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Ask Slashdot: Good Tracking Solutions For Linux Laptop?

samzenpus posted 1 year,23 days | from the ping-home dept.

Security 253

First time accepted submitter WillHPower writes "So I have ordered a new Ubuntu-powered laptop. I spent some extra bucks on lots of RAM and a good sized solid state drive. After putting money into it, I'd like to find a way to track this laptop in case it's ever stolen. Are there any good tracking software/services the run on Linux laptops? Also, are there any other techniques besides tracking for dealing with a lost or stolen laptop that I should consider?"

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253 comments

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No (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216021)

No, there's no good Linux HW tracking software. Why? Cause there's no good software for other platforms either. It's all "make-you-feel-good-software" which doesn't survive a simple OS reinstallation...

Re:No (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216097)

No, there's no good Linux HW tracking software. Why? Cause there's no good software for other platforms either. It's all "make-you-feel-good-software" which doesn't survive a simple OS reinstallation...

It doesn't exactly give you the warm-and-fuzzies to know that this is possible; but some models have it baked right into the firmware. A suitably provisioned AMT 6+ device can do entertaining things like phone home and provide 'home' with an IP KVM, regardless of OS state.

Re:No (2)

melikamp (631205) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216251)

Can you point out a free OR open-source implementation of a phone-home BIOS on a laptop? No. No one can, as there ain't one. And a closed-cource security feature is a scam, plain and simple. I'd stay away from laptops that HAVE that feature, even if "deactivated" (how would you know?) by default.

Re:No (2)

kthreadd (1558445) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216377)

Well, I guess it comes down to trust and if you trust the vendor.

Re:No (5, Interesting)

egamma (572162) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216819)

Can you point out a free OR open-source implementation of a phone-home BIOS on a laptop? No. No one can, as there ain't one. And a closed-cource security feature is a scam, plain and simple. I'd stay away from laptops that HAVE that feature, even if "deactivated" (how would you know?) by default.

WillHPower did not make FOSS a requirement; why are you making it a requirement? Can you explain why a closed-source security feature must by a scam?

WillHPower wants to get his laptop back if it is stolen. He's not asking for ideological purity. He knows that if his laptop has a tracking device that the tracking data could be used by law enforcement against him. That's what tracking software does; it tracks. That is not a bug, that's a feature, and is actually the feature he wants to have. Apparently he doesn't wear tinfoil; he's not required to. It is his right as a thinking person to choose to be paranoid, or not be paranoid.

The best solution is some form of hardware lo-jack. Maybe a GPS transmitter that can fit in one of the external ports on his laptop, if that isn't built in already.

PREY (4, Informative)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216453)

Prey is great. It is more effective than "Find My Mac" and runs on may platforms, including most Linuces. :-) Android, MacOS and iOS - besides teh usual vanilla from Redmond.

http://preyproject.com/ [preyproject.com]

From the FAQ:

Can Prey be removed by a thief?

Not unless he has your administrative password.

And what if he formats the computer?

That's a different story. We encourage you to add a BIOS password and disable booting from removable devices on your PC, so that the thief will be forced to boot into the previous installation and thus, not be able to format your hard disk easily.

If you have a Mac, there's a firmware password utility on your Tiger/Leopard Mac OS installation DVD (look for it in in Applications/Utilities). On OSX Lion you'll find the utility by booting from the recovery partition.

Re:PREY (2)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216753)

LOL. At first, I misread your post. I thought you said "PRAY is great. It is more effective and runs on most Linuces.". I wouldn't resort to prayer, myself.

Re:No (2)

davester666 (731373) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216657)

How about...try to establish communications with known terrorists using it. Claim you want to start your own cell. Then the NSA will track your laptop for you, for free.

A simple lawsuit will get them to tell you its location if its lost or stolen.

Re:No (5, Funny)

schnell (163007) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216205)

No, there's no good Linux HW tracking software

Of course there is. You just need to tape a note to the laptop asking the thief to compile and install it after doing a code review to make sure it's trusted, and submitting any code patches necessary back to the developers.

