The 'Book Page

The 'Book Page

Recovering a Stolen PowerBook

2000.02.03 - Jim

The following article is adapted from Jim's posting to the PowerBooks email list in response to Rick's reporting his PowerBook 520 and 165cstolen. Dan Knight, publisher

Dear Rick and other listreaders,

It is truly saddening to hear of your loss, and I hope your unit is recovered. This seems a good time to relate to other PowerBook users the story of my PB theft and recovery, as it might give you hope, and might give others some good ideas.

PowerBook 1400I had bought a PB 1400 and been working on my Ph.D. dissertation, using the unit to analyze data as well as compose scientific papers. The very morning that I priced out Zip drives (with an eye to backing up my work), my PB was stolen from my front porch (in its carrying case, along with my checkbook and my entire months bills, unmailed).

I immediately stopped the stolen checks and froze the credit card accounts (whose numbers had been stolen along with the PB), then went about reporting the theft to the police. A problem presented itself, in that I had no record of my serial number. Yes, the purchase invoice and shipping box had the serial numbers on them, but I had mailed them back to Apple Computer with a rebate coupon several months earlier. Of course, I had also registered my PB for warranty purposes, so even the registration card was gone.

I was in a panic, of course, not only because of the lost $2,000 PowerBook, but because of the lost data (and thesis chapters, representing several years of effort and $20,000+ in university tuition) - not to mention the loss of many highly personal documents that I was not too eager to have strangers viewing.

I telephoned Apple Computer. After working my way through the corporate phone system, I managed to get in touch with the head of security there. I am very grateful to Apple Computer Security for cooperating with the local police department in looking up my serial number (from my registration card) so that my unit could be identified and properly advertised as stolen. I was also reassured by Apple Computer Security that because my hard drive was password protected, that even if the unit was booted up off of a CD or other System Folder, the internal hard drive would not be accessible and my private data would be secure from prying eyes. I was impressed that several weeks later, Apple Computer called me at home to inquire on progress. Thank you!!

More importantly, I think, it is because my PB was password protected that the thief, upon turning it on, would be faced with an inoperable machine. Yes, a sophisticated user could start up from a CD, and reformat the internal drive, but not too many casual thieves are geek enough to do that. The password protection would significantly reduce the fence-value of my hot PowerBook. I notified local computer service shops of the theft, should someone bring it in for "repair of a forgotten password," and proceeded to broadly advertise a modest reward for its return. I figured that a couple hundred dollars was a reasonable ransom for my PB - and probably rivaled the fence-value of the hot machine. It certainly was small compared to the cost of the lost data.

Ten days later, I received a phone call from a stranger who had "found my computer laying along the road." Since there was no way I could prove that this person was the thief, I met him (with a police escort) paid the ransom, and got my PowerBook back. Data intact.

I have since acquired several lockdown cables, which are easy to use, convenient, and have a combination lock. Resembling bicycle locks, I keep one affixed to my desk at school, another affixed to my automobile trunk, and have one for travel purposes. (My model is the "Byte Brothers Security Cable" from Mac Warehouse.) The lockdown cables give me peace of mind while the notebook is in my trunk, left in a hotel room, or while I'm down the hallway from my office at the copier. It is not high security, but it keeps honest people honest and prevents casual thieves from walking away with my PB. And now, when my PB wakes up and asks for a password, the "hint" reads "$$ for Return" and offers my phone number.

The lessons are: (1) Use password protection. It works. (2) Don't leave your computer on your porch for even a few minutes. (3) Keep a record of your serial number (Thanks Apple!!) (4) Use lockdown cables. (5) Consider advertising a reward if your PB is stolen. (6) Back up your data.

Best of luck to you in recovering from your loss.

More on Password Security

Following are quotes from a few articles in the Apple Knowledge Base Archive.

  • Article 19161
    If you forget your password . . . take your PowerBook, with your proof of purchase (receipt), to an Apple Authorized Service Provider, where a technician has the means to bypass the password security.
  • Article 24014
    Do not under any circumstances enable the PowerBook 3400 password security if you have At Ease 4.0.x installed on the PowerBook and you have enabled the "Prevent users from bypassing security by starting up from a floppy disk" option in the At Ease administration program. The hard disk driver becomes corrupted in such a way that the PowerBook is unable to start up. Additionally, the computer will not start up from a floppy disk, CD, or in SCSI disk mode.
  • Article 24128
    On PowerBook 2400 and 3400 systems, Password Security software is not compatible with Mac OS 8.0. Other PowerBook systems are not affected.
  • Article 28015
    This article is the About Mac OS 8 Read Me file. If you have formatted your internal hard disk so it has more than one partition, only the start up partition will be password protected. Additionally, if more than one partition has a System Folder, the PowerBook may start up from a non-protected partition.
  • Article 30371
    Password Security v1.0.6, installed by Mac OS 8.1, will not work properly if installed on a Mac OS Extended (HFS Plus) Volume.
  • Article 30345
    Mac OS 8.1: About Mac OS 8.1 Update. Do not use the Password Security control panel if you plan to password protect and then start up from a Mac OS Extended (HFS+) formatted volume.
  • Article 30340
    Mac OS 8.1 will not install the new Password Security control panel on a PowerBook 2400 or 3400 unless it already exists in the Control Panels folder. As noted in Article 24128, Password Security is not compatible with these models under OS 8.1 and should not be used.
  • Article 60302
    If a user has a 2-byte (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) Language Kit installed . . . it is possible to create a password that can't be typed.
  • Article 19358
    There is a known issue with the password security feature on the PowerBook 5300 and 190 series computers. This issue is resolved by installing the System 7.5 Update 2.0 which includes the Password Security 1.0.3 control panel.
  • Article 25058
    Apple has identified an issue with the interaction of Password Security 2.0 and Kotoeri (Japanese Input Method) under Mac OS 8.6.
  • Article 58386
    When the PowerBook G3 Series [Lombard/Bronze Keyboard] wakes from sleep, the Password Security control panel is activating before the PowerBook has a chance to enable the USB bus. This results in any external USB keyboard not working.
  • Article 60583
    Under Mac OS 09, Password Security protects one partition only.

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