How to recover from the theft or loss of an Apple device

Inevitably, some Apple devices end up getting lost or stolen. Erik Eckel lists several ways that you can help ensure a smooth recovery.


It's a terrible experience, losing an Apple device. Once you're past the ensuing feelings of shock, panic, frustration, and disappointment, not to mention anger if theft was to blame, the financial reality sets in: a replacement purchase must be made. With a replacement in hand, the real work begins installing software, configuring applications and settings, and recovering an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook to working the way you were accustomed.

However, you can make it easier to recover an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook before it's lost or stolen by following this list:

  • Record cloud service, web logins, and other important usernames and passwords to a cloud-based password management system
  • Keep email messages and order confirmations listing software download URLs, license keys, and registration codes in a safe place or back them up using Carbonite, Mozy or another off-site storage tool.
  • Write down your email account settings, including incoming and outgoing servers, SSL port numbers, and similar data and ensure the information is saved within a cloud-based account or online backup.
  • Save critical contact and address information using an online backup or sync the information using iCloud.

When using an iPhone or iPad, also make sure you do the following:

  • Load a Mobile Device Management (MDM) application, if possible.
  • Ensure the Find My iPhone app is installed, configured, and active.
  • Periodically review the MDM application and Find My iPhone application status to confirm continued proper operation.
  • Require a passcode to help secure the device.
  • Consistently back the device up to a Mac using iTunes.

In the event an iPhone or iPad is lost or stolen, a MDM application typically makes it possible to remotely wipe the device and remove all its data and personal information. With Find My iPhone installed, you at least possess a chance to try tracking a device before the battery fails or the application is disabled.

If using a MacBook Air or Pro, here are some ways to help protect data from unauthorized access and encourage recovery:

  • Leverage a tracking program, such as LoJack.
  • Load Find My iPhone.
  • Encrypt the drive using FileVault 2.
  • Regularly make Time Machine backups and store the backups in a location physically separate from the laptop.

Once a device is lost or stolen, recovery typically isn't just as easy as only restoring a backup. First, you must attempt to track the device. Second, stolen equipment typically must be reported to law enforcement and the IT department within an organization. Third, if the stolen device was a cellular-data equipped iPhone or iPad, you must contact the cellular provider to cancel 3/4G service on the device. Fourth, a new device must be purchased (and corresponding cellular services activated).

Then, while iPhone and iPad backups made using iTunes can be used to restore a previous configuration, and while Time Machine backups go a long way toward recovering a laptop's previous configuration, several additional tasks typically remain:

  • Configure iCloud settings.
  • Make sure email settings are properly configured and that email flows error-free inbound and outbound.
  • Confirm that required applications are present and function properly.
  • Set up Find My iPhone.
  • Ensure the MDM agent, if used, is reinstalled and working as required.

For Apple laptops, these additional tasks need to be completed:

  • Join any necessary wireless networks.
  • Enter any custom network settings.
  • Confirm the MacBook's iTunes account is properly configured.
  • Confirm any new tracking software is properly installed and configured.
  • Re-register or re-authorize local applications that require activation following the Time Machine recovery.
  • Download and install any missing applications from the App Store.
  • Confirm cloud-based apps, such as Dropbox, were properly recovered using the Time Machine backup or configure the cloud-based programs accordingly.
  • Confirm Time Machine backups are properly configured.
  • Confirm automated off-site backups operate properly.
  • Ensure the system is encrypted using File Vault 2.
  • Update personal settings, such as Dock configuration and location, desktop wallpaper, and menu preferences.
  • Enter any custom mouse or keyboard preferences.
  • Confirm any remote connectivity applications are installed and working properly.
  • Confirm any custom or proprietary firewall settings are configured as required.
  • Ensure any monitoring agents and anti-malware software are installed and operating properly.

Losing an Apple device is a frustrating, unpleasant experience. But preparing for the worst and having a plan helps reduce the stress associated with restoring new smartphones, tablets, and laptops to working the way their predecessors did before the loss or theft occurred.

What other tips do you take recommend when preparing for or recovering from the loss or theft of your Apple device(s)? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.