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Security tips for Mac travelers

Glenn Fleishman | Nov. 22, 2012
When you hit the road, it’s easy to get paranoid—especially if you’re carrying thousands of dollars’ worth of technology with you. You can alleviate some of your worries by taking security measures to protect yourself against someone running off with your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook.

If you want to be sure that your computers data isnt accessible to a more-than-casual snooper or to a thief who has all the time in the world, your best bet is full-disk encryption (FDE). FDE creates a strong encryption key, which it uses to encipher your entire hard drive. The key is held in memory while youre in an active running session, and it is tossed whenever you shut down.

An FDE-protected system can only be backed up while its active. This prevents anyone (including governments and you) from recovering your data without a login account and password or an appropriate passcode.

Encrypt your drive with FileVault: Since Lion, Apple has provided built-in full-disk encryption through FileVault 2. You cant recover a FileVault-protected disks data without an account and password. (See Complete guide to FileVault 2 in Lion, still applicable in Mountain Lion.) If you dont like the configuration and options available from Apple, theres also Sophos SafeGuard ().

Encrypt key drives and files: You can also encrypt external drives, virtual drives (disk images), and individual files using Mac OS Xs built-in Disk Utility and other free and paid tools. Apple added external disk encryption in the Finder in Mountain Lion, too. See Encrypt any disk in Mountain Lion.

Rely on built-in iOS encryption: Nearly all iOS devices have hardware encryption built in. When the passcode is active, data is unrecoverable unless a device is jailbroken or otherwise compromised. This protection is automatic, and is only absent from the original iPhone, iPhone 3G, and first two iPod touch generations. Hardware encryption also allows a quick remote wipe."

Find a lost or stolen device

Even if your device is stolen or you simply mislay it in your travels, its possible to recover it if youve planned ahead. Theft-recovery software for mobile and desktop operating systems can track a device so long as its on a network. You might recall the recent story about ABC News purposely leaving an iPad at an airport security checkpoint, then using software to locate it at the house of a TSA employee? Thats not so unusual.

With a location in hand, police are often more willing to visit a home or business, as they frequently find where one device is located, other stolen gear is found. But many thieves are now too clever for such software, and prevent devices from joining a Wi-Fi network or even wrap hardware in aluminum foil to keep it off a cellular network.

Track it down with iCloud and Find My Mac: The built-in option for Mac OS X and iOS is Apples Find My Mac and Find My iPhone (which works for all iOS devices). This is activated in Lion and Mountain via the iCloud preference pane, and requires Wi-Fi to be enabled to provide tracking information. In iOS, the Settings > iCloud view has a Find My iPhone switch. You can find the current location of devices (Macs and iOS gear) associated with an Apple ID by logging in to iCloud.com with that ID or using the Find My iPhone app (which includes Macs in what it finds).

 

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