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Tracking..

June 3rd, 2011
Reading Time: 4 minutes

With the recent media hype surrounding the nefarious tracking of people’s whereabouts I thought I’d take another angle. What are the legitimate reasons for tracking?

The most obvious one that comes to mind is the tracking of stolen property. BoingBoing recently ran a story on the tracking of a stolen laptop with Hidden. I thought I’d play about with one of these tools a little.

I’ve chosen to have a go with Prey as it has a free option and was also used recently to track down the thief responsible for stealing a laptop.

From previous experiences with similar software packages they were costly and painful to install, this by comparison was a dream and was easy to operate.

Now tools like these are a little more feature rich than Apple’s Find my iDevice, but I will say, Apple has done a great job helping their iPhone, iPad and iPod-Touch customers locate missing devices (I had to use it once when I closed my iPhone into a text book and couldn’t find it).

Details of the tool

The installation is as simple as they come, but that isn’t where the fun begins.

Once you’ve registered and logged in to the control-panel you can see your tracked device.

There are a few options that you have for both tracking and alerting. By a few I mean a bucket load:

  • Geo-Location (GPS or WiFi)
  • Network
    • Connections
    • Nearby WiFi
    • Traceroute back to www.google.com
  • Session
    • Screenshot
    • Active applications
    • Logged in User
    • Modified files
  • Webcam – Snap pictures of the perp for posterity!

As far as alerting goes you can silently watch where they are and what they are up to or you can go the whole hog and:

  • Alarm – Really annoy everyone around, including the perp.
  • Alert – Let them know you’re watching them
  • Lock – Lock the screen and only allow access with password
  • Secure – This is pretty good, it will “hide” email and wipe all password files off your machine.

Compare this to the built in Apple tool that will allow you to Alert, Lock, Alarm and even wipe the device. Again, I’m not knocking the Apple tool, it’s awesome. If they added the same functionality to their the OSX range, I’d be far more impressed.

That all configured and played with I decided to check it out….

Within ~ 8 minutes of clicking go I got my first report and I have to say it was pretty good.

I could see where I was (roughly);

I could see a picture of the environment;

The picture was telling me that my laptop was in an office environment, meaning I could turn on audible alerts and get some REAL attention to the culprit. Yes that is the side of my head working on my other laptop.

I could also see a screen shot of the active webpage, processes, etc. Giving me a good start for tracking the lost laptop.

Gotchas

One gotcha was that I’d not read the control-panel options propertly and found out, the hard way, that alerting functions are enabled remotely once selected, regardless of whether the device is “missing” or not.

Advanced (or Standalone) mode, doesn’t seem to give you as much control. you can manually control the activation of the device (as in it’ll look for a URL, if you delete the page it will start alerting). I like the alerting mechanisms available with the “control-panel” enabled functions. That said it is great that you can have control of devices without going via a 3rd party.

Conclusion

Yes you could technically use these tools for evil, but that could be said about any number of tools out there.

If you are a road warrior, student, hipster-tragic, or other sub-species who has a laptop (or any device really) I can see the value in having such a tool. You never know when you are going to misplace it or have it taken off your hands without consent. As can be seen in the linked articles, these tools have led to th return of devices; what more couldĀ  you ask for for $0.

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