Re:No (4, Informative)

gothzilla (676407) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216249)

Sure there is. http://www1.euro.dell.com/content/topics/global.aspx/services/prosupport/computrace?c=uk&l=en&cs=ukbsdr3 [dell.com] Computer will ship with the Laptop Tracking and Recovery software agent and a persistence module embedded in the BIOS. The software agent can survive operating system re-installations, hard drive reformats and even hard drive replacements. When a lost or stolen computer connects to the Internet, the software agent contacts the monitoring center to report the computer’s location. For systems with GPS technology included, Laptop Tracking and Recovery has the ability to capture and report more detailed location information. It also provides the ability to track your laptops as they change hands or move around the organization.

Re:No (1)

sasquatch989 (2663479) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216355)

Wrong. Computrace loads on the BIOS, and you can PW protect admin access to that. We've recovered lost and stolen equipment with this service.

Re:No (4, Informative)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216459)

There's a list of where BIOS level Computrace is available on their BIOS compatibility [absolute.com] page.

Re:No (1)

kthreadd (1558445) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216365)

Some laptops actually has this built into UEFI. So it can survive a reinstall.

Re:No (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216381)

It's all "make-you-feel-good-software" which doesn't survive a simple OS reinstallation...

False. Computrace (LoJack) actually survives OS reinstallation, provided the new OS is compatible (i.e., WIndows).

It does it by relying on a BIOS component that checks for it to be installed and if not, patches itself back in on the hard drive.

Of course, it lacks a lot of authentication and can easily be hijacked if you modifiy the BIOS...

Re:No (1)

gmuslera (3436) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216469)

And maybe more important: even if there is a hardware tracking software, you don't want it. Not only is sharing your location to others without your consent, maybe is sharing more than that.

In any case, a cron script that send you just a mail every N minutes (and if having some supporting hardware, your gps coordinates, a picture of the front camera, etc) will be enough to give a hint of what happened with it before the OS gets reinstalled.

Thieves are generally not very bright... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216505)

...so most of them would not think about doing an OS install.

how about a big, heavy logging chain? (1)

swschrad (312009) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216633)

weld one end to your desk, and the other end to... oh... a wimpy little Kensington clip. hmm. just like software tools. looks tough, acts muff.

Re:No (1)

mlts (1038732) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216759)

On Dell and HP boxes, there are hooks for it to auto-load/install LoJack for Laptops the second a Windows OS is put on the machine. That might be an idea. It won't help when Linux is running, but if a thief decides to install Windows, the BIOS will automatically install the tracing program.

Of course, the best thing is to have the laptop insured, and the HDD encrypted.

I like using multiple layers of encryption, mainly for compartmentalization. One layer for everything on the HDD, preferably using a TPM (to prevent brute-forcing), then different partitions/VMs for different tasks, This way, if the laptop gets snatched while browsing the Web, my Quicken data is still protected.

Have it log in with DynDNS and open a VPN to you. (1)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216025)

Give yourself full remote administrative control over it from your home system. At that point you can use all the standard "Where's my IP" tools to track down where it is; can use the webcam etc.

Re:Have it log in with DynDNS and open a VPN to yo (3, Informative)

carlhaagen (1021273) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216069)

A plethora of solutions already do this, without the overhead of reinventing the wheel. Check out http://preyproject.com/ [preyproject.com]

Re:Have it log in with DynDNS and open a VPN to yo (1)

WindBourne (631190) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216201)

Thanx. I did not know about this one.

Theft prevention: label it "Linux Laptop" (5, Funny)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216027)

You're probably better off going with theft protection. Your best bet might be to label it a "Linux Laptop" in big bold letters.

Re:Theft prevention: label it "Linux Laptop" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216051)

FuCk YoU cOrPorATE WHORE

Does he have to? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216139)

Isn't the big thing to steal these days are smart phones and tablets? Especially, iPhones and iPads?

And if walks away from it, just leave up a full screen terminal. The morons will just think it's broke - that's assuming they pay attention to anything without an Apple logo on it.

