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O'Reilly Author's Laptop Rescued By 'Twitter Posse' and Prey

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the dog-eat-dog-good-boy dept.

Social Networks 123

An anonymous reader writes "Bad news: a Canadian who visited New York had his laptop stolen. Good news: it was outfitted with Prey, the open-source computer tracking application. Better news: a group in NYC made a 'geek squad intervention,' faced the culprit and retrieved the laptop safely. This case naturally raises the usual sorts of questions about the 'Twitter posse' culture." The victim-turned-victor is author and consultant Sean Power.

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123 comments

If you steal a laptop (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127758)

If you steal a laptop for the hardware,why wouldnt the first thing you do be formatting it.

If you steal it for the data, why would you connect it to the internet at all?

Re:If you steal a laptop (3, Insightful)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127766)

If you're smart enough to even pose these questions, you can probably do something better with your time than steal laptops.

Re:If you steal a laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127788)

Smart people do steal and can multitask.

Re:If you steal a laptop (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127950)

What the fuck has being able to multitask got to do with it? It's not like you can do a bit of burglary in the quiet moments where nobody's buying crack from you.

Pffftt, amateur... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128040)

I can steal a laptop, sell crack, ride a unicycle, play the accordion, juggle a raw egg, a bowling ball, and a flaming torch, and sing "Never gonna give you up, Never gonna let you down, Never gonna run around and desert you, Never gonna make you cry, Never gonna say goodbye, Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you" all at the same time. The same time!

Re:Pffftt, amateur... (1)

kvezach (1199717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129208)

Specialization is for insects.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128000)

some beings steal for 'fun' or to get arrested.. neither of the above would follow the 2 questions.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

RedACE7500 (904963) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127776)

Most theives are pretty dumb. I thought that would be obvious.

On another note, this is the first time I've heard of Prey. It sounds like a pretty awesome utility to have on any laptop or phone. I work for the IT department at a university and we get reports of stolen laptops all the time. Advising users to preemptively install something like this might help. Does anyone know of any drawbacks to installing Prey?

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127792)

I would have thought this would be theft 101
like changing the SIM after stealing a mobile phone

Re:If you steal a laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128034)

I have to agree on thieves being stupid. Have a friend who had her phone stolen, the first thing the thieves did was to call their friends (it was a pre-paid card so no real damage done there), which allowed us to attach those numbers to the police report. Not sure if that will help though.

Wish I had heard about Prey before as well seeing that her phone was an Android it could probably have assisted a bit.

The problem I see it with having it on your phone though is that they send out the activation by SMS, so I guess you'll have to be real quick to activate it before they discard the card, or you'll have to allow them to keep track of you all the time, even when the stuff is not missing which might raise privacy concerns.
 

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

Hamsterdan (815291) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128120)

"Does anyone know of any drawbacks to installing Prey?"

I haven't seen any except it's software-based. The way it works is whenever you boot the machine, it will report the IP it's running from. You can then log into your account and report it as stolen. If someone of course takes out the drive, formats it or boots from an external drive, it will be defeated. But then again, as you said, most thieves are not tech people.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#36132244)

Hmm I wonder if there's a decent free wifi mac address or BSSID geolocation database available.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

Atryn (528846) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128308)

Advising users to preemptively install something like this might help. Does anyone know of any drawbacks to installing Prey?

Pretty much anything associated with the drawbacks of vigilantism would come to mind... I think the concern expressed here is with regards to advising end users that they should consider taking down criminals themselves simply by equipping them with the means to find those criminals.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128852)

Does anyone know of any drawbacks to installing Prey?

It looks like you have to pay for a subscription if you want access to the good features.

http://preyproject.com/plans#pro-account-features [preyproject.com]

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

jvkjvk (102057) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129226)

Does anyone know of any drawbacks to installing Prey?

The possibility of a truly fubar'd situation, should you try to be a vigilante.

Everything from ending up dead to the criminal bleeding you dry in civil court.

Regards.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127794)

If you're opportunistically grabbing laptops, you're probably not particularly smart or forward thinking. An intelligent person, operating outside the law, could almost certainly find a safer and significantly more profitable scheme.

