much as I can to protect my data, and I do as much as I can to give someone the opportunity to return it if I lose it and they find it (vs being stolen).

I have thought about (but have not actually checked to see if it can be done) going to a jeweler and asking to see if they can inscribe my name / phone number on the bottom of my MacBook Air.

Those are my thoughts, FWIW.

  • 1
    There is a big flaw in your answer AFAIK: FileVault encrypts the entire file system, so before the thief logs in, no launchd script or program (like Prey Anti-theft) could possibly launch! Did you actually try this or was it just theoretical ideas? Would you like to review it based on this comment? :) It's a nice idea (launchd scripts) but sadly I think FileVault ruins that whole party for anti-theft tracking.
    – user163629
    Jun 5, 2018 at 8:27

My preparation doesn't answer all of your concerns because my priorities are different. I place a higher value on data security than I do on the Macintosh itself. Tracking software doesn't assure the recovery of a stolen laptop. If you're concerned about the cost of hardware your best protection is an insurance rider specifically covering the theft of your computer gear.

So with that qualification, here's my list:

  • A reliable, robust backup system that works from any location that has an internet connection and archives data to an offsite cloud server. I use Crashplan Central. When I'm at my desk, I also make daily system clones to a local drive using SuperDuper!
  • Set a firmware password for the Mac to prevent unauthorized booting from alternative startup drives. Warning: If you set this password, don't lose it.
  • Encrypt the hard drive using FileVault (2).
  • Use a strong password for login.
  • Set a short idle interval to lock the screen when computing in non-secure locations. I consider my home, office and most client sites to be secure and I use a longer interval. If I'm traveling or working in a public place I set the screensaver/lock to activate after one minute of idle time. . Regardless of location, I am in the habit of manually locking the screen from the Menubar when I walk away from the computer.
  • Activate Find My Macintosh via your iCloud account. Don't expect to get your computer back, but it can't hurt, and it will allow you to remotely erase the data from your computer if necessary. I've used this feature to locate a computer that I'd left in a client's server closet.
  • Develop a workflow that lends itself to getting back to work on a replacement computer quickly. I minimize the applications I use regularly so there are fewer to install and purchase apps from the Apple App Store when possible so they're easy to install from a single source, even from the road. I use DropBox to store current projects. When needed, older projects are available to me remotely by logging into CrashPlan.

In addition, I carry a mini flash drive in my (real) wallet that has a recent copy of my Password Wallet file and a few other "key" data files. I keep this up-to-date using an Automator action that runs whenever that flash drive mounts on the system. The current copy of the passwords file is also on my iPhone, iPad and on Dropbox..

Most of all, I try to maintain situational awareness to minimize the likelihood of theft. Even so, my laptop sits unguarded in hotel rooms and offices all the time, yet I rest easy because I've taken the necessary steps to secure my data and implemented plans for a rapid recovery.

One more thing… I have my contact information (phone number and email) displayed on the login screen of my MacBook Pro and the lock screens of my iPad and iPhone. Perhaps I'm naive, but I believe the greatest risk is loss, not theft.

  • 1
    Superb post....
    – stuffe
    Feb 1, 2012 at 19:00
  • Your answer got carried away a bit from my initial fear of loosing the value of the laptop itself, but my data are very important to me too, so I'm glad to have a few new ideas how to keep at least the virtual goods safe. Still excited to get some more answers concerning the actual theft of the hardware though!
    – Anonymous
    Feb 1, 2012 at 21:39
  • 4
    Security is always a series of compromises. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. My concern is that the steps you want to take to enable Prey to continue working compromise data security and make it easier for a knowledgable thief to reformat your Mac and wipe your watchdog. A door left open is a door that can be used. Given that location data does not assure recovery of the hardware, I opt for locking down the data as the first priority.
    – jaberg
    Feb 1, 2012 at 21:52
  • @djacobson – I meant to thank you for adding the URLs. It was on my "to do" list, but I appreciate the help.
    – jaberg
    Feb 2, 2012 at 15:14

Great question, this is all essential info every mac/laptop owner should know. In addition to the excellent advice offered I'd like to add that you can use a Kensington lock to attach your mac to an immovable object like so:

enter image description here

It may not be perfect to avoid a determined thief, but it can still be a deterrent in public places like hotels, libraries, cafes etc..

You might also be interested in reading how hackers are doing it.

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