Re:Theft prevention: label it "Linux Laptop" (4, Funny)

54mc (897170) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216237)

This is actually not a terrible idea. Kinda along the lines of how people joke that the best anti-theft an American car can have is a clutch.

Re:Theft prevention: label it "Linux Laptop" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216637)

Until some self-described "hacker" (read: 13-yeah-old who can use an anonymizing proxy on his school computer) comes along, recognizes "Linux" as "must be from a super-pro and hence must contain lots of super-secrets", and steals is *because* it's Linux.

Case in point: I was like that once. I would *definitely* not have ignored a machine that actually managed to get Linux to run in a useful manner back then. ;)

Re:Theft prevention: label it "Linux Laptop" (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216521)

You're probably better off going with theft protection. Your best bet might be to label it a "Linux Laptop" in big bold letters.

It works even better if you buy a pink one.

Re:Theft prevention: label it "Linux Laptop" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216783)

How about "Scary: This isn't a windows or mac computer". I don't think people know what Linux is.

Re:Theft prevention: label it "Linux Laptop" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216787)

Considering how inept most Windows users are, saying it runs Linux is probably a plus.

Prey (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216029)

http://preyproject.com/

Free but only partially useful solution (3, Informative)

Deathspawner (1037894) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216039)

Writing a bash script that automatically sends the laptop's current outbound IP address to a remote file is one idea. That would at least help you figure out to some degree there the laptop has been used from. It'd require law enforcement to go further than that, though...

Re:Free but only partially useful solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216389)

It'd require law enforcement to go further than that, though...

Which they won't help you with so it's pointless. Unless it's the police chief's kid's ipad or something.

But for us regular Joes, the police won't help get your stolen electronics back, even if you can give them the street address of it's location.

That has been reported here time and time again.

Re:Free but only partially useful solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216635)

Err... Not quite true. I had the cops show up at my house because they found a stolen GPS with my home address on it. Just because your relations with police were terrible doesn't mean all police are like that.

Re:Free but only partially useful solution (1)

localman57 (1340533) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216671)

In our city, it depends a lot on how it was stolen. If you left it unattended at a Starbucks and it disappeared, good luck. But if you lost it through a burglary, the cops will often go to the trouble to track it. Same with xBoxes that use Live. Because sometimes when they track one of these, they find an entire garage full of stolen electronics.

Just ask the NSA (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216049)

They will gladly tell you where your computer has gone to.

Re:Just ask the NSA (2)

kthreadd (1558445) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216383)

They will? I thought that was classified.

Disk encryption (3, Informative)

bradley13 (1118935) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216053)

Assuming you have valuable and/or personal data on the machine, don't forget disk encryption. Either encrypt the entire disk, or perhaps just the data partition. Truecrypt is a good solution for this.

Re:Disk encryption (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216147)

Exactly.

In fact, just forget tracking, and encrypt the whole disk---if it gets stolen, shrug it off, and buy another one (again, do full disk encryption).

There's not much you can do about crime (sure, you *might* be one of those few folks who locates their laptop, and then breaks the law in some stupid way trying to retrieve it---or infinitely less likely, gets the thief slapped on the wrist by the cops).

Password protect bios, encrypt disk, etc., make it a hassle for someone who ends up with it, but that's pretty much it. Your toy is gone---the quicker you get over it, the better off you'll be.

Re:Disk encryption (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216755)

But MY TOY... Someone STOLED IT!!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!

Re:Disk encryption (4, Insightful)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216177)

If you encrypt the boot drive properly, it won't boot to anywhere useful without a password. That means you can't use any of the OS-level tracking solutions, because the thief won't be able to boot into the regular OS. If you've let a criminal boot far enough to track them properly, you've really let them get too close to your data.

It sucks in a way that a locked down system can't also phone home easily to find the thief, but realistically that's the trade-off here. I'm willing to write off the cost of a laptop if it's stolen, as long as the thief doesn't also get access to any personal data I have on the drive. Recovering from a case of identity theft costs a lot more than any single device.

