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What Are the Best Laptop Theft Recovery Measures? 376

Posted by timothy
from the eternal-vigilance dept.
BarlowBrad writes "Yesterday my house was broken into and among other things two laptops were stolen. Getting past the feeling of violation, I am looking to the future and how to both prevent theft and recover computers should it happen again. I have found various services that claim to track and recover stolen laptops such as LoJack for Laptops, Computrace, GadgetTrak and Undercover, but I (obviously) have no experience with any of them. I also know that Intel will be coming out with a new anti-theft technology chip, but that isn't supposed to come out until the fourth quarter and I'll be replacing the laptops before then. Does Slashdot have a recommendation between these services or suggestions for another?" Read on for a related question about automating this process.
BarlowBrad continues: "I have also wondered if there is a 'home brew' solution that I could cook up myself. I'm not an elite programmer, but I am somewhat computer savvy and open to ideas. At least one of the replacement laptops will have to be a Windows machine, but the other may be a Mac or run Linux, so ideally I'd want a solution for multiple platforms. Perhaps a script that sends an email with the IP address every time the computer connects to the internet? Or is there already something out there like that in the Open Source community?"
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What Are the Best Laptop Theft Recovery Measures?

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  • Explosives... (Score:2, Informative)

    by iamsamed (1276082)
    like in that James Bond movies that had that sticker on the car that said, "Theft protection device." and when the bad guys broke the window - KABOOM!

    For Your Eyes Only [imdb.com] I think.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dgatwood (11270)

      I was thinking more like embedded impalers. You put your hands over the keyboard and it reads your prints using sensors in every key. If you don't match, it gives a warning beep, and if you don't discontinue use, five seconds later, steel spikes shoot up from between the keys and impale your hands. The spikes may be tipped with a poison of your choice if so desired....

      But seriously, no theft protection system will really work. The best you can do is encrypt anything you don't want anyone else to get t

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by justin12345 (846440)
        Not good enough, there could be an accomplice, one not poisoned by the spikes, and aware and able to avoid them. Better to have a series of passwords and biometric data that has to be entered in a reasonable time frame or an ounce or two of C4 embedded in the laptop will detonate. That way confidential data is destroyed and the intruder ins neutralized. Might not work with Macs though, too slim.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by racermd (314140)
        The method I use is both effective and moderately cheap.

        First, I've got an independent insurance policy on my computers to cover the cost of any stolen hardware. This is important for the following steps.

        Second, I keep a repository of my data in at least two locations. The primary location is a 'server' in my home that is nothing more than a disk on the LAN. The second location is a pair of USB/Firewire hard disks that I rotate between work and home roughly every week (whenever I feel like it, really).

        Th
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by potat0man (724766)
      How about throwing a GPS receiver under the keyboard, then using a script to upload the coordinates somewhere automatically on a time interval whenever it's connected to the internet?

      Again though, you're screwed if they wipe the drive first...
  • Dynamic IP script (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mortonda (5175) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @07:53PM (#23130968)
    Just look into one of the scripts to update a dynamic IP address with a dynamic DNS service, and set it up to be automatic. As soon as the computer connects, it will update the address.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054)

      Just look into one of the scripts to update a dynamic IP address with a dynamic DNS service, and set it up to be automatic. As soon as the computer connects, it will update the address.
      So then what? Rush down to the library, no, wait, that a comcast IP, whoops, now he's at some hotel, damn, now he's on Verizon.....

      Good luck getting any ISP to tell you where the wireless connection is hosted.
    • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:28PM (#23131232) Homepage Journal
      Unless you're talking about a casual theft by somebody who intends to sell the laptop on the street, or for their own use, this won't work. If the laptop is fenced, the first thing the fence will do is wipe the hard drive. They do this to remove any trace of the original owner, though it also prevents any phone-home scenario.

      Recent products like Computrace/LoJack (same product, different brands) can be installed in the BIOS so a disk wipe doesn't affect them. The catch is that it has to be installed at the factory, so you have to buy the security software (and an annual subscription) when you buy a new laptop. Also, it isn't that hard to reflash a BIOS....