Re:If you steal a laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36130998)

The answer is simpler than that. The ones who manage to get away with stealing the laptop despite being stupid belong to the 99% of cases that aren't reported in the news.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

sub67 (979309) | more than 3 years ago | (#36131304)

The answer is simpler than that. The ones who manage to get away with stealing the laptop despite being stupid belong to the 99% of cases that aren't reported in the news.

It just works out for them that their counterparts are equally unintelligent and would never think to install something like Prey in the first place.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

GIL_Dude (850471) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127816)

If they stole my notebook, they would have to format it. There is no way they would be able to guess my password and get logged on. And since the drive is encrypted - simply removing it and placing it in another computer to try to get the data is not going to work. I am always amazed at these people who do things like loading this "prey" software but can't be bothered to have a strong password on their notebook. It just seems stupid to not protect your data more than you protect your device. I imagine most people here take simple precautions like strong passwords and drive encryption, right?

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127842)

The only thing there I have to comment on there is Windows passwords are a joke to bypass. Obviously that's why you encrypt, but windows passwords alone won't stop anyone. I've had to break into 3 of my own systems before and I found myself very surprised at just how easy it was to do. Once was a corrupt logon system preventing any users logging on, once was me cocking up a password change (yeah, oops) and the other I think was a friend locking himself out of his own laptop.

Then again, if your average thief wouldn't know to format, they also wouldn't know how to bypass a logon password either.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

snemarch (1086057) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127938)

...as opposed to *u*x user accounts, which are hard to break into if you've got physical access to the machine? ;)

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127962)

Depends, are we talking encrypted /home or just the standard password? The standard password won't protect you any more in *NIX than it will in Windows, if you're really concerned with your data there are better precautions to make.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

snemarch (1086057) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128732)

Just the standard account passwords - a vanilla setup :p

The kind of person that would use encrypted /home on Linux would hopefully use BitLocker or TrueCrypt (or at least NTFS encryption) on a Windows box.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128094)

Honestly, never tried or had to, hence only commenting on Windows. Actually then again thinking about it, Mac ones can be reset with a bootable OS disk iirc with even less effort than Windows. Anyway, my point was that they're only a deterrent (but you all know that anyway :) )

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

snemarch (1086057) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128168)

My point is simply that if you've got physical access to the machine, any of the major OSes today (with a standard configuration) can be broken into with ease. A traditional *u*x system is even a bit easier than windows, since if you're root you can read everything - if you're mounting somebody else's NTFS disk on a Windows system, you'll first have to reset/modify individual file permissions before you can access everything.

Resetting user passwords is as easy on Windows as it is on Linux - but keep in mind that if NTFS per-file encryption is used, you won't get access to those files without bruteforcing the user password, rather than just resetting it.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128226)

I understand you now, sorry wasn't trying to argue or anything.

p.s. This click anywhere to unfold the page thing is really annoying on /.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128256)

How does NTFS per file encryption work if I boot the disk in a Linux box?

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

snemarch (1086057) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128282)

Good question, I honestly don't know how (or if) it's implemented.

But, basically, you've got a pub/privkey per user, protected by logon credentials; each file has a different symmetric cipher protected by the pubkey. So if you don't bruteforce the user credentials, you're not getting access to the files.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

thetagger (1057066) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127850)

Considering I use my laptop mostly to access web services, the cost of the laptop itself is more important than anything in it. So Prey is better in my case than whole disk encryption.

Re:If you steal a laptop (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127906)

I don't care about the data on my laptop. However I do care about my laptop.

Solution? I don't put any password or encryption on it, and any thief can instantly use it. They think "allright won't have to format it", and then Prey kicks them in the nuts.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128906)

I would keep all important data encrypted and leave a separate account for thieves to use. Just name it 'Friends' or something similar.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

snemarch (1086057) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127940)

Protect your valuable data in a TrueCrypt container (or dedicated partition) rather than having the system partition encrypted, coupled with Prey or some other service. Best of both worlds?