Re:Disk encryption (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216313)

You have to use the bios (firmware) level tracking stuff. This is especially important when using a Linux based machine as anyone who takes it is simply going to format it or replace the drive and install Windows. Any scripts or crap you setup in the OS are gone.

Re:Disk encryption (2)

rvw (755107) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216199)

Assuming you have valuable and/or personal data on the machine, don't forget disk encryption. Either encrypt the entire disk, or perhaps just the data partition. Truecrypt is a good solution for this.

Plus provide autologin, so the user won't feel the need to reinstall immediately.

Already done (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216055)

Don't worry - the NSA has this covered.

NSA (0)

JayPee (4090) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216059)

Not to worry, the NSA already has you taken care of.

Stop Theft Plates (4, Informative)

kullnd (760403) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216071)

I'm a big fan of these - - They deter the actual theft before it happens.

http://www.stoptheft.com/ [stoptheft.com]

Re:Stop Theft Plates (1)

PreparationH67 (1971850) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216307)

Wow, these plates actually look pretty awesome and from what I can tell they don't charge you for the registation. Nice price points too, I might have to point these off to my bosses.

Re:Stop Theft Plates (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216565)

a dremel tool and replacement sticker would easily fix the "permanent" tattoo.
I'm not impressed.

Re:Stop Theft Plates (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216501)

Just put another sticker over the 'stolen'-tattoo?

Re:Stop Theft Plates (1)

localman57 (1340533) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216711)

I'm a big fan of these - - They deter the actual theft before it happens. http://www.stoptheft.com/ [stoptheft.com]

It seems to me that if this works, and you can't get it off, it will probably just get your laptop thrown in a trash bin, or chopped for parts. Mildly satisfying in terms of pissing off your thief, but rather questionable with regard to helping you get your stuff back.

Here is what you could do: (4, Insightful)

stewsters (1406737) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216077)

Get internal gps. Dual boot with a no-password windows xp account. The thief will have a much higher chance to log into that. Make it spam a home server with its coordinates every second its on and has access to the internet. Encrypt your linux partition. The key is you want the thief not to just wipe it and sell it, they need to power it on.

Re:Here is what you could do: (3, Insightful)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216219)

The key is you want the thief not to just wipe it and sell it, they need to power it on.

Depends on the style of thief; your typical, garden-variety tweeker looking for something to sell to the pawn shop probably won't even crack the top, let alone try and boot the thing... a pro or semi-pro identity thief, on the other hand...

Then there's the ever-present bored-teenage-vandal types (especially prevalent this time of year)... those kids are likely going to break into the machine to see what kind of "cool" (read: pornographic) stuff you've got on there, shortly before they completely trash the hardware.

also some people on ebay may part it out (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216257)

if they can't boot it.

that SSD and the screen can sell as well as the case / ram / cpu / and other parts.

Do nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216089)

If your computer is stolen, it will be formatted to install a Windows is just a few seconds. Sad but true.

Re:Do nothing (2)

pmontra (738736) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216137)

I know it's almost offtopic but what happens if they steal a Mac? I've seen a raided office a few days ago. They got all laptops, half of them were Macs. Do they install some OSX on them?

Re:Do nothing (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216213)

Actually they do the same thing, install windows on it. Go to craigslist and notice how many suspiciously cheap macbooks with windows installs there are.

Insurance (4, Informative)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216099)

Encrypt the hard drive. Insure against theft. Forget about it if it's stolen.

Re:Insurance (3, Informative)

auric_dude (610172) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216127)

Please don't forget to make and test backups every now and then otherwise you may well have your insurance payout but no data.

Re:Insurance (1)

Alain Williams (2972) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216749)

Please don't forget to make and test backups every now and then otherwise you may well have your insurance payout but no data.

I keep my data on my server at home, I put stuff on my laptop if/when I need to use it when I am out & about. Nothing of real value would be lost if I were to lose my laptop.

