How police tracked down Steve Jobs' stolen iPads

Digital breadcrumbs left by the iMac and iPad computers were key in tracking them down

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Steve Jobs

A customer looks at the screen of an iPad in an Apple store in central Prague on October 6, 2011, one day after Steve Jobs' death.

REUTERS/Petr Josek

The digital breadcrumbs left behind when people use Internet-connected gadgets are what led California investigators to recover iMacs, iPads and other items stolen from the home of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

Based on the police report, obtained by the IDG News Service, here's how they did it.

The burglary took place while the Jobs family home, in a leafy and quiet area of Palo Alto, was being renovated and was unoccupied. Sometime between the construction crew leaving the site at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 17, and arriving just before 8:00 a.m. the next morning, someone entered the house and stole several personal effects and Apple gadgets.

Within several days, the Palo Alto Police Department had enlisted the help of the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, a San Jose-based organization formed by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that specializes in computer-related crimes. Local police wanted assistance tracking down the Apple computers and iPads that were reported stolen from the house.

The REACT team reached out to Apple's own investigators, who had access to the company's computer systems, and supplied them with a list of serial numbers of stolen devices. Apple was quickly able to determine that one of the stolen iPads had connected with Apple's servers soon after the burglary.

The iPad was trying to reinstall its operating system and was recorded connecting from an AT&T U-verse Internet IP address from 7:22 a.m. to 7:31 a.m. on July 18, the morning after the house was broken into and minutes before the returning construction workers would discover the break-in.

Upon searching logs for the IP address, Apple investigators discovered a different iPad had connected from the same address at 8:10 a.m. on July 17, before the burglary took place, and again at 1:56 p.m. on July 20, after the break-in was reported to police. That iPad wasn't suspected stolen, but the iTunes account information gave investigators a lead.

Tied with information from AT&T U-verse about the Internet connection, investigators were led to an address in Alameda, on the east side of San Francisco Bay. At that address Kariem McFarlin, the suspect in the case, was paying for AT&T Internet service, according to investigators.

While police were building their case there was more activity on the stolen devices.

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