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

Noughmad (1044096) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128008)

If you steal a laptop for the hardware,why wouldnt the first thing you do be formatting it.

If you steal it for the data, why would you connect it to the internet at all?

It's still very useful for phones. I don't know what the situation is elsewhere, but here in Slovenia there's a long tradition of stealing mobile phones.

Re:If you steal a laptop (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129056)

How was the guy able to use the laptop? Didn't the owner have a password plus encryption on it? Either he wasn't very bright, or he was so devious he left these things off so that any potential thief could use the laptop, thus allowing his "Prey" application to catch the miscreant. Very clever sir, very clever. Or not, whichever the case.

Encryption? (1)

XanC (644172) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127778)

I would definitely prefer to use full-disk encryption on my laptop, and write off the hardware. Much better than having who-knows-who access to all my data.

Re:Encryption? (1)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127948)

Well for this author which one would be most valuable would depend largely on where his work/authoring was stored. For me all of my critical work that I would regret losing is on an encrypted flash drive attached to my key-chain, and backed up to a dropbox account (encrypted before backed up of course). If my laptop was stolen the cost of the laptop would be the biggest loss, personally I don't go with whole disk encryption because I don't like the chance of having to re-install re-setup my things in the slight chance of something going corrupt in my OS or in the sectors controlling the encryption.

Re:Encryption? (1)

snemarch (1086057) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128302)

and backed up to a dropbox account (encrypted before backed up of course).

Good call, considering how untrustworthy dropbox are - consider checking out SpiderOak instead, zero-knowledge crypto ftw.

Re:Encryption? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127984)

Why not use 95%-disk encryption, and on the remaining 5%, put an unencrypted, password-less honeypot OS that you never use?

Re:Encryption? (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129532)

You can have it both ways. Have a tiny partition with a dummy XP install with no password and Prey setup. Put the real stuff on an encrypted Linux or other Win install. Use Grub to manage everything and keep a second Windows install happy with the partitioning.

Let me get this straight... (0)

Hultis (1969080) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127814)

A bunch of people monitored the thief for a while and then confronted a possibly armed criminal face to face without even bothering to call the police? For a laptop? Just how little do these folks think their lives are worth? While it's always nice to hear these stories when they end well, I'm just waiting for the inevitable armed criminal who gets a little too nervous during such an intervention and the following bloodbath.

Re:Let me get this straight... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127824)

The police are unlikely to do anything.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128772)

Totally different situation in the UK. They'd arrest the people trying to recover the laptop for being racially insensitive.

RTFA (3, Informative)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127828)

I read this story like a week ago when it hit Fark. The owner went to the police and they told him to piss off they can't do anything. So thats when vigilante justice took over and got shit done. However if the laptop was part of a drug investigation then no knock warrants and GPS surveillance would be in use that same day.

Re:RTFA (1)

bluemonq (812827) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127864)

They "told him to piss off" because he left for Canada before filing a police report and came back to town a few days later. For stuff like theft, if you don't file a police report you're shit out of luck. How do the cops know when someone claims that they were robbed or had stuff stolen from him that the guy's telling the truth? They don't, so they make you file a report. That way if it's fake they can get you on filing a false report.

I don't know if I missed why he was in such a hurry to go to Canada, but unless it was a wedding or to sign a million dollar contract I don't know what he was thinking, since the bag had not just his laptop but also a cell phone and his birth certificates! Identity theft, anyone?

Re:RTFA (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128488)

Cheap antibiotics?

I mean, he *was* in NY!

Re:RTFA (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128956)

No, they told him he would have to file a report if he wanted them to do anything. He probably figured it was not worth the time and money to fly back out there just to file a police report, that the police would likely do nothing about. There have been cases like this in NYC before where the police didn't do anything until the media got involved. The police really do not care much about theft, it is low on their todo list.

Re:RTFA (2)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127872)

Don't know about that, looks like the guy wasn't particularly in a hurry to get the police help. According to the article:

Power tweeted that he had called police but said they told him they wouldn't pursue the case unless he filled out an incident report.