Re:Insurance (5, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216589)

Encrypt the hard drive. Insure against theft. Forget about it if it's stolen.

Right, your data integrity is almost always worth more than the hardware itself. In order to install a tracker, you have to permit the attacker access to your filesystem. Don't do that.

If my laptop is stolen, they'll see a grub screen, and then dracut asking them for a password. I'm SoL on ever seeing it again but I don't have to go explain to clients how their security may have been compromised.

I guess ... you could try to bait them with a Windows boot option in grub. Maybe even make it the default if you think it's really likely that your laptop will be stolen. Install the tracker there, perhaps. One could continue along that train of thought with silent grub options and delays to make a deadman's switch of sorts, that would automatically bring up wireless, connect to any routable AP and send a help packet. Hey, there's an opportunity for the next guy who wants to make a new micro linux distro that does something unique - the more silent, slim, and faster the better. Maybe even a fake Windows splash screen while it's doing its business.

Tracking the IP is easy but... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216105)

...the problem seems to be that just knowing the IP of your stolen computer is not enough for the police to get it back for you. It seems they also want a photo of the thief taken while using the computer, which complicated matters a lot. At least that's what other users have reported.

Another reason you put electrical tape over webcam (1)

ub3r n3u7r4l1st (1388939) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216399)

protect yourself against the tracking by the Illuminati.

Re:Tracking the IP is easy but... (2)

jamstar7 (694492) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216545)

...the problem seems to be that just knowing the IP of your stolen computer is not enough for the police to get it back for you. It seems they also want a photo of the thief taken while using the computer, which complicated matters a lot. At least that's what other users have reported.

Not to mention the police will want to talk to you about all that Indonesian plant porn the thieves downloaded onto your laptop after they stole it. Denying that you did it just won't work with them, but might work with a jury if you have a good enough l*wy*r.

Nice Try, NSA (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216117)

You'll have to try harder than that to get me to help you track people.

Prey! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216121)

I would recommend Prey: http://preyproject.com/blog/2011/04/its-official-prey-is-now-on-ubuntu

I have used it and it seems to work well. It's free for up to 3 machines too.

Linux OS likely to be erased offline (4, Insightful)

advid.net (595837) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216133)

The first thing the theft will do: an offline OS installation.

I bet the stolen Linux laptop will have its OS erased to either to run MS Windows or an other Linux distro.

Re:Linux OS likely to be erased offline (1)

aaron44126 (2631375) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216241)

That might be the first thing you would do. Thieves often aren't techies. They'll just boot it up and see if they can get it to work, and then pawn it or sell it to someone else.

If you want to be able to track your machine after it is stolen, just make sure it is easy enough for anyone to get to a web browser (easy-to-find guest account with restricted permissions, but can still connect to the local wifi?). Then run some software like Prey [preyproject.com] . If you have sensitive data, encrypt it but make sure the machine is still bootable.

Re:Linux OS likely to be erased offline (1)

bmacs27 (1314285) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216479)

It isn't the burglar you are worried about, but the fence. The burglar won't even crack the lid. He'll bring it straight to a drug dealer or pawn shop. Both of the latter will likely be savvy enough to part the hard drive from the machine and sell them separately. People keep talking about a wipe and reinstall as if data doesn't have value on the black market these days. They don't need to know how to get the data. They just need to know parties interested in hard drives. This is why encryption is step one.

Re:Linux OS likely to be erased offline (3, Informative)

whoever57 (658626) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216311)

The first thing the theft will do: an offline OS installation.

Exactly. My daughter's Ubuntu laptop was stolen some years back. It was configured to start OpenVPN on boot-up. The VPN never connected after the theft, so I can safely conclude that it was never connected to the Internet while the original Linux install was present.

Insurance and backups (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44216159)

Seriously, just have it insured and back up the data regularly. If it gets stolen, claim it, buy another and restore. It's happened to me and I was back on my feet with a new laptop in 24 hours, the insurance claim took a week but all I had to do was file the claim and talk to a couple people on the phone.

