Stolen POS Tablets? Apple Can Track Them

Written by Frank Hayes
August 22nd, 2012

Tablets, especially those used as in-store mobile POS, are nightmarishly easy to steal. But in the wake of the burglary last month of Steve Jobs’ home, we now know just how effectively Apple investigators can track a stolen iPad. You want fast? Apple fingered the thief only one day after police called the vendor. It’s even faster if the thief wipes the tablet, which thieves tend to do.

Given that a thief can easily walk off with a device that costs hundreds of dollars to replace and is easy to sell, this could change the loss-prevention equation when it comes to tablets. The biggest challenges now may be making sure the POS app is locked down—and convincing police to call Apple. Exactly how easily and extensively can Apple track? Details shared with police are telling.

According to police reports released last week, the Jobs home was being renovated on July 17, when a thief found the key where a contractor had stashed it. The thief got into the house overnight and stole three iPads, along with other computers, jewelry and credit cards. Five days later, on July 23, the California Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT) was brought in, and investigators called Apple to ask the company for help tracking the one iPad that was initially reported stolen.

“I was told by the [Apple] investigators that they had observed data identifying that the iPad connected to Apple servers on July 18th, 2012, from 7:22am to 7:31am (the morning after the burglary),” REACT Agent Marshall Norton wrote in his report. “The investigators informed me that the iPad was trying to re-install the operating system and was connecting to Apple servers using an AT&T Internet Wi-Fi connection” with an IP address that didn’t belong to Jobs.

The Apple investigators also identified two more iPads registered to Jobs and two iTunes accounts that had been accessed through the mystery IP address, including names and street addresses.

That was all on the first day after Norton contacted Apple. It took just a day to locate two of the stolen iPads electronically and identify the suspected thief. Apple located the third iPad six days after that. The delay was only because it hadn’t been turned on.

The only reason the thief wasn’t arrested until August 2 was paperwork—all the search warrants required for formal requests for information from Apple, AT&T and other links in the chain.

At least one of the iPads was wiped; some of the others may not have been. But Apple was able to track all three, once it had the identifying information.

Ironically, wiping the device—something any thief would be likely to do with a stolen iPad before trying to sell it—forces the device to reconnect to Apple.


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