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The Complete Guide to Find My Mac

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Find My Mac brings the iCloud function of Find My iPhone to Mac OS X, providing a way of locating and performing a number of remote actions on a Mac. It's an essential feature for anyone using a portable Mac on a regular basis, especially those working with confidential data or who have a penchant for forgetfulness.

In this tutorial, I'll explain and show you everything there is to know about Find My Mac, from locating it to remotely wiping all of the data it contains.


Enabling Find My Mac

Find My Mac allows you to locate your missing Mac geographically by using either the Find My iPhone iOS app or through iCloud.com. Only Macs that connect to the internet using Wi-Fi are actually supported, so if you have a desktop Mac that is not using Wi-Fi, Find My Mac is not supported. The remaining features, such as Remote Lock and Remote Wipe are, however, still supported.

Whether or not your Mac is capable of being located, Find My Mac still needs to be enabled in order to make use of all of the aforementioned features.

Step 1

To start Find My Mac, open System Preferences, then select iCloud. If you aren't already signed in with your iCloud account, do so now. If you have already signed in to iCloud, skip to Step 3.

iCloud's preferences are available through System Preferences.
iCloud's preferences are available through System Preferences.

Step 2

Ensure the option Use Find My Mac is ticked as this will allow iCloud to locate and perform remote actions on your Mac, should it be necessary. As soon as you enable this option, Mac OS X will ask you to confirm that you would like to enable it.

As Find My Mac requires constantly monitoring your Mac's location, you will need to confirm you wish to do so.
As Find My Mac requires constantly monitoring your Mac's location, you will need to confirm you wish to do so.

Step 3

Now that you've signed in to iCloud, you can confirm that Find My Mac is enabled by ensuring the checkbox is ticked. This option is located at the bottom of the list.

If you already have iCloud signed in, make sure the last option is enabled.
If you already have iCloud signed in, make sure the last option is enabled.

Locating Your Mac with iCloud.com

With Find My Mac enabled, you can now locate your Mac using either the iCloud website or iOS app. I'll demonstrate how you can locate your Mac via iCloud.com first and then how to use the iOS app.

Step 1

Visit iCloud.com and log in with your iCloud username and password. After logging in, select the oddly-named Find My iPhone.

You can access the rather poorly-named Find My iPhone (which will located Macs) once you have logged into iCloud.
You can access the rather poorly-named Find My iPhone (which will located Macs) once you have logged into iCloud.

Tip: Find My iPhone was originally an iOS-only service that has since grown to accommodate the Mac, yet it retained the original name that can cause some confusion.

Step 2

After a few moments, a map will appear that will display any associated iCloud devices that you've enabled Find My iPhone / iPad / Mac on. Each device will be displayed on the map.

Find My iPhone will display all of your registered devices on a map.
Find My iPhone will display all of your registered devices on a map.

To view each device individually, click All Devices at the top of the page to select the device (in this case, your Mac) that you'd like to locate.

Find My iPhone will then filter the results to display just your Mac. From here, you can play a sound on your Mac, lock it or even remotely erase it, destroying any data contained within.

After selecting the device you wish to manage, you can perform a number of actions.
After selecting the device you wish to manage, you can perform a number of actions.

Locating Your Mac With Find My iPhone for iOS

Apple has long since had an iOS app to use with Find My iPhone, and locating Macs with it is no exception. The app includes all the functionality of iCloud.com so you can locate, lock and erase a Mac remotely.

If you haven't already, download Find My iPhone from the App Store.

Step 1

Launch Find My iPhone from your iOS device's home screen and log in with your iCloud credentials.

Find My iPhone is also useful if your friend has lost their device as they can use your iOS device to find it.
Find My iPhone is also useful if your friend has lost their device as they can use your iOS device to find it.

Tip: Find My iPhone for iOS doesn't store any additional information regarding devices used with an associated iCloud account so it is perfect if you lose your iPhone, iPad or Mac as you can borrow a friend's iOS device and log in to find out where the missing device is located.

Step 2

Once logged in, all of your devices will be located on a map, showing the location of each. You can select which device you'd like to see in more detail by tapping on Devices, then selecting your Mac from the list of options.

The remainder of the app offers the same functionality as iCloud.com.
The remainder of the app offers the same functionality as iCloud.com.

Just like iCloud.com, you can play a sound on your Mac, lock it or remotely erase it.


Testing Find My Mac

Before I proceed to the next part of the tutorial, I'll ensure that your Mac is properly configured and can correctly use Find My Mac.

From either iCloud.com or the iOS app, select Play Sound. As soon as you select this option, an alert will be displayed on your Mac along with a repeating alert tone until the message is dismissed. Be warned, Find My Mac sets the Mac's volume to 100% the tone is played through the speakers, so be sure that you're not going to do this is a quiet area or with a set of high-powered speakers connected!

You can't customise the message, unfortunately, though the alert tone comes through loud and clear.
You can't customise the message, unfortunately, though the alert tone comes through loud and clear.

As an extra precaution, iCloud will notify you via email whenever you have performed this action along with the date and time, as well as the device it was sent to.

iCloud informs you whenever any of the Find My iPhone features are used.
iCloud informs you whenever any of the Find My iPhone features are used.

