How to use Find My Mac in iCloud

If a miscreant has purloined your Mac, you can use iCloud's Find My Mac feature to locate and, hopefully, retrieve your laptop. Watch our video to find out how.

Nik Rawlinson
Nik Rawlinson has been writing about tech since Windows 95 was looking distinctly futuristic. He is a former Editor of MacUser magazine and one-time scribe for Personal Computer World. Nik is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.
Nik Rawlinson
3 min read

Apple's Find My iPhone service has long been a feature of MobileMe. So long as you have push email enabled on a MobileMe address, this service pings the handset, retrieving its location from the internal GPS chip and plotting it on a Google Map.

Should your iPhone be stolen, you can then send a message to its screen, or lock or wipe the handset and prevent anyone from getting hold of your sensitive data. Sadly, it doesn't go so far as allowing you to disable it entirely, to prevent it being sold on.

With MobileMe being retired in favour of iCloud, Apple has now rolled out a similar retrieval service for the Mac, Find My Mac. While none of Apple's current laptops feature 3G, it's a relatively trivial matter to plot a user's position from their IP address, so, as long as whoever has your Mac is online, finding them should be easy. Watch our video tutorial above, or read on to find out how to use Find My Mac.

Activate Find My Mac

As it could potentially give away your location to anyone who has your Apple ID credentials, and would also enable Apple to track your movements, Find My Mac is disabled by default. Activate it through 'system preferences' and then 'iCloud'. Click the check box beside 'Find My Mac' and confirm that you want to authorise it to lock or wipe your Mac remotely.

iCloud Preferences

Locate your Mac

Quit system preferences and switch to Safari. Point your browser at www.icloud.com and log in using your Apple ID. iCloud will open to display whichever module you used most recently. If this isn't Find My Mac, click the application icon in the upper left-hand corner and pick 'Find My iPhone' from the menu. As it's possible to set iCloud to enable logins without a password, you'll have to supply your password again to keep your devices safe.

iCloud web page

The Find My iPhone service calls up a Google Map and plots the locations of each of your registered iOS and Mac OS X devices, allowing you to switch between the map, satellite and hybrid views and zoom in to accurately pinpoint each one. In our tests, this system proved extremely effective, allowing us to identify not only the building in which our devices were being used but, in the case of 3G-enabled iPads and iPhones, even the corner of the building where they had been left.

Find my iPhone map

Send a message

Decide what you want to do with your stolen device. Click the blue 'i' on the right of its location bubble and you're presented with three options. Here we're going to send a warning message to our lost Mac, informing whoever is using it that they are handling stolen goods. Selecting the option to play a warning sound at full volume, even if they have the speakers muted, will further draw attention to your message.

Warning message

Apply a remote lock

If that doesn't work, more drastic measures are called for. Start by applying a remote lock, which requires the user of your lost Mac to enter a six-digit code of your choosing. Make sure you choose something you could easily remember should you retrieve your device, but which the miscreant won't be able to guess. Your remote Mac will immediately reboot without warning the user that they'll lose their data, and send them to a grey screen showing the warning of your choice.

Find my Mac passcode

If the user can't enter the correct code, their only other options are to reboot -- eventually returning to the same screen -- or shut down. Note that, as the Mac will no longer have access to the Internet, you won't be able to plot it on the map again until it's unlocked, so don't take this step lightly.

Remote wiping

Alternatively, you can wipe the Mac entirely. If you want to do this, skip the remote-lock stage, as you won't be able to wipe the laptop once it's been locked. Again, you'll need to provide a six-digit code that can be used to unlock the device should you recover it. Even if you don't retrieve it, at least you'll know your data won't have fallen into someone else's hands.