Should I get rid of my password?
August 24, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I have Prey installed on my MacBook Pro to assist with tracking my laptop if it's ever stolen. My question is... should I still have a password? If I want the best chance of finding the laptop, wouldn't I want the thief to USE it and log onto a WiFi network to assist with locating it?

It seems to me that if I keep a password on it, the odds are the prospective thief would try to use it first. If it's passworded, and locked, wouldn't he be much more likely to format it, or replace the hard drive, in order to sell it/use it?

So, with that in mind... should I remove my password from the system?
posted by smitt to Technology (15 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
The setup I've heard explained to me is that you have your real account passworded and encrypted with Filevault but you have a non-admin set to auto-login without a password. The thief will take the path of least resistance and trigger Prey in that account, so your data is safe but you might be able to recover the laptop.
posted by sharkfu at 9:43 AM on August 24, 2011


Set up a guest account with no password, and enable it so that it shows up as an option on the login screen at startup. That's what I've done to allow a thief to use the computer without compromising my user account (and to make it less likely that the computer will be summarily wiped).
posted by killdevil at 9:43 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


What killdevil said. I use Undercover agent (similar concept) and I have an open guest account that the thief can use to get on wifi and (inadvertently) activate the recovery process.
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 9:45 AM on August 24, 2011


More advice.

Use a context-aware utility like Marco Polo to help further. I use wifi network name as a context clue to turn off the password protected screen saver when I am at work or at home (places where my laptop is at least risk). When I am some place else (like a cafe), marco polo doesn't recognize it as a trusted wifi and throws up the screen saver (which needs a password to clear). So thief will need to hard reboot into the guest account.

Even if a thief were to steal my laptop from home/office, I doubt he/she would run out with an open laptop. As soon as they close the lid and open it back up in some other location, marco polo will automatically ask for a password since it doesn't recognize the wifi.
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 9:48 AM on August 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


If it's passworded, and locked, wouldn't he be much more likely to format it, or replace the hard drive, in order to sell it/use it?

One more. Add a firmware password so the thief cannot format the harddrive (or put in a new one).
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 9:51 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


OSX passwords are trivial to reset once you have physical access (boot into single user mode and use passwd). I'm sure most laptop theives can google for how to do this.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:58 AM on August 24, 2011


Requiring a password to log on (plus actually logging off or toggling the screensaver) is good for preventing casual snooping... Which is probably more likely than your computer being stolen.
posted by anaelith at 10:00 AM on August 24, 2011


Seconding babbyʼ); Drop table users;'s suggestion to enable the firmware password. This also stops people booting your laptop in Target Mode and copying files off it.

Firmware password, guest account, Filevault, locking screensaver.
posted by BinaryApe at 10:26 AM on August 24, 2011


Is there a decent non-biased review between Prey/Undercover/whatever? Smtt, why'd you choose Prey? babby');Drop Table Users;, why'd you choose Undercover?
posted by Runes at 11:28 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone. I didn't even think of setting up a Guest account. You guys provided some good tips, and I think I know how I want to have it set up for now. I'm also going to set a firmware password.

I'm mostly worried about smash-and-grab, or opportunistic type thieves, not someone who is actually targeting laptops. I don't travel except for pleasure, and so my laptop usually lives at home (although does join me at the library).

Runes: I picked Prey because I saw some good reviews, it's open source, and in my trials of it, it seems to work quite well. I'll admit, I didn't do much in the way of comparison shopping though.
posted by smitt at 12:22 PM on August 24, 2011


Runes: "Is there a decent non-biased review between Prey/Undercover/whatever? Smtt, why'd you choose Prey? babby');Drop Table Users;, why'd you choose Undercover"

I went with Prey because it was free. Set it up on my laptop and test activated it. It pulled the network info and gave me a screenshot from the webcam. I figure I'll keep this and add Find My Mac when/ if it launches.

I don't have any experience with Undercover.

Another option is Hidden, which I also have no experience with, although it apparently was involved in recovering a laptop and was chronicled live on tumblr. News story on their site.
posted by sharkfu at 12:23 PM on August 24, 2011


Runes: Undercover is a one time fee for all features and they will refund your license fee if your laptop is not recovered in a reasonable time frame. Prey offers a basic service for free but all the premium features require an annual subscription (which works out to be more expensive than an Undercover license).
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 3:25 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with your guest account plan is that modern Filevault encrypts the whole drive, and requires a password before booting - hence no guest option. I suppose one could explicitly CREATE a pseudo-guest, but it wouldn't be the nice built-in, self-deleting guest you're used to.

Unless someone could tell me I'm wrong, and I'd be fine with that.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:31 AM on August 25, 2011


John Kenneth Fisher: "The problem with your guest account plan is that modern Filevault encrypts the whole drive, and requires a password before booting - hence no guest option. I suppose one could explicitly CREATE a pseudo-guest, but it wouldn't be the nice built-in, self-deleting guest you're used to.

Unless someone could tell me I'm wrong, and I'd be fine with that
"

The plan I heard is to have the non-admin (but not guest) account set to auto-login with an empty password, then the user logs out with command-shift-q, and logs in with the normal user account. Since the initial account is empty, it should start quickly. I don't have Lion yet, but I believe Filevault 2 eliminates guest accounts but allows regular accounts with an empty password, unless I have been misinformed.
posted by sharkfu at 11:55 AM on August 25, 2011


Well, to answer my question above: Since I've got multiple mac's in the family, I purchased the Undercover family pack (one-time fee vs subscription). Installed on two macbooks and reported it stolen in the control panel to test. One mac never reported it's location. The other one did report the location, but was off by about 10 miles. I installed the free version of Prey to test it out. Prey reported the location, though to be honest it put the macbook as being in the yard instead of in the house.

Smitt, my apologies for what could be interpreted as a threadjack but I thought the info could be relevant.
posted by Runes at 3:04 PM on September 4, 2011


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