Monday, August 6, 2012

Find My iPhone

First the good news...

Two weeks ago I was traveling in Canada and I lost my iPhone.  It appears that I somehow left it on the plane, despite the fact that I have a mental checklist of all my gear before I get off the plane.  Somehow  I left it behind.  I noticed it immediately and had the crew that was cleaning the plane look specifically in my seat, but they could not find it.  Apparently someone on a later flight did find it and had the presence of mind to turn off airplane mode and call the entry marked home in my address book.  Outstanding!  Of course things got a bit more complicated because during the time the phone was not found it went from Toronto to New York and (luckily) back.  I was no longer in Toronto, so rendezvousing was not easy.  It took several days and finally the use of a program called Find My iPhone to track it down in lost and found at the Toronto airport.  You see when the person who had my phone returned it to the airport (as she said she would when she called), the phone connected to the free wifi (I had international roaming turned off to keep from paying $15/MB(!) so there was no data service until the phone got to the airport) and started sending me its coordinates.  I was able to see exactly where it was on the map and know that I could drive to the airport to pick it up.  It had been two and a half days by the time I was in lost and found to pick it up and I faced another huge problem.  There were a LOT of iPhones there and I needed to prove which one was mine.  Luckily, I was able to use the Find My iPhone app to make the phone make a loud sound, so the person at lost and found knew exactly which phone was mine.
Find My iPhone shows where my phone is on a Google map

When I was finally reunited with my phone, I realized just how lucky I was.  First, someone actually took the time to return my phone to lost and found.  Thank you for honest people!  Second, Toronto has free wifi so that I could use Find My iPhone to communicate with the phone since it needed data service and I had that turned off because of international fees.  Third, when I finally got the phone it had 5% of its battery left.  If the battery had died, I would have had a much harder time proving that the phone was mine.  Fourth, Find My iPhone is great.

This is actually the second time that application has saved my bacon.  The first time was when I left the iPad in a shopping cart and it disappeared.  In that case I was able to track it on a map and saw exactly where it was at all times.  In both cases I was able to lock the iPhone/iPad and have it display a message saying "Reward if found! call " + my phone number.  If things got really bad, I even had the option of wiping all the data from my device remotely.  It really is an incredibly useful program and it comes free as part of iCloud.

I'm not the only one who has had this type of experience.  The writer David Pogue had an interesting experience last week.  Its an entertaining read that you can find here and the Gizmodo play-by-play coverage is here.

Now the bad news...

OK, so that is the good news, lots of lost iPhones/iPads are being recovered.  There are also similar programs for Android.  It sounds great, but, there is always a bad side to these things.  Now that there is a way to remotely wipe phones and iPads and even Macs (newer Apple software added a Find my Mac feature), hackers can take advantage of this ability, break into your account and remotely wipe your phone, tablet or computer, without ever coming anywhere near you.  Now instead of worrying about someone actively stealing your expensive phone from you, you have to also worry about people you don't even see taking your data from you.  This may sound far fetched, but it is actually happening.  This story from Wired is incredibly interesting and shows just how vulnerable we are when it comes to our digital information.  Mat Honan, the author of the article, describes how within an hour, while he was sitting at home playing with his young daughter, his Google account was deleted, his Amazon account was compromised and all his data on his iPhone, iPad and Mac disappeared right before his eyes.  It is quite sobering.  This article is very important because, even if you don't have an iPhone, it shows just how vulnerable your Gmail and Amazon accounts are as well, and it makes you think about all your other online accounts (banks etc).  It should be relevant to all of our readers.

Read this now!

I'm just guessing here, but I expect that Mr Honan has a chance to get his data back by essentially doing what the hackers hoped for; telling the world how insecure these system are and publicly presenting no ill will toward the hackers.  I think that based on the current state of things, there is still the chance that they can give him the unlock code to recover all the data on his computer.  I wish him luck.  I wish us all luck.