As I mentioned at the start of this tutorial, Macs that are not connected via Wi-Fi do not support Find My Mac in terms of being geographically located. All other functions, however, will still work. You will still see your Mac on the list of devices you can access via Find My iPhone but you will not be able to view it on a map.


Remote Lock

I strongly recommend having a backup of your Mac before you continue. In fact, I'd recommend not continuing this tutorial unless you have a spare Mac available on which to perform this.

Remote Lock works by specifying a passcode for the purpose of the lock which then automatically restarts the Mac, regardless of what it is doing, to a lock screen that only the owner, who has set the passcode, is able to unlock.

Remotely locking a Mac doesn't affect the data that is stored upon it, though it does prevent anyone from accessing the Mac until you, the authorised user, are able to enter a unique passcode. In addition, a Mac that is remotely locked cannot then be remotely wiped, it has to be reactivated first. When deciding whether you'd like to just lock the Mac or both lock and wipe it, make sure to select the correct option that suits the requirements at the time.

Step 1

Log in to Find My iPhone via iCloud.com or using the iOS app and select your Mac from the list of devices. Select Lock, and you'll be asked to confirm that you wish to lock the Mac, warning you that a locked Mac cannot then be remotely wiped.

Remotely locking a Mac prevents all other functions from being used until it is unlocked.
Remotely locking a Mac prevents all other functions from being used until it is unlocked.

Step 2

You will then be required to enter a passcode to use for the purposes of remotely locking the Mac. This is a one-time passcode solely for this purpose and is not saved, you have to enter a new passcode each time you wish to remotely lock a Mac or iOS device.

A unique six-digit passcode will need to be entered so you can unlock the Mac.
A unique six-digit passcode will need to be entered so you can unlock the Mac.

The passcode must be six digits and you will be required to confirm it again.

Step 3

An optional message can be displayed, something that I recommend you take advantage of if your Mac goes astray. You can provide some crucial contact information for anyone who might find it, allowing you to be reunited with your Mac.

An optional message can be displayed on the passcode lock screen in Mac OS X.
An optional message can be displayed on the passcode lock screen in Mac OS X.

Enter a message and then select Lock.

Step 4

At this point, your Mac will restart automatically to the recovery partition almost immediately, quitting any open apps. Before entering the recovery partition, a passcode lock screen is displayed, requesting the six-digit passcode that was set via Find My Mac.

This is how a locked Mac looks.
This is how a locked Mac looks.

Only this passcode can unlock the Mac, so be sure to use a passcode that you can remember!

Once the correct passcode has been entered, the Mac will restart again and boot back into Mac OS X as normal. Your Mac will be unlocked and you can continue using it as usual.

Remote Wipe

If the worst should happen and your Mac is lost, containing sensitive information, you can remotely wipe it using Find My Mac. This is a worst-case scenario and something that should not be used lightly. I'd recommend only using this if you're absolutely sure there's little to no chance of recovering your Mac or the data is too confidential to risk losing. As long as you have a backup (you are backing up, right?) then your data is still safe for the meantime.

Erasing a Mac remotely using Remote Wipe can take up to a day, depending on the amount of data there is.

Step 1

As before, log in to Find My iPhone and select your Mac from the list of devices you can view. From there, select Erase Mac. You'll then be asked to confirm you're absolutely sure you want to erase your Mac.

Step 2

Again, a six-digit passcode needs to be set in order to unlock the Mac, should you then be able to recover it. You'll need to confirm the number again.

Step 3

You can also set an optional message to be displayed on the Mac's display while it is erasing and waiting to be unlocked. As soon as you select Done, the Mac will automatically restart and begin wiping any data contained within.

As soon as you confirm all of the above, iCloud will begin to remotely wipe your Mac.
As soon as you confirm all of the above, iCloud will begin to remotely wipe your Mac.

The Mac restarts and displays the same lock screen that is displayed when it remotely locked. What Remote Wipe does is both perform a Remote Lock and wipes the Mac. While the Mac is powered up and displaying the lock screen, the Mac is securely erasing any data it contains on it, keeping the recovery volume intact.

Step 4

I'll assume you've been able to recover the Mac. Enter your passcode and your Mac will then boot to the Mac OS X Recovery partition. This will allow for a fresh installation of Mac OS X to be performed, as well as restoring any data from a Time Machine backup that you may have.

Once you've unlocked your Mac, it will then boot to OS X Recovery for you to reinstall Mac OS X.
Once you've unlocked your Mac, it will then boot to OS X Recovery for you to reinstall Mac OS X.

Wrapping Up

At the end of this tutorial, you should now have a good understanding of the process involved with Find My Mac in Mac OS X. It's a powerful tool that can aid in recovering, or ensuring no-one else can use, your Mac.

It's certainly a feature I would recommend having enabled, but make sure your password and security questions are very secure as anyone who is able to break into your iCloud account could remotely wipe your Mac, and there's nothing that you can do to prevent it if it happens. The best prevention is making sure to use secure login credentials.

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