      I shouldn't need to point out that you should also have a bare-metal recovery backup. In fact, that's probably more important than any anti-theft measure: paying $1K for a new laptop hurts, but not as much as losing all the work that's on your laptop. A bare-metal solution spares you the hassle of re-installing all your applications and re-applying all the customizations we geeks love to do.
      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        So a good solution would be to keep backups, make sure all sensitive info is encrypted, and ensure that you don't buy a laptop so expensive that you couldn't afford to replace it. I think that any of these systems probably cost more than they are worth.
      • by dloseke (1039628) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @11:46PM (#23132360)

        Recent products like Computrace/LoJack (same product, different brands) can be installed in the BIOS so a disk wipe doesn't affect them. The catch is that it has to be installed at the factory, so you have to buy the security software (and an annual subscription) when you buy a new laptop. Also, it isn't that hard to reflash a BIOS....
        Not true at all...we install Computrace on all laptops and random desktops/servers in my business....we're a dell shop, so all the new dell laptops have the module for Computrace in the BIOS. Installing computrace activates the "persistence" module in the laptop. The annual subscription that we pay Dell is something like 36/year, so for 3 bucks a month, it's worthwhile.

        One thing we found out from experience is you want to followup with Absolute and make sure the machine is calling in daily, or whenever it's on (it tries once a day). If the machine is stolen but it hasn't been called in for 30 days or more, the recovery guarantee is not in place. They'll still try and recover it, but they won't give you the $1000 or whatever if it's not found. Also, you have the option to void the recovery guarantee and instead have a "data delete" option, so that any sensitive data on the machine is wiped with the hard drive.

        I've never seen a statistic on wiping the BIOS, but I'd be willing to be it'd be more difficult than beneficial. Besides, if someone's going to be so thorough to wipe the BIOS, they know the software is on there, and will be taking steps to avoid it getting it's beacon out to the net.

        Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Absolute (Computrace) other than I am a paying customer.
    • And then what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by frovingslosh (582462) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:33PM (#23131270)
      Yup, there are many ways to learn the IP address/addresses of your computer once it has been stolen. Thing is, what can you do about it then? I've read far too many reports about people who know what addresses have been used by their stolen computers, but have been unable to get ISPs and even law enforcement to get involved and track down the stolen hardware. The ISPs simply are not going to co-operate with you, and law enforcement responses can range wildly. While there may be a few exceptional individuals who will help track a stolen laptop, from what I have read one should not be at all surprised to get a less helpful response from law enforcement.

      It could be a good idea to hide a little DYNDNS update routine on each of one's computers (and thankfully DYNDNS will even give you multiple IDs that you can update, so you can have a different one for each computer). But I'll want to see a lot more positive feedback by people who did this or similar things before I will think it's very likely to be helpful. Now if you had a GPS in that laptop and sent out it's coordinates when updating, you might be able to do yourself a lot more good (unfortunately, GPS doesn't work well indoors).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by loraksus (171574)
        Yup, there are many ways to learn the IP address/addresses of your computer once it has been stolen. Thing is, what can you do about it then?>

        Before it gets stolen, set it up so it maps a port w/ upnp by default to give you remote access. Get access to it late one night, fire up an email client and send a few emails, such as

        To: president@whitehouse.gov, chiefofpolice@city.state.us, someone@localfbifieldoffice.gov
        Subject: time to die motherfucker!
        data: I'm using a stolen laptop and a router so you can't t
  • by explosivejared (1186049) <hagan.jared@NosPam.gmail.com> on Saturday April 19, 2008 @07:53PM (#23130970)
    Perhaps a script that sends an email with the IP address every time the computer connects to the internet?

    Dude, the scumbag just stole your laptop. Get creative. Instead of just having the a bot or something send you an email so you can identify them, go this route. Have it send an email to a bunch of .mil and .gov addresses that reads like this:

    ALLAH ALLAH!!! I want to NUCLEAR BOMB the white house!!! I have a sleeper cell that already has a plan in place to kidnap beautiful AMERICAN CHILDREN and teach them ISLAM!!! DEATH TO GEORGE BUSH!!!

    You could add in whatever else you feel like. That stuff was just off the top of my head.
    • by CSMatt (1175471) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:00PM (#23131028)
      I'm pretty sure the submitter wants his laptop back in addition to catching the perpetrator.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      All fun and games until you forget to disable the app and homeland security shows up at your house.
    • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:41PM (#23131340) Homepage Journal
      Hey, let's do this right. The language you use sounds like a prank. The government probably gets hundreds of similar messages every day. You need to troll some Islamist web sites and copy some standard rants. Lots of "in the name of Allah the merciful" and stuff like that.

      Also copy some Arabic text. It doesn't matter what, since very few of our intrepid warriors against terrorism speak any foreign languages. The text could say, "Gilligan's Island reruns (dubbed in Arabic) will appear on Tripoli TV Thursdays at 6" and it will still come across as a hate message from Osama himself.
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      Well, you could have an SSH server installed, so that when you get the IP address, you can start making all kinds of weird stuff happen on the computer. Maybe even have some scripts ready so you can take a picture of the guy with a built in webcam.
      • Re:Get Creative (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tftp (111690) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @10:07PM (#23131852) Homepage
        I think most of thieves won't even turn the laptop on, mostly because they don't need to, and in part because they may not know what to do next. A typical install of any OS these days is protected with a user name and a password; they may be weak, but what's the upside for the thief to waste time trying to get to that user's typically useless data?

