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Is there any software / hardware to track a laptop? Could you put something in your laptop that would identify it's location if a thief turned it on and connected to the internet?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Ars Technica posted a story about "Securing your Windows netbook". It included the following about the cross-platform open source Prey, which currently runs on Windows, Mac, Linux and Android:

As far as the free services are concerned, there really is only one choice out there for Windows users: Prey. Most of the other free services only support Linux or are not officially supported by anyone anymore. Prey uses tracking software that runs as a background processes on your netbook. It works by "waking up" at a specified interval, going online, and checking in with a specified Web address to verify the status of the netbook. If that Web address doesn't issue any commands to the netbook (e.g., "hey, you've been stolen, so update me on your location"), Prey then goes returns to sleep and will wake up again at the next time interval. If your netbook goes missing, you sign into the Prey website with another PC and update the status to "missing," and then you'll be able to follow the whereabouts of the system through a control panel—assuming that whoever has your netbook goes online or the software manages to connect to a Wi-Fi access point. (If your netbook isn't connected to the Internet, Prey will automatically try to connect to the nearest open Wi-Fi access point). Currently, Prey does not have the ability to 'lock' the netbook or erase the hard drive on command, so while the service proves to be a good choice to track a netbook, it doesn't offer any additional data protection.

If you want to remotely "lock" the system or destroy its data, you will have to choose a commercial service like as Lojack for Laptops from Absolute Software. The premium version of that service includes a feature called "Data Delete," which is used to remotely delete all of your personal and sensitive files from the hard drive, if you report the system stolen. Absolute Software also offers methods to contact the authorities to help track down a stolen PC, as well as monitoring what is happening with the PC. The service costs less than $40 per year and for those who travel a great deal with sensitive information on their portable PCs, the service is a real bargain.

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Great and speedy answer Lojack looks promising. – Guy Thomas Nov 30 '09 at 18:32
Had read great things about LoJack/Computracebut just bought a Dell with it factory installed and it has been a nightmare. A week after delivery and I still cannot confirm it is there. Calls to the software vendor (Absolute) have been some help but still not working. Dell has been little help – Dave M Nov 18 '10 at 16:06

new laptops come with a feature called location sensors, windows 7 support it by default, here a spec from microsoft

... The Windows Sensor and Location platform, which is new for Windows 7, enables your computer and applications to adapt to their current environment. With location sensors -- including GPS devices, WWAN radios, and even triangulation technology -- your applications and gadgets can know exactly where they are, enabling them to provide more locally relevant content and functionality. Ambient light sensors, for example, can allow your computer to automatically adjust your screen's brightness based on the current lighting conditions. They can also enable applications to optimize their content for readability, making your computer more useful in a range of operating environments than ever before ....

its a GPS based system that can be manipulated as a traking device, This is too cool, but sadly i don't have one.

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If some sort of VPN is installed on the system and it's configured to start automatically, then you already have a crude "tracking" software. It's only IP based, but it's more than nothing. The laptop's IP address should appear in the VPN server's logs.

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can quietly email you at regular intervals or, more helpfully, whenever your IP address changes

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