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Retrieve a Lost or Stolen Mac With Find My Mac

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Find My Mac is one of the more useful features of iCloud, and while I hope your Mac is never lost or stolen, it’s a good idea to set up Find My Mac in your System Preferences and know how to make use of all of the functions, in case the worst ever happens. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to turn on Find My Mac, track down your Mac, find a lost device in your home, and even lock or erase a stolen Mac.


1. Turn on Find My Mac

Open System Preferences, and select iCloud within the Internet & Wireless row. You must log into iCloud with your Apple ID to access the iCloud settings, including Find My Mac. If you’ve never used iCloud before and don’t have an Apple ID, create one from the login window.

Log into your iCloud account with your Apple ID or create a new Apple ID.
Log into your iCloud account with your Apple ID or create a new Apple ID.

Once logged in, scroll to the bottom of the list of iCloud features to locate Find My Mac. Ensure the checkbox next to Find My Mac is selected. Once selected, System Preferences will ask you to confirm that you’re okay with iCloud tracking the location of your Mac. If your Mac goes missing, iCloud will try to pinpoint its location, so to make use of Find My Mac, you’ll need to allow location tracking.

Turn on Find My Mac and allow Find My Mac to track your Mac's location.
Turn on Find My Mac and allow Find My Mac to track your Mac's location.

Find My Mac is now good to go, and you can close System Preferences. There’s nothing else for you to do until your Mac goes missing, but I’ll walk you through what happens if your Mac is misplaced or stolen.


2. Examine Your Tracking Options

To locate a lost Mac, you’ll need to log in to iCloud. You’ve just lost your Mac, how are you supposed to log in to iCloud? There are a couple of ways to track your Mac with iCloud if you don’t have access to your own computer.

iCloud and Find My Mac's tracking service are available in your web browser.
iCloud and Find My Mac's tracking service are available in your web browser.

iCloud is accessible via any web browser at iCloud.com. Your best bet is to borrow a friend’s computer, but if that doesn’t work, you can always try publicly available computers at internet cafés or the library. Because your computer may just be under a stack of newspapers next to your bed, though, it’s a good plan is to grab a buddy with a laptop and start the search at home.

You may also track your Mac via the Find My iPhone app.
You may also track your Mac via the Find My iPhone app.

If you have another iCloud enabled device, you won’t even need the buddy, though you may want the moral support. iPhones and iPads can track other devices on the same iCloud account using Find My iPhone. It’s a free download from the App Store, and it’s how I managed to track my Mac for this tutorial.

However you choose to locate your computer, you’ll need to log into the same iCloud account as you used in Step 1 to set up iCloud on your Mac.


3. Find Your Mac

Logged into iCloud in a browser, choose Find My iPhone. (I know, guys, but it will track any device on your iCloud account.) Using the Find My iPhone app, you’re good to go.

Find My iPhone will display a map with the locations of all of your devices. Only devices that are online will appear, though, but you can see the most recent location of an offline device.

My Mac is displayed on a zoomed in map.
My Mac is displayed on a zoomed in map.

Click Devices in the upper left corner to see a list of all devices logged into your iCloud account and being tracked. A green circle next to your Mac in the device list lets you know your Mac is online right now. (Score!) A gray circle indicates your Mac is currently offline, but additional information beneath your device’s name will tell you when it was last online. This tells you how up-to-date the location information is.

You can track all devices logged into your iCloud account.
You can track all devices logged into your iCloud account.

Locate your device on the Map, and click the green Driving Directions icon to find out how to get to your Mac.

Tip: If you suspect your Mac has been stolen rather than just misplaced, don’t attempt to recover it on your own. Please contact local law enforcement before confronting a potential thief.


4. Make Your Mac Make a Noise

If your Mac is online and in the same building as you, your Mac can call for help. With your Mac selected in your devices, click Play Sound. The Mac will begin to chime, and it’s going to be a pretty annoying sound. If your Mac is in earshot, you’ll know about it.

Your Mac will alert you to its presence with a chime.
Your Mac will alert you to its presence with a chime.

Not only will your Mac sound a chime, but it will also display an alert, and you’ll receive a notification to the email address associated with your iCloud account. Unfortunately, your Mac won’t make a sound when it’s offline, but if you do click Play Sound, your Mac will begin chiming the next time it gets back online.