        If the thief is any good in his trade, instead of leaving his fingerprints all over the notebook he should place it in a bag and deliver directly to a reseller of such goods. The said reseller knows what to do - to immediately format the HDD, for example. Or, if the reseller is smart, to boot from a CD and make a backup, then explore the contents using a different OS. In either case, none of owner's scripts will run.

        The best practice I could think of is to set up a full disk encryption, and a BIOS password, just to make those guys work hard (and in vain) if they want to get to your data or even to resell the laptop. But once they have your hardware, they will keep it or trash it if it's too much trouble; the owner won't be getting it back.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @07:53PM (#23130972)
    I have a big self-printed Linux Sticker on top, with clear foil on top of it and 2cm over the edges. While it is possible to remove it without trace, any thief will not know that and there is a reasonable chance they will stay away. At least if they are competent thieves. People that break into flats typically are not.
    • by fm6 (162816)
      A $1000 laptop is worth $100 to a fence, regardless of what OS is on it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by mpeskett (1221084)
        I think the point there is to make it distinctive rather than to scare off a tech-illiterate thief.
        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          They should put little metal badge on the bottom of the laptop that they engrave with an ID. And then solder that directly into the motherboard. Hopefully not in contact with anything else on the motherboard. Would make it pretty hard to remove without making the laptop look stolen. Would also make it hard to replace it with a different one without making it obvious to anybody opening the special plastic compartment around it that lets people easily verify that the serial number wasn't messed with.
      • by gweihir (88907)
        It is not about what the sticker shows. It is about the sticker being on the laptop and making it hard to sell.
    • Better Sticker: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Em Ellel (523581) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @09:44PM (#23131718)
      "Cellular GPS LoJack Id: 81231982
        If found contact: 123-456-7890"

      If you are savy enough, hack BIOS to display the same message at boot time (some BIOSes allow you to add your own images - thats one way, or add message to MBR)

      Better yet, on boot print "GPS position is acquired and transmitted."

      Probably won't get your laptop back, but may mess with their heads and make them wonder if they are being tracked by hardware. ;-)

      -Em
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Animaether (411575)
        That might work if they boot it up -first- before stealing it... but let's consider that a highly unlikely scenario.

        So the perp steals the computer, goes to some other location, boots it up (presumably), sees your message and.. for the sake of argument, let's say he really believes that the GPS position is acquired and transmitted.

        The perp will then do what?
        A. yawn and sell it to a perp with higher tech skills to either determine whether it's fake or take out the GPS module / etc.
        B. freak out and toss the c
  • Although laptops can be expensive, I think the real danger is the potential disclosure of personal and business data on the lost computer. There are several programs that will erase the drive remotely if the laptop is reported stolen by the owner. Here is a link to one as an example, but I haven't used it, so I can't vouch for it: http://www.sharewareplaza.com/Zapeze-download_39642.html [sharewareplaza.com] http://backpackcomputing.com/ [backpackcomputing.com]
  • DIY solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by spazdor (902907) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @07:57PM (#23131014)
    a) run an openSSH or VNC server, and
    b) write a cronjob/Scheduled Task to shoot a ping at some IP address you control periodically whenever IP connectivity is present.

    This will only work if your computer appears to be usable by a thief without wiping the OS. If the thief is dumb, he'll at least try and get on the Internet with it, and then you can swoop in and pwn him.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MikeUW (999162)
      I would think that for this to work like you say, ten you'd have to make it relatively easy to login and access your desktop. I'm generally not interested in leaving my computer wide open for anyone to mess around with (i.e., it's not just theft of the computer I'm protecting against). Anyone savvy enough to get past the login is probably also intelligent enough to at least wipe the drive before connecting to the Internet, so ssh/cronjobs, or whatever probably will not help much. The best thing is to mak
      • by spazdor (902907)
        Hence the "appears to be usable by a thief without wiping the OS" bit.

        I leave a guest account, with clear instructions on how to get in and use it. Honeypot systems are never foolproof, but neither are fools ;)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054)
      Oh, come on, neither of those will do you a bit of good.

      Laptops are used via wireless connections 95% of the time.

      Wireless routers do not have inward connections enabled by default. Your ssh and vnc are firewalled by the router.