Maybe they wouldn't have done much even if he had filled out an incident report, but if you don't fill it out, you can't really complain (and Power doesn't complain).

Re:RTFA (3, Informative)

TechnoGrl (322690) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129172)

Actually no. Power is very clear that he never filed a police report because "he did not have the time" - his words. His primary work machine was stolen along with his birth certificate, his Canadian Health card (both of which can be sold and/or used for identity theft) and a sum of money that was reported to be a thousand dollars. Yet Power didn't have the time to go to to the police? Hmmmmmm.

It was only 3 days after the theft , while Power was in the middle of his Twitter/Prey drama online did he claim to have contacted the New Your Police from his Canadian home 800 km away. Not surprisingly the police said there was little they could do aside from take a report. All this is from Power's own reports.

He lost all that and never "had time" to make a police report. Does that sound a bit strange to you? It does to me.

The "justice" that you described took place three days after the theft when Power "suddenly remembered" that he had installed Prey. Does it make sense to you that he would forget that for three days? The woman who recovered the laptop ("Purple Sarong Girl") remains a mystery as all reference to her was abruptly removed by Power and Reese a couple hours after this drama unfolded.

So no police report. No person who actually recovered the laptop. The only two people who verify this story remain Sean Power and Nick Reese, two SEO marketing men.

Never used bargain air-fares? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129750)

He lost all that and never "had time" to make a police report. Does that sound a bit strange to you? It does to me.

I take it you've never used a bargain air fare that was non-refundable and non-reschedulable?

Re:RTFA (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 3 years ago | (#36130246)

I read this story like a week ago when it hit Fark. The owner went to the police and they told him to piss off they can't do anything. So thats when vigilante justice took over and got shit done.

1) This country and the states within it were founded by their own citizens, who delegated certain of their own powers to the government. Accordingly, the laws, police, and courts are just a formalization of "vigilante justice", with mechanisms to reduce errors that lead to erroneous punishment of the innocent, uneven application of penalties, excessive penalties, and the like.

When an organization, governmental or otherwise, claims a monopoly on a good or service AND fails to provide it, the population tends to take direct action to fill the void. You see that these days with law enforcement (which often can't be bothered with "small stuff" when there's "big stuff" with RICO benefits for the department to pursue.) You also see it with other things - like recorded music, drugs, ...

2) In this case the police bailed out because the victim hadn't done the first step of filing the report. So the department may not have actually failed to do its function, and the vigilante action may have been premature (though the timing of the detection of the stolen property certainly argued for immediate action, which the police wouldn'[t provide).

3) Yes, this is a vigilante action. However, some people confuse self-defense with vigilantism. Self-defense would be things like fighting off an attacker during the attack (even if it injures or kills him) or chasing him down while he's still visible after the theft and grabbing back the stolen property. And it's also not vigilantism to come to the aid of someone under attack. Once the crook is out of sight, though, either personally hunting him down to recover the goods or administer punishment, or calling on (or organizing) an unsanctioned group to do so is vigilantism.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127928)

...a possibly armed criminal face to face...

...inevitable armed criminal....

...following bloodbath.

Christ, you're a coward. Enjoy your long, safe, life hiding away from any potentially dangerous situations. It's almost sad to know you're not capable of standing up for yourself or others.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Hultis (1969080) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128426)

Anonymous Coward calling someone a coward, oh the irony. Anyway, this isn't about standing up for oneself or someone else, this is a simple risk/benefit calculation. Even Power himself told them not to do it. IMO vigilante justice sometimes works out well, other times it crashes and burns. Apparently not a popular opinion to voice on Slashdot though.

Re:Let me get this straight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128632)

I have to agree with you. First, this guy almost sounds like he enjoys being a victim. When a bunch of people offer to help, you advise them it may be dangerous then wish them luck. If everybody acts like he wanted them to, just sit and watch the guy using the stolen laptop and walk away, then this is even more encouraging for the crooks. What he should have done AT THE VERY LEAST was release the guy's picture and personal info and ask the question "What were you doing with my laptop and how did you get it?" If he didn't steal it, I'm sure he bought it for such a price that he should have had questions. That creep deserves to be outed either way. But no, Mr. Wimpy won't have any of that. He'd rather just be a victim and encourage others to steal by letting them know even if we know who you are, we'll leave you alone.