You Mac not only chimes, but it also displays an alert.
You Mac not only chimes, but it also displays an alert.

This will, again, be most useful when Find My iPhone confirms your Mac is in the same building as you and it’s online. If your Mac is at a familiar location, like your workplace or a coffee shop where everyone knows your name, you can tag in a pal to search for your chiming Mac and give you a call when he finds it. This probably isn’t best to use if you’ve narrowed down your Mac’s location on the Find My iPhone map to an unfamiliar place. If you suspect your Mac has been stolen, you may not want to tip off the thieves that the jig is up until we’ve put some security measures into place.


5. Lock Your Mac

Let’s say you’ve tracked your Mac with Find My iPhone, and you have no idea where it is or how it got there, but it’s still nearby. You don’t recognize its location, but it’s still in the same city. It’s a safe bet that someone picked it up, and it’s looking like your Mac has been stolen. There’s still a good chance that if you get law enforcement involved, you can get it back, though. You just don’t want the thief browsing all of your personal files.

Lock your computer if you're worried it may have been stolen, but you don't want to erase all of your data.
Lock your computer if you're worried it may have been stolen, but you don't want to erase all of your data.

With your Mac selected from the list of devices in Find My iPhone, click the Lock icon. You’ll be prompted to create a six-digit passcode. Make it good, because the entire point is to keep sticky fingers away from your data, but ensure it’s something you’ll remember when your Mac is recovered and returned to you.

Create a difficult to guess passcode.
Create a difficult to guess passcode.

Find My iPhone will ask you to enter a message to display with the lock screen. Something like, “Please call (555) 555-5555 to return this computer,” should do the trick, but if you want to be cagey, a simple notice that the Mac is locked will work.

You can also enter a message.
You can also enter a message.

Tip: A locked Mac cannot be remotely erased, so only lock your Mac if you’re confident you can recover it.

The lock command will go through the next time the Mac goes online. The Mac will restart on its own, and the new lock screen will appear. If you added a message, that will display, as well.


6. Erase Your Mac

This is the last ditch effort and really hurts my heart to even talk about. If you think your Mac is gone for good, it may be best to cut all ties and wipe your hard disk. This will be your best bet if you’ve tracked your Mac to a far flung locale and don’t think you’ll ever see it again. You may skip ahead to erasing your hard disk as soon as your Mac goes missing if it’s got a lot of sensitive information and you have a recent backup.

Erase your Mac if you have very sensitive information on your hard disk or you think it is unlikely you'll get your Mac back.
Erase your Mac if you have very sensitive information on your hard disk or you think it is unlikely you'll get your Mac back.

To wipe your Mac, select your Mac from the list of devices in Find My iPhone and click Erase Mac. Your Mac will erase and lock itself when it is next online; if it’s online when the erase command is sent, it should start within a few seconds.

Tip: The possibility that a thief could lay hands on your Mac or that you could misplace it yourself reminds us all that we should be making frequent backups. Check out our tutorial on backing up your Mac.

Find My iPhone will prompt you to create a four-digit passcode to unlock your Mac should you regain access to your computer in the future. While this won’t restore your deleted data, it will allow you to begin reinstalling OS X. You can then restore from Time Machine, if you’ve been keeping backups.

Because Find My iPhone is so powerful, especially with Find My Mac enabled in System Preferences, always ensure that you have a complicated and difficult to guess iCloud password that is dissimilar to all of your other passwords. If a hacker were to gain access to your iCloud password, he would have the ability to track your Mac or even lock or wipe your hard disk. A strong password and Apple two-step verification are the best ways to protect your Apple ID and password.


Conclusion

Hopefully you’ll never have to use the tools available in Find My Mac and Find My iPhone. A lost computer can be devastating, not just because of the monetary value, as it can be hard to calculate the value of the loss of your data. If your Mac is stolen, the thief has a potential window into your passwords, credit card numbers, email, and much more.

We looked at several ways to recover and protect your Mac should it ever go missing. Using the Find My iPhone web application and iOS app, we tracked a lost Mac, caused it to play a sound, locked a potentially stolen Mac, and even learned how to wipe the hard disk of an irretrievable Mac.

Have you ever used Find My Mac/iPhone to locate a lost or stolen device? Let us know how it worked for you!

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