      If they steal your laptop, chances are they will steal bandwidth, and all your pings do is locate an innocent if not somewhat clueless neighbor, or the coffee shop the thief is parked near.
  • Glue (Score:5, Funny)

    by CSMatt (1175471) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @07:58PM (#23131018)
    Glue your laptop to your desk. I won't guarantee that it will not get stolen, but it is a lot harder to steal an entire desk than a single laptop.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Idiomatick (976696)
      I honestly do have faith in the moderating system, i mean i normally agree with the number but... Insightful? come on /. he suggested gluing a laptop to a desk.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816)
      That's dumb, but at least you're on the right track. Anything you can do to slow down a thief lessens the chances of your goods getting stolen, even if it's a security cable that will take some time to cut through.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      Glue your laptop to your desk. I won't guarantee that it will not get stolen, but it is a lot harder to steal an entire desk than a single laptop.

      Wouldn't that make it a "desktop computer"?
           
  • by icebike (68054) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @07:59PM (#23131022)
    Forget recovery. If you had color glossy photos with circles and arrows the cops will STILL not bust into someone's home to recover your laptop.

    You can't get them to stop crime in progress, let alone last week's crime.

    Denial of use of stolen laptops is the best bet. Not only denial of access to the data, but denial of use of the hardware, or making it very expensive and suspect when trying to get a stolen box running.

    This means encrypting drives, biometric readers, or any number of additional features, most of which are expensive, some of which do impose a hurdle for the thief.

    Encrypted drives are becoming mainstream and easily affordable, and generally do work to keep your data safe.

    But none of this will prevent you from losing the box to a thief. They will steal it anyway, even if they dump it in the trash because they can't make it work.

    Sending an email with an IP does nothing. Installing dyndns.org IP updater software would work just a well. It leaves a record in a remote place, but savvy thief would know how to erase that, just as they would know how to prevent your email from going out.

    Even if you find the IP of the stolen box, the ISP will need a court order to reveal the location to you. Good luck with that. Cops won't take action. They will tell you to file an insurance claim and move on.

    Side note: Thieves are seldom savvy. If they had any brains they would get a less risky job. So chances of them disabling any counter measures are fairly slim.
    • by CSMatt (1175471)
      The integrity of the data is meaningless if you can't access it ever again. You also need to either make regular backups or store all of your irreplaceable data on an external device, preferably not bundled with the laptop itself.
    • by alanshot (541117) <rurick.techondemand@net> on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:10PM (#23131110)
      You would be surprised. Cops LOVE computrace. The know that generally when they go to find a laptop using this service, they will find OTHER criminal activity in the process.

      One example computrace boasts is the chop shop that was inadvertantly raided thanks to a computrace recovery.

      Besides, Computrace makes it easy on the cops. they get directions to the loot. No real investigative hassle on thier part.
      • by MikeURL (890801) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:27PM (#23131226) Journal
        Agree. This is probably why it makes sense to go ahead and pay for this service rather than try to go it alone. If you write some fancy script then the GP is right--there isn't much you can do from there short of getting a court order.

        In the longer run it will make sense to have a dedicated service provider who has existing contacts within law enforcement.
      • by icebike (68054)
        Busy cops in big cities will not take action on property crimes less than x thousand dollars.

        Directions to the loot? I think not.

        Computrace can not tell you which of the 200 connections in the Public Library is your laptop, nor can they get the street address from Comcast or verision, since comcast will want court orders, and by that time you machine will be sold overseas.

        Best computrace can do is brick it for you.
    • I pretty much agree with what you said so i'll respond to you instead of the story...

      What do you think about computers with built in webcams? ala MBP? The server you are pinging could send back a picture request every 3 seconds when you flag it as stolen. I think it would work for my situation since i'm on campus and its a pretty much closed environment. Though you are sadly right about the cops... i might have more luck with campus police.
      • by icebike (68054)
        If you want to buy extra stuff, (like a webcam), why not an embedded gps chip?

        At least that way you bypass the need of court orders for tracing requests. If cops could be certain where it was at any given point in time
        they might take action sooner. And even if the cops won't take action you will know where to send Uncle Guido. (I deny I posted that).
    • You are absolutely correct. In most areas which are dicey enough that your laptop might be stolen even if you take all necessary precautions, the police and courts are so overworked that they won't bother to act on something that to them sounds like technobabble from 24 or Alias. My boss tried, repeatedly. He had an IP and everything. The police basically blew him off. And honestly, I'm not sure I would've done much different in their position. There's much more important things to do than help some desk jo

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Belial6 (794905)
        No kidding, there are consenting adults out there having sex... FOR MONEY! That is far more important use of our law enforcements time than trying to stop people from being burgled.
    • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @11:26PM (#23132258)

      Side note: Thieves are seldom savvy. If they had any brains they would get a less risky job. So chances of them disabling any counter measures are fairly slim.