Re:Let me get this straight... (4, Insightful)

horza (87255) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127978)

You have to turn off the television and get out more. Half the time the 'hardened criminal' is just a teenage kid being opportunist. Even a retired American lady I know here tried fighting off a mugger here last week, and the worst she got was a bruise backside when she was pushed over. I've stopped robberies, and had a number of people arrested. I'm still here, no bloodbath.

However you can be 99% certain that the person with the laptop the next day is not the thief. As soon as they steal it they sell it immediately no matter what the price. The last time I was robbed it was hell getting back my stuff as they'd sold it all within 10 minutes. My 250e shades they sold for 20e. The watch, phone, etc went for similar ridiculous prices. Just ask for the laptop back and the person in possession will give it straight away (as they did in this story). There might be a little initial bluster, to simulate indignation hence innocence, but they know perfectly well they bought a stolen laptop which is a criminal offence.

Just how little do these folks think their lives are worth?

With an attitude like that, you are one sad member of your society and I'm glad you don't live near me.

Phillip.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128228)

Years ago, I made a long trip to the other side of town to sell my old Programmable Calculator. I had gotten a new one and put an ad to sell the old one in the campus newspaper. I got a call from some guy who said he was interested in it, so we met at a McDonalds.

Lo and behold, he brought along a few of his fratboy thug buddies, because what he was REALLY trying to do was get back his Programmable Calculator which someone had recently stolen. He assumed he and his thug buddies would be 'recovering' it. What a fucking asshole.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128982)

So what happened?

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128018)

Just how little do these folks think their lives are worth?

If you have so little self-respect that you won't help defend the innocent given an opportunity, your life is worth nothing to society.

"These folks" have demonstrated said self-respect, and thus are welcome in my society anytime.

Re:Let me get this straight... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128050)

Yes, of course you're correct, but it's satisfying when a crook does not win.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128078)

So what? Nobody is going to lose any sleep over a bunch of dead geeks. Many people would actually celebrate such a merry happening. Anyway, you want to confront the perp, you bring a homemade flamethrower. Problem solved.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Provocateur (133110) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128880)

bring a homemade flamethrower, point it in THEIR direction. Problem solved.

You have to be specific; there's no telling what kind of crowd reads this stuff.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129756)

bring a homemade flamethrower, point it in THEIR direction. Problem solved.

You have to be specific; there's no telling what kind of crowd reads this stuff.

Why? I don't put myself between undesirable underpersons and Darwin's Mighty Hammer of Evolution.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

iamhassi (659463) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128478)

going from stealing a laptop to murder is a pretty big leap, believe it or not there are people that would steal a laptop but wouldn't dream of murdering someone (they weren't related to at least)

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128938)

Most opportunistic thieves are not armed, and I doubt they would pull a weapon on a group of people in a bar. It would be far more likely that the thief would leave the laptop and run if they were scared. Armed criminals tend to commit armed robbery.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129192)

While I agree with you about the relative value of the laptop and a life, I don't think the ethical calculation is necessarily as simple as weighing those two factors. I'd be quite willing to exonerate the people who retrieved the laptop of any *duty* to risk their lives for a hunk of plastic, but I'm not quite ready to condemn them for choosing to do so.

The world is full of so many huge injustices that it hardly seems worth bothering with petty ones like this. Even the guy who lost the laptop wasn't going to bother to fill out a complaint. These are the little affronts to our sense of right and wrong that are so commonplace and measly we can't really rouse ourselves to do anything about them, even when they happen to us. And in isolation this decision may be the sensible one.

Yet I think this steady drip-drip-drip of petty indignities takes its toll on us. Indignation no longer pricks us to action because we've allowed it to become a constant, niggling, unsatisfiable itch. Our problems may be nothing compared to the murdered people being piled up like cordwood in places like Syria and Libya, but habitual acceptance of those little injustices doesn't sharpen our sense of outrage at the great injustices. Far from it. I think we' re more likely to look on a great injustice as just one more unfortunate thing we can't do anything about.

