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Hey, so I have a Thinkpad that I use in a variety of places (coffee shops, work, etc.). I don't generally abandon it, but I figure there's a chance I might get careless and it gets stolen at some point.

I was thinking of installing something like Prey (http://preyproject.com/), but my OS installs are password secured, and on top of that, I have a fingerprint reader that you need just to get through the BIOS. So: is there actually any benefit to setting up software that tracks the laptop's whereabouts? I imagine that either:

  • The laptop won't boot or login, if the thief doesn't get past the security.
  • If the thief goes around said security somehow, presumably they've split the laptop for parts or bypassed BIOS security, gotten stuck on Windows security and formatted it.

Given that it's highly unlikely that the thief would go to the trouble, what's the utility in installing laptop tracking software like Prey?

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Well, if they format Windows, Prey is useless to you, so I think you answered your own question... –  Sasha Chedygov Jan 4 '11 at 8:32
    
Depending on your Thinkpad, it may already have theft protection built into the BIOS that you can enable (although there is a fee from the tracking company). This is immune to hard drive changes etc though. I think they're using CompuTrace. –  Shinrai Jan 4 '11 at 15:26

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Your "problem" is that your machine is secured too well.

Theft tracking software counts on the thief being able to use your machine, at least a short amount of time. If you use BIOS passwords etc., there's just no way to do that -- you'll get very little value out of any such software.


I use a theft tracking software on my Mac OS X laptop.

My personal home directory with all my data is encrypted and my user account password protected, and I've made sure to create a few (low-privilege) user accounts with very weak passwords (mostly clean accounts I use e.g. for doing presentations), as well as activated the guest account.

They can't access my data, but I want them to use my machine e.g. for web browsing! Only with network access, theft tracking will work, and I'll have a chance at being able to recover my machine.

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4  
Mac OS X Lion's new File Vault 2 makes this somewhat obsolete, as there is no easy way to encrypt one's data and give others access to the machine so they can run the theft-tracker. –  Daniel Beck Jan 8 '12 at 15:35
    
I think this is missing the point. If you add one of those low sec accounts to the File Vault unlock group it is no different. You can then easily encrypt your personal data using something else. It isn't hard. –  krowe Aug 19 at 3:28
    
@krowe: If you're referring to my comment: Sure, you can run your own encryption on top of FileVault 2, but it's definitely not as easy as just using the original home-only FileVault was, and comes with an additional performance cost as well. –  Daniel Beck Aug 19 at 6:58

Any thief that steals your laptop won't know that it is secure until after they have stolen it, which means they will either go to the effort of breaking in or bin it, either way you lose.

I installed Computrace (Lo-Jack) on my daughter's laptop when she went to uni. It lives in the BIOS which means it re-installs itself even if the disk is reformatted, it also OS independant. It's not free.

Also, you have the ability to remotely wipe your drives.

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I am not able to recommend any particular software for your laptop, however:

(From http://preyproject.com/) "allows you to gather information regarding the device's location..."

Password protection is not enough to be able to track down where your laptop has gotten to.

If your laptop doesn't boot in the first place (Locked by BIOS requiring a fingerprint scan) so that tracking software does not run will mean that it is of no value anyway.

The other thing to consider is that your laptop hard drive can be removed and plugged into another machine - so if you are worried about your data not being accessed by others then you should look into Whole Disk Encryption which you can get with PGP or TrueCrypt)

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Hardware disk encryption is probably better and usually supported very easily on Thinkpads (although depending on the machine you might need to swap to a hard drive that supports it) –  Shinrai Jan 4 '11 at 15:27

Maybe you could create a guest-account that doesn't require a password.

When the thief logs in to that account make sure you have a application that autostarts and locks the screen somehow and asks for a password.

This way Prey should be able to work.

Maybe this app can lock the screen, I dont know: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/clearlock-cool-transparent-desktop-lock-windows/

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this is my approach too, seems viable as a trap –  iancrowther Feb 19 '13 at 17:02

I've just finished developing a product called ipfetcher 2.0.

It might be something you can use, under all circumstances it would be nice to get comments.

It's freeware, and its only mission is to deliver the single most important information, your machines external IP. It is sent to your e-mail address and/or your ftp server.

It runs as a service, and will start sending whether you are logged on or not. First transmission occurs when the machine is started, and gets hooked up to the internet. It checks for access to INET every 30 sec.

After it sends its first transmission it will repeat it on a schedule you set.

With the IP in hand, the police can, with the help of the thief's ISP pinpoint its exact location.

There are absolutely things that Prey can do that IPFetcher can't. However you don't need to rely on other servers, and there is no expense, even though you install the program on all the PC's you want.

You can fetch it here.

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What about if the thief formats the drive? –  Kruug May 14 '13 at 14:48

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