      Thievery is an industry. The car thief doesn't keep the car and drive it himself, or park it in his front yard with a "for sale" sign. He sells it to a chop shop. And the chop shop guys don't even tell the thief where the chop shop is to drive it to- they tell the thief to meet them in a vacant lot somewhere, and they bring an oxy-acetylene torch and a pair of ramps with them and locate and fry a lojack and disable Onstar before they take the car.

      Thieves who steal laptops don't have to be "savvy" to bypass your counter-measures, they just have to be not dumb-as-a-rock. Why? Because thieves use division of labor, like in any other line of work. The thief never turns the laptop on, they take it to the back room of the pawn shop that they know deals in stolen goods. They'll buy the laptop off the thief for "a steal" compared to it's used price on Ebay. The pawn shop guy probably won't turn it on either, he'll resell it (with a markup) to a guy he knows who's professionally in the business of stripping and cleaning stolen computers for resale. That guy'll ebay it or even resell it again to another pawn shop or another ebayer, or even sell stacks of computers in "surplus lots" to ebayers or such.

      Sure, some thieves are just plain dumber than a box of hammers, and are desperate and stupid with no connections, and they'll just open your laptop and play around with it, and trip any system you've got. Some thieves who stole laptops started using the email account and email address of the previous owner out of ignorance. But most stolen laptops are stolen by thieves who know how to fence goods. You can't assume your laptop will be handled incompetently because the guy who swiped it is a moron any more than you can assume McDonalds is poorly run because some random fry jockey's shoe size is higher than his IQ.
  • Layers of security (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dada Vinci (1222822) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:00PM (#23131032)
    The old standby goes -- there's no one security measure that's perfect, but you can make it a lot easier.

    The first and most obvious layer is physical access. Don't leave your laptop visible in your car when you park. Lock your office doors. Don't leave it at a coffee house when you go to the bathroom.

    The second is physical security. Invest in a laptop leash and chain it down if you work in a shared office space environment.

    The third layer is physical deterrence. Customize the heck out of your computer. A big engraved security mark (be it your driver's license #, your name, your cell #, your email address, whatever) will turn off thieves. Same if you've got anything else that's obviously unique and can't easily be removed.

    The fourth layer is electronic deterrence. A boot password and a screensaver password will deter unskilled theives. There are plenty of skilled thieves who plan to reformat the drives, but a few will be deterred by not being able to sell the laptop on the corner without a password. (If you don't believe me, hang out in midtown NYC long enough and you can get offers to sell hot laptops in the $100 range).

    The fifth layer is tracking. Things like LoJack and all the other services. If they boot your laptop it'll contact the network and you can at least have a shot at getting it back. (Note, some of these are not compatible with a boot password). Of course, record your Windows serial # (if you run Windows) and your Dell quick service code (if you use a Dell) or the equivalent for your system. These are uploaded.

    The sixth layer is luck. Sometimes people catch theives by webcam, sometimes by stupid emails, sometimes by pure random encouters. You gotta get lucky.

    No one of these layers is sufficient and it's silly to talk about LoJack for Laptops if you leave your laptop sitting in the open for somebody to grab it. LoJack is most useful to break open crime rings, not to actually get your laptop back -- by the time the police get around to subpoenaing the ISPs your laptop is gone, but the thieves might not be. I run it, but I don't expect it to save my butt.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jd (1658)
      In England, the use of UV ink is popular as an addition for security marking. The theory is that a visible tag can be removed, but an invisible tag is tougher as thieves won't know it's there. The police are supposed to check items they believe are stolen for such tags, so that property can be returned to the lawful owner.

      Although in total vioation of any nation's law, it seems to me a screecher should help. This is a simple one-shot transmitter that blasts a signal for as long as the power lasts at a cle

  • bios hacks have always interested me but the lack of open source bios firmware has prevented me getting into it. I reckon a bios hack that does a "check in" when connected to the internet could work wonders. once you mark the system as stolen you could send a command to brick the laptop, sound an alarm or maybe randomly goatse the new owner. you'd quickly be able to trace back where the sale came from... 90% of the time i'm betting on ebay.
    • by icebike (68054)
      > once you mark the system as stolen you could send
      > a command to brick the laptop,

      This requires a server somewhere, and software on the machine to do the bricking.

      After all you can not "send a command" to Starbucks wireless router and expect it to magically find your laptop next to that shady character nervously gulping an americano.

      You need a server somewhere that either enables the machine or bricks it when it software running on the machine makes a connection (from INSIDE the wireless firewall/rou
      • by timmarhy (659436)
        "This requires a server somewhere, and software on the machine to do the bricking."

        did you not read the whole paragraph where i talked about homebrewed bios software? the thief could wipe the HD and it'd make no difference.