If it is stolen and you can tack it, do you really want to do that? Track down some petty thief and confront them? Why? Thats sounds time consuming and potentially dangerous. Why bother?

Prey (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216179)

I tertiary the others on this.

While it is true none of the solutions will survive an OS re-install, in most cases that's not terribly relevant. You want to track it down before they re-install the OS anyway.

Prey is very unobtrusive; I often forget it's even there. It can give you screen shots, access location information, and even snap pictures with the webcam if your laptop is so equipped.

Great product and service.

CompuTrace (4, Interesting)

DigiShaman (671371) | 1 year,23 days | (#44216187)

Depending on the laptop (in BIOS), you can use CompuTrace with Dell laptops.

http://www.absolute.com/en/products/absolute-computrace [absolute.com]

Re:CompuTrace (1)

QuantumRiff (120817) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216315)

Looked into this once before for a big rollout.. Very hard to get actual info on. All the BIOS chip does, is re-install the software automatically and silently in windows. (they have some sort of special encryption key or something)..

if you ever feel the need to steal a laptop, install linux, freeBSD, or make it a hackintosh, and the computrace is worthless..

Re:CompuTrace (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216443)

Yes, that's my understanding as well. But I'm going to guess a strong possibility of the drive being replaced and reinstalled with some variant of Windows anyways. If it's a Dell, they'll just use the OEM reinstallation media that matches the COA label to bring it back to OOBE (factory) prior to selling it online. Once it connects to the Internet, it phones home.

Re:CompuTrace (1)

SuneSpeg (662034) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216353)

The CompuTrace solution is available on the majority of business notebooks, being a HP freak myself i can confirm it is available in most probook and elitebook series, while not available in the pavilion(private) segment. Fujitsu Siemens and Lenovo (and probably others) offer it too. It is not free, but should be considered as an insurrance. Hardware based solution is only way to go ,if the junkie that steals it cant surf porn on it right away, it will be reinstalled and all the fancy software solutions are gone.

Prey (3, Insightful)

readingaccount (2909349) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216253)

Apologies if this sounds like I'm some sort of shill, but I'm not. Just a happy customer:

http://preyproject.com/ [preyproject.com]

* Free and open source
* Completely passive
* If the laptop is reported missing (and has net access to know this), Prey will report its geo-location via Google Maps, take passive captures of the user with the laptop's webcam, take screenshots of their activity, and if necessary completely lock down the computer (though you'd normally do this manually and as a last resort - once locked, the thief will probably ditch it very quickly). Does other things as well.
* Works on Win/OSX/Linux/iOS/Android

* Allows you to run it in two ways:
1. Make an account on the website, install the software and link it to your account, so that should your laptop go missing you can report its absence via the site and it'll do its thing once the laptop goes online elsewhere. Free accounts all you to link up to 3 devices, pro accounts allow more in addition to more features, but you'll easily be fine with a free account.
2. If you want to be completely independent, you can run Prey stand-alone. No account needed - it works by monitoring for the existence of a URL when online, and if said URL reports a 404 error, it triggers and sends reports via email. Hence, you set up some free hosting with a dummy file, point Prey to the full URL of said file, then if laptop goes walkies, remove the file from the host to trigger Prey. No reliance on accounts or anything. Bit much for a regular user but easy enough for advanced users and not dependent on a company for the software to keep working.

Since you're running Linux ... (3, Interesting)

MacTO (1161105) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216259)

Since you're running Linux, you will probably discover that any thief will reformat the hard drive to install Windows. This leaves two options:

1) Look into software that may already be baked into the firmware.

2) Have it automatically, and preferably transparently, boot into Windows then follow some of the other advice found here.

Neither route will help you recover a laptop once it has passed through the hands of professionals.

Overall, you'd probably be better off detering theft in the first place: don't use it in overly public places, never leave it alone in public places, invest in a good lock, and make it look undesirable. (One thing that I like about my ThinkPad is that it looks 10 years older than it actually is. Stickers, especially "non-removable" ones, make more identifiable and harder to resell without a cleanup effort. Scratches and dings will reduces its apparent value. Heck, smashing the slot for the lock will probably deter most thieves since it would be harder to sell.) Remember, the best way to avoid being a target is to avoid looking like a target.