So, once in a while somebody has to stand up and do something that looks a little ridiculous from the standpoint of any utilitarian calculus of value, because our confidence our ability to do anything in the face of injustice is rotting away in that interminable stream of almost-but-not-quite-inconsequential grievances. Every so often (as in the scene [youtu.be] from the movie), somebody has to stand up and say, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129896)

Exactly. I don't understand all the fuss in TFA about it being "just a piece of plastic", either. It's property. The institution of personal and private property is the core pillar of our society. If we don't have respect for even our own property, enough so to confront a thief (not a robber, where there's is at least a strong likelihood of a forceful confrontation - but a petty thief!) out of cowardice, then how much does it say about the state of society as a whole?

And, seriously, is the risk that great? I understand that there is a well-entrenched (thanks to TV) image of criminals as essentially subhuman, moral-less animals - today this guy steals your wallet, and tomorrow he shoots a granny, that kind of thing - but it is not like that at all in reality. There are not that many people who would consider stealing, to begin with, but even if you take just them, most would consider the idea of taking something by force abominable, and even fewer would even consider murder (and I'm not talking about fear of punishment here, but actual morality). There's no thin line between law-abiding citizen and a heartless villain that is crossed once and for all. So, no - confronting a thief is very, very unlikely to result in him taking out a gun and shooting you right there and then. In most cases they would happily just hand the stolen goods over, especially once it's made clear that no charges will be pressed.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Hultis (1969080) | more than 3 years ago | (#36132252)

Thank you for this eloquently written post, which conveys what I actually wanted to say but obviously failed horribly with. I wholeheartedly agree with all of it. I just wish there wouldn't be a need for a Peter Finch, and that when something needs to be done it should be carefully calculated to reduce the damage as much as possible - something that is rarely on the agenda for mobs. If we all considered our actions more carefully there would be a lot less violence in this world.

A Cultural Solution to a Bureaucratic Problem (1)

allometry (840925) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127852)

"Power tweeted that he had called police but said they told him they wouldn't pursue the case unless he filled out an incident report."

Let this success story be a testimony that you can still rely on your neighbor when you're in need! Kudos to those who helped, when the police bureaucracy let it fall through the cracks.

Re:A Cultural Solution to a Bureaucratic Problem (2)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127964)

Kudos to those who helped, when the police bureaucracy let it fall through the cracks.

The police bureaucracy didn't let it fall through the cracks, he did when he declined to file an incident report.

Re:A Cultural Solution to a Bureaucratic Problem (1)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128036)

The police bureaucracy didn't let it fall through the cracks, he did when he declined to file an incident report.

Unless it's a huge loss or it happens to a talking head, the police really don't give a damn.

Re:A Cultural Solution to a Bureaucratic Problem (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129918)

Frankly, that's how it's supposed to work. It is perfectly possible to have people deal with minor infractions of law & order between themselves without bringing in police (or resorting to violence). In many cases, merely pointing out that you have seen it and strongly disapprove can have a great effect if the majority of people around can be bothered to do it, and not just shrug it off as "not my problem, there's police for that" and walk away.

This also frees up police officers to deal with those issues where a dedicated professional law enforcement officer is actually needed - dangerous criminals and such.

Server code? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127914)

I can't see the server side code. Is it possible to install your own server? Why do people still claim a software to be FLOSS if it requires proprietary server implementation to do something useful ?

Re:Server code? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128020)

It's open source, the summary didn't claim the software to be FLOSS, they claimed it to be open source, and the client is open source. Yes, it would be great for the whole thing to be open source, but having the client open sourced is sufficient to claim that the application is open source.

Re:Server code? (1)

hajus (990255) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128106)

The server may be open source as well. But if they don't release the binary, they don't have to release the code.

Re:Server code? (1)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128134)

I can't see the server side code. Is it possible to install your own server? Why do people still claim a software to be FLOSS if it requires proprietary server implementation to do something useful ?