        "After all you can not "send a command" to Starbucks wireless router and expect it to magically find your laptop next to that shady character nervously gulping an americano. You need a server somewhere that either enables the machine or bricks it when it software running on the machine

  • Computrace (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:01PM (#23131044)
    At my school, all students are provided with a laptop. All computers come loaded with Computrace, and it has never failed to recover a stolen laptop...even ones that have ended up overseas after being wiped and sold on eBay. The only time Computrace fails is if a) the CMOS is physically replaced or b) the laptop never sees an internet connection again.
    • by fm6 (162816)
      Physically replaced? You can't just reflash it? If so, I'm impressed.

      The big problem here is that Computrace has to be installed at the factory. (The BIOS version anyway; there's another version that lives on the hard disk.) But if what you say is true, it would be very stupid to buy a laptop without this software.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      My solution is better. I had a laptop stolen and the recovery service had a laptop in my hands, in fact a brand new upgraded one.

      It's call insurance, works great and runs under OSX, Windows and linux!

      as for the data, If it's important why is it not encrypted? also why did you not set the bios password? 99% of the time that foils a thief hard and will even make the pawn shops refuse it.

      the other thing I do is have engraved on the cover and under the battery.

      "THIS LAPTOP IS STOLEN FROM LUMPY. THIS IS STOLE
  • SETI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by satexas69 (1276104) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:08PM (#23131092)
    Buddy of mine had a laptop stolen last week, they traced it when it booted up and started that SETI stuff. Absolutely funny.
  • 1. Backup to media, and keep that media offsite and rotate it out frequently; check to make sure that the media is readable and usable.

    2. Record your serial numbers, model numbers, CD keys (if needed), versions, and other characteristics of your hardware and then scan it to PDF and upload it to an online account as a draft message entitled: if_it's_stolen.

    3. Use your camera to take pictures of everything you own for your insurance company. Link these items where possible into the aforementioned file.

    4. File
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      3 is worthless. Insurance companies say that photos of the item mean nothing. you need the SN and a proof of purchase.

      I just went through that a year ago. Get your recipts and info together in a safe and SCAN THEM.
  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:11PM (#23131116)
    I have a Macbook Pro and decided to get Undercover for it. It's easy to set up and doesn't require a subscription, unlike some of the other programs out there. I'd read a bit about it before getting it, and the thing that really helped me in the end were the success stories that they have posted on their website [orbicule.com]. The fact that it makes use of the MacBook's built-in video camera to snap pictures of whoever is using it really impressed me.
  • by AC-x (735297)
    Get a free dyndns account and stick an update client on there (the official one looks pretty slick these days).

    While you're there you could install VNC server too so you can take control of it (if it's connected directly to the internet), or some over remote control solution (gotomypc etc.)
  • I have a cron running on my windows and linux machines. The cron job calls a script that uses CURL to request a page and throw away the result. The page request contains a GET parameter with the machine's name. The website contains a PHP script which compares the sending IP from one currently in the database for that machine (in this case a plain text file is used as the database). If that IP doesn't match what is in the database I get an email notifying me that a particular machine has a new IP address
    • by icebike (68054)
      So what?

      Your stolen machine pops up on a comcast IP, which, after two years of legal efforts you will be told resolved at that time to a coffee shop that has since moved to a different provider.

      You are fooling yourself if you think this will help you recover the machine.
  • Have it owned by the mafia?

  • Focus on securing the data with encryption and remote-wipe capabilities.

    Then insure the assets... odds are you're never getting them back.

  • put it in a briefcase and handcuff it to your wrist...
  • by Progman2000 (626305) * <djohnsonNO@SPAMprogman.us> on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:23PM (#23131200) Homepage
    I hadn't heard of Computrace / Absolute until about two weeks ago, when we found two computers at my office talking to "search.namequery.com" several times a second. What I find is interesting: A program that installs without my permission or knowledge, takes orders from a 3rd party (up to and including "wipe the hard drive"), and actively resists removal.

    One computer was brand-new (MPC/Gateway M685), the other just over a year old (MPC/Gateway E475). The first one they claim was "accidentally" activated at the factory, the second got a motherboard replacement that had this little program "activated" from its prior owner.

    The sales rep at MPC/Gateway got the Absolute/Computrace rep on the phone and they both claim that it isn't a virus. Okay, fine, it doesn't self-replicate. Seems to fit darn near every other part of the definition! Their tech-support guy ordered the two computers to disable their BIOS component and uninstall, which THEY DID! The files in C:\Windows\System32 vanished before my eyes.

    They were back the next day.