Oh, and write down every serial number on the system.

tracking? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216267)

Don't worry, PRISM is tracking it for you.

Intel Anti-Theft (1)

javajeff (73413) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216271)

http://www.intel.com/go/anti-theft

If your computer has Intel Anti-Theft, this will super cede the bios. No one will be able to use your computer in any way. They cannot boot to a usb or CD; they cannot access the bios. It will be a brick without the password or correct credentials from Intel.

Re:Intel Anti-Theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216455)

Also known as a BACK DOOR. Good plan there. Put a back door in every machine, probably connected to NSA through the ruling of FISA court. And you don't have the source code, and even if you had it you can't replace the binary already there. So you don't know. It's not your data, it's someone else's be that the NSA, Bush, Obama.

This ladies and gentlemen, this is why GPL is needed. This is why you should refuse any software that is not GPL. Because everything that is not GPL is designed to hurt you, to dominate you, to suppress you.

Re:Intel Anti-Theft (1)

bobbied (2522392) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216593)

It just doesn't stop them from parting out the thing. Removing the SSD, memory and such is a quickly done. Common laptop repair parts, (screens, keyboards, batteries, chargers and even processors) are usually not that hard to remove. Remember, the thief just wants a quick buck,. It doesn't matter to them what the thing retails for, they will just sell what they can and trash the rest.

Yeah (1)

Culture20 (968837) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216301)

It's called buy a cheap laptop, encrypt it, back it up regularly, and buy another when it's lost or stolen. Works for other operating systems too. Even with computrace, you can't get police to act on the location a lot of times. Tracking software saves money on insurance, that's it.

DDoS (4, Insightful)

Doug Otto (2821601) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216327)

Configure it to launch a DDoS against the NSA and FBI if your password isn't entered within 30 seconds of booting.

Three letters: (1)

johanwanderer (1078391) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216345)

NSA

Cron (2)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216371)

This will get you an IP address every 15 mins in your apache log so you can login or trace it.

      */15 * * * * /usr/bin/curl https://mywebserver.org/checkin [mywebserver.org]

Also, if you don't want to run a full apache stack, boa [boa.org] is a nice light webserver which will do the same. Also, many options for perl/python servers which could be lighter yet but you would need to implement your own logging. Another cool option is have your laptop open a reverse ssh tunnel right to your server when it boots.

      @reboot /usr/bin/ssh -R 43811:localhost:22 mywebserver.org

How about a C4 "Deadman" Switch (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216415)

You're a slashdot guy, so you must be pretty talented. Open the thing up and find some unused GPIO (or serial port) that you can tap into and hook a small block of C4 and a detonator up to it [1]. Then, create a cron job that runs daily to check that you've been logged in at least once, and if it doesn't it should assume the laptop was stolen and trigger the detonator. No. Wait. Better make the cron job run every 12 hours. You can never be too careful. Just make sure you never sleep in on weekends or leave your house without your laptop.

Next, to be extra safe, you'll want to somehow monitor failed login attempts and trigger the C4 whenever too many happen. Not sure how to do this as I'm a hardware guy myself, but I'm sure you can figure things out on your own or with your frienemy Google. I'd say that allowing one failed login attempt should be a safe threshold, but I'd recommend against allowing any more than that, as you're just asking for trouble. In fact, unless you're some kind of pussy that can't type, you can probably get away without any grace login attempts.

If you were really paranoid, you could try to implement some sort of retina scan or proximity sensor using the built-in webcam, but that's an advanced topic probably better left for some future "Ask Slashdot" post.

[1] If you have sort sort of issue with using C4, maybe you should consider somehow using a thermite charge instead. Less "bang", yes, but definitively more colourful, and would give new meaning to the term "toasted skin syndrome".

no password?? (1)

MooseTick (895855) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216441)

Unless you set it to automatically login with no password, the thief will never be able to boot it up to allow your tracking software to work.

