Several weeks ago the owner of Stores Direct, Michael Birtwhistle, was burgled while on a family holiday in Tenerife. Two MacBook computers were taken, belonging to Michael and one of his daughters. Michael went through the motions of reporting the crime without expecting to see the laptops again, and tried to make the best of what remained of the family holiday. The laptops have since been recovered through the ingenuity of David Duffy, our managing director, a story now receiving national press coverage.
David Duffy heads up our IT team as well as serving as managing director, drawing on many years experience as a web systems engineer to ensure our websites offer a secure and satisfying shopping experience to our customers. We routinely use remote control software for troubleshooting our computers – this allows our IT team to access and control any of our machines no matter where they are. As Michael is a self-confessed technophobe, he asked for his MacBook be set up to allow remote access without request, meaning he can call David and say “Something’s wrong, just fix it!”, and David can then immediately take control of the laptop and sort out the problem.
As Michael’s MacBook had been configured for remote access in this way, David knew there was a chance of using this to track down the computers. Over the following weeks he kept a closer eye than usual on the remote access dashboard, knowing Michael’s laptop would be visible here as soon as it connected to the internet. His patience was rewarded last Wednesday teatime when he saw Michael’s MacBook come online. Although David was sitting in his office in Huddersfield while the laptop was still in Tenerife, David was able to access and take control of the stolen laptop.
David turned cyber-spy, knowing he could be disconnected at any moment if someone at the other end noticed the huge banner that appears when the computer is under remote control. He looked through files added since the theft and was able to take screenshots of passports, ID cards and even jewellery. Finally he turned on the built-in webcam and found himself looking at a man sitting next to the laptop who appeared to be using another computer. David was able to use the webcam to take photos of the man before he realised he was being watched. A brief battle for control ensued before David logged the user off the computer.
David sent the images to Michael’s neighbour in Tenerife on Wednesday evening, who then took them to the local police station on Thursday. The police immediately recognised the man in the pictures and on Friday they visited him and recovered the stolen property. The laptops are now en route back to the Birtwhistle family. The man found in possession of the computers claims to have bought them in good faith, so the outcome of the criminal investigation is still uncertain.
David Duffy and the Stores Direct IT team would like to thank everyone who helped us recover the laptops including Tenerife police and most of all the Tenerife neighbour for taking the trouble to ensure our evidence was brought to the attention of the police. In a world full of alarms about cyber-crime and data security it is good to know we can still outwit crooks and rely on our neighbours for help