    Gateway/MPC doesn't seem to understand my frustration. We spend so much time and money securing our computers and making sure they run only the software we WANT them to run. Now you want me to feel safe with a BIOS-level program that copies itself to FAT32/NTFS partitions and tricks Windows OSes into executing it? This same program that calls a 3rd party and requests instructions? I know of only three instructions it can accept, but what if there are others? ("Stolen, check in every 15 minutes", "Stolen, wipe hard drive", "Disable and uninstall" we know of)

    I asked how they secure the disk-wiping function and was not impressed with the answer. They use an RSA token to verify that the right customer called in. I said 'Ok, what about the link to the computer? Is it signed or encrypted?' No answer, they just went back to the RSA token.

    Heck, we have BlackBerries that can wipe themselves on remote command but RIM makes a big deal of how the communications are encrypted between the BB and my server. I know that J. Random Cracker isn't going to trick my BB into nuking itself. But what if he spoofs "search.namequery.com" and returns the code for "Nuke HD"? Will their little 200kb program accept the order?

    I read that someone found and disabled Computrace/Absolute's BIOS code in a firmware dump and then re-flashed his machine. If I can't pull that off with Gateway/MPC I will have to recommend that we find a vendor that does NOT pre-infect the computers we purchase.

    *grumble*
  • A laptop has a crummy little keyboard that will give you RSI, a screen that is small enough to give you eyestrain and a fiddly little trackpad if you are lucky. If you are less fortunate, it will just have one of those nasty little pointers that is about good enough for a sales weasel to do powerpoint with.

    A desktop system will be cheaper, more powerful with mouse and keyboard of your choice and as many big screens as you can afford.

    I have an old laptop. The only thing it can do that my desktops (home o

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @08:35PM (#23131290) Homepage

    The real Lojack system, for cars, predates the Internet and GPS. It's pretty good. About 90% of Lojack-equipped cars are recovered when stolen. When you buy Lojack, an installer comes out and installs a little box somewhere on your car. You don't know where, and they have many alternative locations. It gets power from the car, so it keeps itself charged.

    The unit finds an FM broadcast station with the Lojack subcarrier and listens for a message with its serial number. If your car is stolen in an area with Lojack coverage (which includes most major US cities), a police stolen car report is copied to Lojack's computers, which then tell the subcarrier transmitter at the broadcast stations to start broadcasting messages with the unit's serial number. The unit in the car then starts emitting a beacon signal.

    Lojack has good integration with big-city police departments. They equip police cars with Lojack receivers at Lojack's expense. Any Lojack receiver that's emitting turns on indicators in police cars, showing direction and approximate range. When you see a police car with four antennas in a square on the roof, that car has a Lojack receiver.

    In Los Angeles, the LAPD's air force, both rotary and fixed-wing, has Lojack receivers. This has resulted in some dramatic stolen car recoveries. [wsati.org] Cops like the system, because not only do they get cars back, they often find someone they want driving the stolen car.

    But "Lojack for Laptops" doesn't use that system. It just reports IP addresses when the unit connects to the Internet. A company called Absolute Software seems to have just licensed the Lojack name; it's apparently not part of Lojack Corporation at all.

  • Buy a really crappy laptop that nobody would steal, and when it gets stolen anyways, shrug and go buy another one off ebay.

    If you want a fancy laptop, insure it against theft, encrypt the HD and have everything backed up daily.

    Those are the only useful measures you can take.
  • From the makers of Trunk Monkey, why not get a Laptop Monkey for theft recovery? Upon activation of the stolen laptop the monkey will leap out from nowhere with ninja-monkey-like reflexes, subdue the nefarious thief and hitchhike all the way back to your home with your property!
  • The problem is, even if you figure out exactly where your laptop is, you then have to convince the police to help you get it back. That's where things really break down.

    A friend of mine was scammed on Yahoo auctions a few years back by someone who pretended to sell golf clubs, took a cashier's check via mail, then never sent the clubs. Yahoo was useless, of course, so he got the email addresses of a bunch of other bidders, and found EIGHT people who had been scammed by this person (he was claiming "the wi
  • Avoid US Airports (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ad454 (325846) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @09:05PM (#23131504)
    I fully encrypt my laptop drive, since it carries lots of secret corporate data and IP, and fully back it up at the office, so I am not too worried about theft of the hardware.

    I am however scared that at an US airport, or at the airport of some other repressive regime, I may be forced to hand over my laptop, and then detained for not providing the decryption password. Keep in mind that if I am forced to reveal the contents of my laptop, that I can be sued by shareholders (for leaking IP) and business partners (for breaking NDA), I can lose my business relationships and hence my income, and I potentially be charged for breaking EU (and other) directives on data protection.