Simple solution (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216447)

Put a Windows 8 sticker on it. Nobody will touch it.

Chain the laptop to your desk (1)

slugstone (307678) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216463)

Chain the laptop to your desk, then no worries about a stolen laptop. Well they might steal the desk then.

Just call the NSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216591)

They know where it is right now.

Don't waste time and money (1)

Ravaldy (2621787) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216607)

My best advice is don't waste time and money trying to track it. Try to avoid theft in the first place. Leave your laptop unattended and it will get stolen. The value you put in the laptop is probably not worth the cost of tracking it. You may as well add it to your current insurance. It will cost less and will pay for a replacement if ever it's stolen.

Why? (1)

jkflying (2190798) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216615)

Truth is, law enforcement isn't going to take you seriously if you say you have tracked down your laptop. Rather just get it insured and have your files backed up somewhere else.

cron a reverse tunnel (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216629)

Periodically (cron), have box contact another box w/ public IP that can log the public IP your laptop connected from. Your laptop will check if a file is present. If file present, setup reverse tunnel over ssh to your box w/ public IP. Now you can do anything you could if you had the laptop in front of you (almost). Scripting this is trivial.

Of course, if some scary non-windows thing came up on the laptop, the thief is going to install windows over it (or get a friend to do it for him). So, you would be better off if you could have it bring up windows running full screen in KVM e.g., if a keypress isn't made during boot. Might even help with the TSA gorillas.

Or just accept that you may lose the laptop, keep backups.

Ebcrypt & reward (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216685)

Encrypt the drive and create a boot splash screen background with contact info and a reward. Most thieves are oppertuneistic.

Cost of Recovery vs. Asset Value (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,22 days | (#44216725)

Is the value this solution provides a quickly diminishing proposition (assuming a monthly charge for service) given the inexpensive nature of mobile computers these days? It would seem that as long as the information on the mobile device is adequately secured against offline attacks using propertly implemented crypto (granted, easier said than done), and any information of significant value isn't being stored, it would be a poor value just to recover the hardware. This is usually covered using another form of insurance already, IME. Has anyone done a proper cost analysis?

The Easy Solution (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216757)

Clearly identify it as a Ubuntu laptop. Your average, low-level thief is notoriously unwilling to steal things that are rare and unpopular.

Toss Ubunta (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216785)

First off, toss Ubunta and use Debian. Same features and much easier to find stuff that works. If you're feeling adventurous, I'd suggest going with Gentoo instead due to optimization and use flags. Simply put, you can save lots of space along with wear by configuring the installation your way. I know someone's going to chime in about Gentoo Ricers but that's not the advantage Gentoo offers in this case. Simply put, You Chose the optimizations used on your system. "Os" is best for laptops as it includes most of the O2 performance features while sticking with a smaller footprint and use flags allow you to decide what features get compiled into the apps. Simply put, why install Gnome/KDE if you don't need them? This doesn't mean various apps can't be installed. For example, I've got a mix of GTK/QT apps - Firefox, Libre Office, QTWriter (notetab plus clone) along with Filezilla (GTK based) and all of them use Fluxbox as the WM (there are many choices).

One thing I'd suggest is to use FDE (full disk encryption) and debian makes that pretty damn easy and get some of the new 32GB flash drives for backup use (critical files) because it's very likely it'll be stolen and the chances of recovery are miniscul to none - reason for the FDE use. Simply put, consider a stolen laptop to be a complete loss and plan around that as you really wont get it back and the cops have more important things to deal with.

or have some fun (1)

cellocgw (617879) | 1 year,22 days | (#44216861)

This only works if you can act quickly after it's been stolen.
First, open the case. Place a block of C4 in some free area, with a detonator attached to the internal USB bus. Close the case. Remember to write down the secret code for the detonator as well as your machine's IPaddress.
When machine is stolen, send the code. Great hilarity ensues.

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