Read the prey website. It doesn't "require" a proprietary server to be useful. You can set the client to periodically connect to the URL of your choosing, and the client triggers an alert when that URL returns 404. No alert is sent if it gets a 200 or 500 response, so if the page is up, or if the server is down, nothing happens. All open source, doesn't need an account, doesn't need to talk to the prey servers at all.

If you use their servers, they can provide you with a history of tracking info, set some filters on the alerts, remotely change some settings on the client, etc. The paid account allows you to change more of the client settings remotely. I suppose that since it's open source, you can write your own server to do the same things. Or you could support these guys by paying them. Your call.

Password Protection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128128)

If my laptop has a boot password and the OS requires you for a password to log-in, how does Prey turn on?

Anyone who steals a laptop will try and sell it, not turn it on.

Those who want to steal data rarely resolve to actual physical theft.

Re:Password Protection (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128240)

Anyone who steals a laptop will try and sell it, not turn it on.

What country do you live in? Everyone turns on stolen equipment. You can sell it for more if it works.

Prey is a very versitile script. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128158)

Since Prey is a script, it can be easily modified to do many other things, for example, instead of sending back the boring process list, it can include other base64 encoded files, like browser history, saved browser passwords, the log file of a key-logger, etc. Also useful is letting it open an open-ssh tunnel to a server somewhere, so you can remote login through the tunnel, even if the stolen laptop is used behind a nat-router.
Prey also uses the SSID's of nearby wifi-networks to do very accurate geo-location, even if the laptop has no GPS, but when I tried it, Prey did not enable wifi if it was off, so you may want to play with the scripts a bit.
Obviously you use an encrypted /home for the accounts you use yourself, Prey only runs on the default non-password login account, so prey can never be tricked into uploading your real personal information.

Who's watching the watchers? (1)

iamhassi (659463) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128490)

Prey sounds all well and good, but who's watching them? How do I know they aren't using this to track where I am?

Re:Who's watching the watchers? (1)

Bazirker (1507659) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128558)

Prey sounds all well and good, but who's watching them? How do I know they aren't using this to track where I am?

I haven't looked closely at it, but isn't their software open source, therefore you can look at/compile the code yourself and know exactly what it is that you're running on your own machine, i.e. you're "watching the watchers"? I'm curious to know the answer to this too!

Re:Who's watching the watchers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36130226)

That's why you have the option of setting it up with your own email server.

Re:Who's watching the watchers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36130706)

Prey sounds all well and good, but who's watching them? How do I know they aren't using this to track where I am?

This. [wikipedia.org]

Should be all you need.

very soft target (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128512)

It is pretty amazing that hardly any Slashdot commenters seem to value justice here. It's deeply wrong of the victim to say "it's just a piece of plastic." It's that plus an unpunished crime. Web analyst Sean Power has let the world know he is the softest of soft targets.

How much can one take from one of these other hot house flowers before it begins to think some sort of punishment is warranted?

Re:very soft target (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129074)

It's deeply wrong of the victim to say "it's just a piece of plastic." It's that plus an unpunished crime.

What did you expect, he is Canadian after all. Not to mention the fact that our society is constantly pussifying our youth. One example is the hugely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise that is teaching kids that it is cool to be a pussy. Political correctness has been being pushed in this country for far too long, it is part of the reason much of the world laughs at us.

Re:very soft target (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129096)

I forgot to add, god forbid we actually teach kids to have self respect and to stand up for themselves. If we did so they wouldn't be complacent, mindless, sheep when they grow up.

Ouch (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128656)

But when remembered about the software a couple days later, he set about to track his computer down.

Are there no editors left in Canada? Who writes this stuff?

It's a nice read (1)

cyberfin (1454265) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128904)

I agree with ArchieBunker [slashdot.org] and people seem to be commenting completely on the sidelines. I really recommend RTFA if only to avoid going to the joint that the thief co-owns (I don't care what he says at the end, he should have given it back, he didn't, he's a thief).

Re:It's a nice read (1)

rhook (943951) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129114)

If you read the article you will see that he did in fact get the laptop back.