    The problem is that I work extensively with banks and I cannot allow banking data to be leaked, nor can I allow sensitive and very valuable corporate IP to be given to potential competitors of a country that I am visiting or passing through.

    Unfortunately, I need to have all of the IP on the laptop, since I often work on the data-centers of various banks worldwide, behind all of the firewalls, and these data-centers do not typically allow any type of Internet access. In addition, I would not feel safe putting 100% of the corporate IP and banking data on a public Internet server in my office, just so I can remote download 200GB or so onto a blank laptop, using a slow and/or expensive hotel Internet connection, everytime I fly, just so I can work in a remote location.

    It is bad enough that countries (US, UK, Japan, ...) are already fingerprinting foreigners. It looks like the days of international business travel will soon be over.
    • by perlionex (703104) *
      There's always Truecrypt [truecrypt.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770)

      Keep in mind that if I am forced to reveal the contents of my laptop, that I can be sued by shareholders (for leaking IP) and business partners (for breaking NDA), I can lose my business relationships and hence my income, and I potentially be charged for breaking EU (and other) directives on data protection.

      1. IP/NDA leaks: Police authority trumphs contracts. If the police comes with a warrant to tap your phone line, do you think the phone company will point to their privacy policy and say they can't have it? Make sure you get it in writing that you have informed them of the confidentiality of the information and has been compelled, not volunteered this information and let them have it.
      2. Loss of business or income implies that the police department must have leaked the data. Sue the hell out of them.
      3. Incon

  • There was no note in my suitcase at all eg "We took this item because it looked like a bomb". It was plain theft. No way to contact the TSA and get a human either.

    I'm sure this isn't an isolated case - I bet theft is rife. I found out later that you NEVER put valuables in a suitcase in the USA. It must suck to live in the USA.

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @09:35PM (#23131656)
    Can't help you with getting your laptops back, but I can give you a suggestion on how to force lowlife scum to pick your neighbor's house next time:

    Dogs.

    Not necessarily big, but loud. Most fucksticks who want your stuff don't want to deal with dogs, as there are far easier pickings right down the road. We have three. Homes have been broken into on either side of me, multiple times. I don't believe it's luck. Two border collies and a lab are simply a wrench in the works of a simple-minded shithead.

    Believe me, someone wants in your house badly enough, no number of dogs, alarms, etc. will stop them. But the chances of someone wanting your stuff that badly are probably nil, and if they are willing to kill your dogs to get your stuff, they'll probably kill you too.

    Dogs are the ticket. Think about it.
  • All the laptops we buy come with it installed, just a feature from the manufacturer. Well, one of my coworkers got his laptop stolen. Computrace remotely ordered the tracking software to go hot (it checks in like once ever 24 hours or something) and started tracking the person. It took awhile to get all the legal shit sorted out but once all the proper documentation was signed and so on they narrowed the tracking window to 15 minutes, the police got the necessary subpoenas, found the guy's house and a whole
  • So... what if your laptop get wiped and some random OS (windows) is installed on it.

    If you had a customized auto-running USB device connected and this hopefully inexpert windows install will activate your software and hopefully help you recover the laptops.

    Well first you have to make it not so obvious... so best to have an internal USB installation. As far as making an auto-runnable USB mass-storage device you can try a U3 hack (see this quarter's 2600) or there are much more expensive USB devices out there
  • Get a Cheap Laptop (Score:3, Informative)

    by FranTaylor (164577) on Saturday April 19, 2008 @10:24PM (#23131946)
    Keep your good computers at home. Get some old clunker to take on the road. Scuff it up and make it look bad. Keep your data on a USB key on your keychain so you know you won't lose that. Your fast machines at home are available to you wherever you can find some bandwidth. A savvy thief may pass over your laptop when he sees how old it is. Instead of one nice laptop, get two or even three used ones for the same price and you'll have one for backup and one to scavenge for parts.
     
  • 1. Don't put social security numbers on your laptop. Remember, the more social security numbers that are left on your laptop, the higher chance it will get stolen and make the front page news!

    I've had zero SSNs on my laptops, and they have never been stolen out of my car nor home.

    Just a little tip from your uncle 'der!
  • Dual strategy (Score:3, Informative)

    by rsmith (90057) on Sunday April 20, 2008 @04:17AM (#23133254) Homepage
    1) safeguard your data.
    The /home partition on my laptop is encrypted, so my data is inaccessible to others.

    2) make the laptop unattractive to thieves
    Have your name and address engraved on several parts of the housing and lid. Or have some metal or plastic tags engraved and bond them securely to case and lid (or even to the screen). This will make the tags impossible to remove without replacing the case (or the lcd). This will make the laptop harder to resell.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft ... and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. -- Wernher von Braun

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