Lightning Strikes Again: Burglars come a-visiting for the second time

By Graham K. Rogers

stolen laptop

The first time, about 4 years ago, I was out at work and came home to find the doors open and the house trashed. While inconvenient, a couple of things were missing, but I was able to get up and running quickly. The CRT iMac I had then was too heavy to move easily so was not stolen.

This time, I was home, but asleep, which makes it somewhat creepy: the criminal entered my office a couple of metres from where I sleep. I did not hear a thing.

At about 3.30 am, I woke up, as some of us do, and went downstairs to find the front door open. Had I forgotten to lock it? I turned round and on the table where I had been using my G4 PowerBook, there was empty space. I reached for the phone and dialled 191.

Apart from the knowledge that someone forced their way into my home, one of the worst aspects is tracking down as much data as possible. Some had been on my iPod, but that went too. Some is on my eMac, which is even less mobile than that early iMac; and some can be retrieved from my website.

I just have to put it back into workable files. For example, online marks for my students need to be entered into spreadsheets; while my chronological list of articles for the Post Database, needs to be rebuilt from the website backup on the eMac that thankfully I had updated a few days before.

Those utilities I had used only on the PowerBook were fairly easy to install on the eMac. I had the passwords for most, while a message to Note Page retrieved the licence number for Feed For All within a couple of hours. Skype was soon working, but I had to create a new AIM account for iChat.

My biggest loss in terms of data, will be hundreds of photographs that I had on the hard disk of the PowerBook. They were not backed up. I am not a professional photographer, but I am going to be cursing myself for a long while to come because I was too busy to copy the files to disks.

Or I could have copied them to the eMac, except that was running out of hard disk space; or to an external disk, except I was keeping the cash for a rainy day; or to new MacBookPro, which I was planning to buy; but not yet. Not like this.

In other words, tomorrow is too late and backup needs to be part of every user's regular maintenance schedule. While the PowerBook had never let me down in the nearly two years I owned it, I ended up letting myself down (with a little help from my as-yet unknown friends).

undercover logo A few months ago, I installed Undercover, a utility to track down a stolen laptop. It is now being put to the test. With the software installed, should the computer be used online, it will send back to the database in Belgium, details of IP number where it is being used. It will also transmit screen shots. These are sent to the loser and to the police for use in tracing the lost computer.

I have set the machine up in such a way that only one user account can be accessed without a password and this account has no administrator privileges. Other software and hardware locks are active.

My problem will be trying to persuade the authorities here to act on any data I am sent that pinpoints a location or identity. I explained the concept to the local police inspector who seemed a little disbelieving; but I did confirm that, once online, it should phone home.

While the database is said to be reachable all of the time, there was an initial delay in response. I tried again and later had a message asking for the information needed so that the process could be started.

There was no more contact for a day, so I was in the dark about whether or not the process was active. It was later confirmed that the data had been included in the database as soon as I sent it.

Now we must wait until such time as my stolen computer is online. These days this is almost inevitable, but it may not be for a couple of weeks. Another problem for the miscreants is that, in their haste, they forgot the power supply.

I am afraid I have not been sleeping so soundly in the last couple of days.

Made on Mac

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