Re:It's a nice read (1)

cyberfin (1454265) | more than 3 years ago | (#36129180)

I didn't express myself as intended, apologies. I meant to say that he should have given back the laptop as soon as he laid hands on it, not wait until he got confronted.

Good info! (1)

DogDude (805747) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128914)

I've been reading Slashdot for a loooong time, so you can understand my surprise to read a useful article! I've got some kids coming through my neighborhood ripping off electronics from inside people's cars. I shouldn't have to lock my car in my own driveway. Luckily, I have an old laptop that I was getting ready to donate. It's going to be fun!

Re:Good info! (1)

frizzantik (944615) | more than 3 years ago | (#36130748)

"I shouldn't have to lock my car in my own driveway." lol.. where do you live that you think you don't need to lock up your possessions?

Sexists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36128984)

After checking the Prey website it seems they assume that only guys steal stuff. They are constantly talking about "you know what he looks like and where he's hiding." or "you may catch the guy" and so on. Girls are generally great but I'd think some are stealing mobile devices as well.

Re:Sexists (1)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 3 years ago | (#36130288)

Blame the English language for not having gender-free pronouns. This is standard usage of the language, because it's just too cumbersome to say "you know what he or she looks like and where he or she is hiding...." Some writing styles push that the author should use his or her own gender's pronoun for a generic person, but this is just equal opportunity wrongness, rather than being any more right.

Story or SEO Brainstorm? (4, Interesting)

TechnoGrl (322690) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128988)

I've been seeing this story all over the web the past few days. Some people have brought out some very interesting points that seem to have got lost in the promotion of this story:

The author happens to be a Canadian SEO marketing person who published a few books on SEO techniques with O'Reilly

The author's completely random twitter contact,Nick Reese, who helped him turns out to be also an SEO marketing person. Interesting coincidence there.

The author claims to have lost his Canadian health card, his birth certificate and a significant sum of money along with the laptop that were all in his laptop bag yet he never reports this to the police at the time of the theft. Only several days afterwards in a twitter post does he claim to have contacted the police. Does this make sense?

A young woman that the author describes as "Purple Sarong Girl" was the one who actually recovered the laptop as twittered by Nick Reese. Yet both Power and Reese refuse to release Sarong Lady's name even though she was the one who actually recovered the laptop. Sarong Lady remains an unsolved mystery.

The author says he installed Prey but "completely forgot about it" untill several days after the "theft" after which he twitters about the Prey screen shots that re remembered to look at. If you installed Prey and your laptop was stolen do you think you would have forgotten about your primary recovery system for 3 days after the theft?

So a LOT of questions remain here as this story continues to be pushed out to all major tech sites around the world. Really good SEO technique wouldn't you say. In my mind the question remains whether Sean Power really had a theft here or is just demonstrating his use of marketing technique ("hey - look what we did for Prey in just a week !" ). It is probably very hard to determine one way or another but this story fails the "Does this make sense" test in so many ways that I have to question it's legitimacy.

No help :( (1)

nickb64 (1885128) | more than 3 years ago | (#36130354)

Unfortunately Prey has not been of any help in getting my laptop back. :( It was stolen from my house while my mom was out on her day off running errands and I was at school. My best guess is that the person who stole it just nuked the windows install. I have a suspicion of who may be the perp, but no real evidence, we're waiting on DNA results that should come back 3-12 weeks from being collected. The machine was stolen almost a month ago, I doubt I will be getting it back, but I guess the good thing is that I will be replacing it with something a bit nicer, and not Sony, like the one that was stolen ~10 months after I bought it. Ironically, I had been trying to show my friend what Prey did, and was a little curious why it didn't have a report 20 minutes after I marked it as missing to show Prey off, then I got a phone call from my mom that the police were at the house and someone had put a brick through the sliding glass door.

I use Pray to protect my stuff. (1)

ControlsGeek (156589) | more than 3 years ago | (#36132254)

I use a different program to protect my laptop. It's called Pray. It involves 5 cubic centemeters of C5 explosive. Nuff Said.

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