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Keeping Information Security Simple – There’s no better feeling than recovering your lost device!

Washington University Community:

Have you ever lost your phone, tablet, or computer? Or maybe just not been able to find it? Of course, you have (probably)! It happens all the time.

Just last week, I had my dogs at a dog park, and as I was preparing to leave, about 250 pounds of playing dogs (there were 3 of them) almost knocked me over. I went home, where I realized I couldn’t find my phone! Where was it? Did I leave it in the car? No. Did I put it down with the dog leashes, balls, etc.? No. Should I panic? No. I knew what to do.

I quickly logged into my Apple iCloud account and used “Find My” to locate my phone. It was still at the park! Find My even showed me roughly where the phone was in the park. I drove back and found it pretty quickly. Phew!

Whether it is between the sofa cushions, under the bed, left at an airport boarding gate, or sitting in the middle of a table, but somehow yet unseen, it always feels great to find your lost device.

I had a colleague who found her phone using iCloud right before the water in the washing machine submerged the phone. I know a guy who claims that his wife threw his MacBook Air in the paper recycling with a stack of old magazines. I can’t tell you how many people have told me about recovering phones, tablets, and computers after leaving them in taxicabs, Ubers, and Lyfts. All close calls, but none of these people just got lucky. These device owners were a step ahead of themselves in avoiding a costly loss.

Forewarned is forearmed – Preparation is the key

These close calls and near misses ended up okay because device owners set up “Find My” services before they needed them. Some vendors make it easier than others to set up and take advantage of these services, but whether you have an Apple iPhone, iPad or Mac, an Android phone or tablet, or a Microsoft Windows computer, there is a way to prepare.

Apple makes it almost impossible to avoid creating and using an iCloud.com account that provides these services. Google and Microsoft make it very easy to set up Google.com or Microsoft.com accounts that allow you to do the same thing. See below for links to these services.

Just be sure to keep your password for these accounts somewhere safe. As mentioned in a previous note, a long but easy-to-remember passphrase is recommended for such important accounts. To come up with one, I like to look out the window or around the room and find two or three random objects and tie them together with verbs or adjectives. This evening I looked out my window as the sun was setting and saw grey clouds and winter sky, and thought, “grey, cold sunset winter” – which was a great passphrase (at least until I shared it)!

Many devices also allow you to customize a lock screen or screen saver. I like to make mine say “Property of Chris Shull. Please email cshull@wustl.edu if found.” Cell phones allow you to enter emergency contact information, which could be used to call you even if the phone is locked.

Hopefully, you are setting a timeout lock on your devices, requiring a password, fingerprint, or another login before unlocking.

Don’t forget to test

Once you set up “Find My” services for your devices, please test them before you need them! Not only will you sleep better knowing that you know exactly how they work and how to use them, but you’ll also make sure you didn’t make a mistake in setting them up, which would make your preparedness efforts a waste.

Good luck and be careful out there!

-Chris Shull, CISO

Here are the links: