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Mac Theft Recovery Software Tracks Thieves

Hemos posted more than 8 years ago | from the ironc-actions dept.

82

Dubpal writes "Apple Macintosh users can now fit their machines with theft protection software that reports back on what a thief is doing with their computer, should it ever be stolen. The software, named "Undercover" allows users to report their Macs as stolen, causing the software to report back with IPs, screenshots and even a picture of the thief and his surroundings. In addition to this, Undercover begins faking hardware faults, displaying messages and even reading them aloud, alerting anyone around that the Mac's been stolen."

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haha (-1, Troll)

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Utter Bullshit. (5, Interesting)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379156)

From the Undercover FAQ: [orbicule.com]
Can I uninstall Undercover?

Yes, you can. If you haven't registered Undercover yet, you can uninstall Undercover by clicking the Uninstall button in the setup assistant that's part of the installation process. If you are a registered Undercover user, please contact us and we will send you uninstall instructions. During uninstall you will need the Administrator password, to prevent thieves from uninstalling Undercover.

Can Undercover be uninstalled by a thief?

For a thief, uninstalling Undercover is impossible. You can only uninstall Undercover if you know the Administrator password for the given mac.
Errrrr, impossible? What a stupid thing to say. Admin password recovery is trivial under os x. [intelliot.com] And a serious thief would reinstall os x before reselling.

In other words, this piece of software is useful only to:
1) Stupid people (who are reassured by a false sense of security)

2) People who want to spy on someone.
Oh, and anyone tempted to quote the following from the faq at me:
What if someone does a clean install of OS X on my machine?

You can prevent this by installing a firmware password. You can find the firmware password utility on your Mac OS X Tiger DVD (in /Applications/Utilities/ on the disc).
1) Bypassing the firmware is also trivial on Apple machines - all you have to do is add some Ram, and boot :-/

2) Noone has a firmware bios password.

Oh, and last thing - again from the FAQ
Is it possible for Undercover to work behind a firewall?

Yes, Undercover has the ability to autodetect any proxy or firewall settings used to connect to the Internet. Undercover collects and autodetects the necessary settings to access the Internet even if your firewall requires a password.[emph mine]
Bullshit. If they could do that, they would be selling that, not their little toy spyware app.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (4, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379188)

Thieves are not known for their intelligence, contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (4, Insightful)

Shisha (145964) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379216)

I would expand on this. Theives who steal laptops are not known for their intelligence. Usually they're rather sorry sods who need some cash to get the next hit. Hence they take the laptop to a random pawn shop and get very little money (but enough to get their drugs) for it. It then gets re-sold to some middleman who reinstalls it (how else would you explain to the potential buyer that you don't know the password?) and sold on ebay. None of the people involved are particularly intelligent. But the whole process _still_ makes the afromentioned software pretty much useless.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (2, Insightful)

countach (534280) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379277)

Follow the advice of the manufacturer and install a firmware password. Then it WON'T be useless.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (2, Informative)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379784)

Follow the advice of the manufacturer and install a firmware password. Then it WON'T be useless.

Horsecrap. The firmware password is trivial to get around - you can just add Ram & remove it. Bam. Done.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (4, Interesting)

Bastian (66383) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379850)

Good loord, youre one heck of a pessimist.

It's a $30 program that provides a far sight more chance of recovering a stolen laptop than nothing does. I, for one, think it's worth it, even if it would only have a chance of working work 1/10 of the time.

Which I would be willing to wager is a pretty low guess, given the tech-savviness of your average opportunist thief - someone who knows enough about computers to know how to reset the firmware password on a Mac is more than likely going to be tech-savvy enough to be able to get a better job than stealing computers off of tables at coffee shops.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379927)

It's a $30 program that provides a far sight more chance of recovering a stolen laptop than nothing does.

Buy $30 worth of insurance - a much better solution.

enough about computers to know how to reset the firmware password on a Mac is more than likely going to be tech-savvy enough to be able to get a better job than stealing computers off of tables at coffee shops.

If the firmware password is set (I doubt it), then the thief will simply sell it to someone who knows how to bypass the firmware password. The vast majority of stolen laptops pass through a few fences who most certainly know how to do a reinstall.

It's just like locked cell phones. They're no deterrent to cell phone thieves either.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

djmurdoch (306849) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379933)

It's a $30 program that provides a far sight more chance of recovering a stolen laptop than nothing does. I, for one, think it's worth it, even if it would only have a chance of working work 1/10 of the time.

I think you'd be better off investing in property insurance and a backup scheme. The insurance will replace the hardware, you backup will replace the lost content.

You'll also be protected against physical damage to the computer; the theft protection program won't do that.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

milkman_matt (593465) | more than 8 years ago | (#15381941)

Or get both? Then you might get your computer back... if not, you get your new system and put your backups on it, and it'll still only cost you $30 more...

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

patio11 (857072) | more than 8 years ago | (#15385200)

$30 for a one-tenth chance of detection leading to a miniscule chance of recovery, versus $12 (yearly) insurance premium for a ~100% chance of replacement of the insured value (either in your homeowner's/renters insurance or as a special rider to it -- or www.safeware.com if you want to get stabbed through the eyes on fees, really go with whomever gives you the rest of your insurance they'll be HAPPY to take your money). Gee, I wonder which one is the better deal...

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

xyzzyb (975304) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380868)

Hah. Yeah. Know a lot of laptop thieves or do you just have an overactive stereotyping imagination?

Re:Utter Bullshit. (0, Troll)

gnaa_composite (975113) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379197)

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Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

countach (534280) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379213)

Yeah ok, but the fact is most thieves are dumb. Maybe 1 in 20 thieves are even going to be capable of understanding these issues, let alone well informed enough to uninstall before they are busted.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15379232)

I agree its not perfect but it is better than nothing. Considering most theives are oppertunists without my knowledge of computers all they want to do is steal it and sell it on for £50 or so (at least that is how it works here in England). A professional theif would steal a warehouse of 100+ laptops all in one hit.

Secondly it isn't possible to detect proxy settings, what they mean by this is they just get the system default. Chances are if someone stole the laptop and wanted to use it but didn't have direct internet access they would stick in their proxy server in Safari or similar. The same is true on Windows and IE proxy settings. Almost every internet aware application gives you three options. 1. Direct. 2. Manual. 3. Use IEs Proxy Settings. This application just uses something similar.

This software will be handy to catch oppertunists who see and take without thinking. It wouldn't stop me or you or most /.ers from stealing a laptop but it will stop some, or if it doesn't stop them it will at least make it a little bit easier to catch them.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (3, Funny)

Mini-Geek (915324) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379302)

1) Stupid people (who are reassured by a false sense of security)

What if I like my false sense of security?

Re:Utter Bullshit. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15379757)

As a former volunteer at our local prison, you're crediting the average criminal with more intelligence then can be proven. Let me tell you, the average criminal lacks the common sense necessary to come out of the rain, let alone do a clean install of OS X. All those things you call trivial? Most criminals barely have the brain power to blow their own damn noses. So why on gods green earth do you think they would be able to install OS X? "Oh, Macs are so easy to use!" That may be, but you still have to have a little common sense to get from point A to point B. Believe me, this little spyware toy, as you call it, would be quite enough to stymie the average inmate at any prison you care to name.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380525)

As a former volunteer at our local prison, you're crediting the average criminal with more intelligence then can be proven. Let me tell you, the average criminal lacks the common sense necessary to come out of the rain, let alone do a clean install of OS X.

Well, to be fair... If you work at a prison, you only see the criminals who were dumb enough to get caught, and furthermore too dumb to find a lawyer who could mount a useful enough defense to keep them out of prison.

In the majority of crimes, the perp gets away with it. Only the unlucky and the really, really stupid end up in prison.

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 8 years ago | (#15384021)

In the majority of crimes, the perp gets away with it. Only the unlucky and the really, really stupid end up in prison.

Yes, but the majority of crimes are committed by a small minority of criminals, and the odds that a criminal will get caught doing something is high. Criminals are generally not very bright, which is not a startling claim if you realize the average human is not very smart, and half of them are less smart than average! :-)

Mostly Bullshit. (1)

abb3w (696381) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380562)

2) Noone has a firmware bios password.

Just call me Captain Nemo, then. (And it's not "BIOS" on a Mac; for anything even remotely recent, it's either "Open Firmware" or "EFI", depending on model.) "Only the seriously paranoid have a firmware/BIOS password," I will certainly grant.

I'll also note that a firmware bios password can also be bypassed by removing the hard drive and connecting to a new machine via any of the usual methods... at which point, removing Undercover becomes much simpler. And if there isn't a BIOS password to begin with, Undercover's also trivial to remove with target-mode booting and another Mac.

Still, it's one more nuisance to drop on a thief.

Re:Mostly Bullshit. (1)

milkman_matt (593465) | more than 8 years ago | (#15381985)

at which point, removing Undercover becomes much simpler. And if there isn't a BIOS password to begin with, Undercover's also trivial to remove with target-mode booting and another Mac.

We should also remember that said thief will need to -look for- this program... Not every laptop thief reads /., and I had never heard of this before, so I wouldn't know to look for it (until now) either. Not only that but to remove it you'd have to boot up, and (I know, I haven't read yet :() does this thing phone home every time you boot? because if so, even if you do know what to look for and where to look for, if you boot up you're already screwed. (obviously you could mount the system as a firewire drive, but that goes back to the original point..)

Re:Utter Bullshit. (1)

lith123 (961745) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380829)

I'm not under the impression that the common thief is someone savvey enough to even understand the language in your post... let alone, have that knowledge at the forefront of their mind to put it in action! Look.... I worked for Apple and I didnt know half the stuff you just said. But giving you the benifit of the doubt, we'll say that 5% of people who steal computers would know that. 1 in 20... What if you got your 17" powerbook stolen and had a 19 in 20 chance to get it back by providing the police with an upclose, accurate picture of the criminal? Not to mention, behavioral patterns within people would suggest that more than likely you will see that person again. I would suggest not being so quick to crush ideas =) --J With that said, I think its a fantastic idea.

A picture of the theif? (4, Insightful)

Lave (958216) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379160)

I assume this is with the macbook's built in webcam?

I have issues with this, in that if the webcam is hardwired to the machine, and can be accessed remotely without the users knowledge - what stops a hacker spying on you for less legitimate reasons?

Like the schokwave debacle? I would have preferred Apple to have included a physical shutter to close the webcam when not in use rather than chance the unsightly aspects of my private life being shown to the masses. It's a little too orwellian for me.

Re:A picture of the theif? (1)

phase_9 (909592) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379173)

It's called gaffer tape - works even better on the back i^Hmacbooks

Re:A picture of the theif? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15379182)

"I would have preferred Apple to have included a physical shutter to close the webcam when not in use rather than chance the unsightly aspects of my private life being shown to the masses. It's a little too orwellian for me."

I have a solution I can sell you for only $19.99...or you can buy the piece of tape yourself.

Re:A picture of the theif? (1)

talkingpaperclip (952112) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379222)

"what stops a hacker spying on you for less legitimate reasons?" Sounds like you're concerned about someone observing your behavior while you watch porn.

Re:A picture of the theif? (4, Insightful)

nuggetman (242645) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379307)

and can be accessed remotely without the users knowledge - what stops a hacker spying on you for less legitimate reasons?

Don't let any shady characters in trenchcoats install apps on your Mac?

The camera does have an indicator light for when it's on..

Re:A picture of the theif? (1)

blugu64 (633729) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380887)

true it does have a indicator light, but from what I've read on the apple developer mailing list you can turn that on and off independently from the camera. I may have been mistaken, but that is my understanding.

Re:A picture of the theif? (1)

yabos (719499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15398491)

From what I remember, the light is wired into the power for the camera so there's no way to disable the light from coming on if the camera is on. That's what I remember Steve Jobs saying when they released the first Mac with the built in iSight.

Re:A picture of the theif? (1)

Bastian (66383) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379786)

Calm down. This isn't a port of Back Orifice to OS X.

It's a program that you install on your computer ahead of time. Like any other program, this one has access to the hardware in the machine, including the webcame. Like any program you install in your machine, it also has access to the Internet. It phones home at regular intervals, and if home responds that it's been stolen, it then starts collecting this information and saving it.

Re:A picture of the theif? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15380256)

I have issues with this, in that if the webcam is hardwired to the machine, and can be accessed remotely without the users knowledge?

This is the one and only reason I let the hot blonde chick down the hall borrow my macbook.

thank god for duct tape (1)

HighOrbit (631451) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380527)

The Soviet Russia joke about the screen watching you would be too easy.. (I believe it was the "orginal" soviet russia joke by Yakov Smirnov). How about a 1984 reference?

[O'Brian] - do we have the incriminating pictures of Smith yet? [Faceless Functionary] - umm.. no sir, there seems to be something blocking the camera. Our systems seems to have been defeated. [O'Brian]- What? We've spent millions developing this technology! There is nothing wrong with our system.

Re:A picture of the theif? (1)

Eil (82413) | more than 8 years ago | (#15385089)

One carefully crafted piece of black electrical ought to do the trick. That's pretty much the first thing I'd do after showing off my brand-new MacBook to friends.

C'mon, who the hell would really use a built-in camera for anything serious after the first week of playing with the machine? Okay, besides the "video podcast" crowd or those chronic Internet expeditionists who get kicks out of waving their wangs around at complete strangers online. (Not that there's a whole lot of difference between these two groups...)

Audio Message (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15379166)

"This computer has been stolen...and is looking at horse porn..."

-tgpo
http://www.tgpo.info/ [tgpo.info]

Car alarm syndrome? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15379195)

What if this software should inadvertently misfire, mistaking the real owner as a thief? Few laptops are actually stolen. There will be many more cases of mistyped passwords and other false alarms than true cases of actual theft.

Pretty soon, people will ignore these endless broadcasts in the same way that the omnipresent "boooop-boooop nee-noo-nee-noo zow-zow-zow" car alarms are subconciously taken as part of the urban landscape.

And so he only real effect will be to spread the personal information of legitimate Mac owners, while the real thieves go merrily on their way. (Anyway, the first thing you a thief does when stealing a laptop is to format its hard drive. Duh...)

Re:Car alarm syndrome? (3, Informative)

famebait (450028) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379238)

It is quite common to post ones little thoughts around a subject without reading TFA, and that is, if not OK then at least human. But when your ambition is to reveal supposedly fatal flaws with a product, you really should check your facts about what it claims to do, or at the very least re-read the abstact to make sure you at least understood that correctly.

Hint: it doesn't discover it is stolen, you (the owner) report it as such to the company.

 

Not foolproof! (2, Insightful)

melonqueen (963023) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379196)

If te thief decides to not use the net with the laptop, youre chances of getting it back are zero. So there goes the money you spent on both the laptop and the software. I wonder if the money back guarantee takes that into account?

Re:Not foolproof! (1)

Deadguy2322 (761832) | more than 8 years ago | (#15381931)

Quick! Call the police! Your spellchecker has been stolen!!!!!

Re:Not foolproof! (1)

milkman_matt (593465) | more than 8 years ago | (#15382049)

If te thief decides to not use the net with the laptop, youre chances of getting it back are zero. So there goes the money you spent on both the laptop and the software. I wonder if the money back guarantee takes that into account?

Yeah maybe he just wants it for gaming HAHAHA!!

The only system I ever use regularly is my powerbook ;P

Put your tinfoil hats (3, Funny)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379248)

What happens if a would-be thief reports your PC as stolen so he can find out when to steal your car :)?

Obvious Headline generator (1)

Frogbert (589961) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379278)

In other news new obvious headline generator software spits out headlines stating the obvious.

Re:Obvious Headline generator (1)

lbft (950835) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380065)

I'm curious as to what else you would expect a headline to say.

Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (-1, Offtopic)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379287)

You can lie how fast your machine is, you can lie how good your OS is, you can lie how bright your screen is.

But if you try to sell false security and lie it's real, you're up for a great surprise.

Re:Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15379324)

Sorry, but I really don't understand your post. I know you're trying to say something, but I just don't get what it is.

Did you try re-reading before posting?

Re:Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (-1, Flamebait)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379379)

Sorry, but I really don't understand your post.

You're not required to, nor am I required to explain it to you.

Re:Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15379505)

You've just realised that you didn't RTFA, right?

Re:Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (0, Offtopic)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380157)

You've just realised that you didn't RTFA, right?

No, now I did.

I've been always amazed how quickly registered users drop to AC's if they doubt it'll be good for their karma though.

Re:Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (1)

Swedentom (670978) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379329)

What does Apple have to do with this?

Re:Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (0, Offtopic)

ktappe (747125) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379448)

Apparently those who drive SUV's and are so proud of this they use same for their username are not smart enough to understand this is not an Apple product.

-Kurt

Re:Apple's to learn a valuable lesson the hard way (-1, Flamebait)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380107)

Apparently those who drive SUV's and are so proud of this they use same for their username...

Where you masturbating while writing the above piece of art? Hope you had your fun, since, it turns out you can have a username suv4x4 and not drive a SUV.

Also a misunderstanding is not an indicator of how smart you are, the summary never mentions who did the product, and I'm short on time. So I assumed Apple did, since Macs are historically pretty short on 3rd party software.

guarantee (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379372)

If we can not recover your stolen Mac, we will fully refund Undercover

Sweet! So if my laptop gets stolen and they can't find it, I get 30 bucks back! How can you possibly go wrong?

Re:guarantee (1)

HTL2001 (836298) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380956)

And if you didn't install this software you'd be at the same place.

iCal: Poor person's recovery tool (1)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379375)

Just put a daily event in iCal with an alarm that sends an e-mail to yourself. Unless the thieves reinstall the OS (doubtful as I'd bet that most theives just want quick cash for their swag), the machine will send out an email to you everyday from its new location.

Re:iCal: Poor person's recovery tool (1)

FirienFirien (857374) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379393)

...if it's on and connected to the internet and can access an smtp that allows remote access and has its IP set up correctly to be able to access anything in the first place?

Hm.

Re:iCal: Poor person's recovery tool (1)

_Hiro_ (151911) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379600)

Setup your own SMTP server. Set up authentication so it isn't open. And when the Mac is stolen, increase the logging settings on the SMTP server to max to see where it's coming from?

A little complex, but should do the trick...

Re:iCal: Poor person's recovery tool (1)

nule.org (591224) | more than 8 years ago | (#15383488)

What are you talking about? Poor people can't afford macs! :)

So how silly are theifs? (1)

delusrexpert (578176) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379573)

  1. Insert the Mac OS X CD.
  2. Restart the computer.
  3. Immediately after the startup sound, press and hold the "C" key to start up from CD.
  4. When the Installer screen appears, do not click Continue. Instead, choose Installer > Open Disk Utilities.
  5. Select the hard drive to erase.
  6. Click the Erase tab.
  7. Select the volume format from the Volume Format pop-up menu.
  8. Click Options.
  9. Select the checkbox for "Zero all data".
  10. Click OK.
  11. Click Erase.

Re:So how silly are theifs? (3, Funny)

Zhe Mappel (607548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15384431)

12. ???
13. Profit!!!

Re:So how silly are theifs? (1)

not-enough-info (526586) | more than 8 years ago | (#15388772)

How does this remove the firmware lock? A laptop without an OS is pretty useless if you ask me.

Terrible idea.. (3, Interesting)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15379859)

reading them aloud, alerting anyone around that the Mac's been stolen

Sounds like a guaranteed way to get your stolen mac smashed into unuseable pieces.

How to steal a laptop (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15380032)

Thanks to reading slashdot and digg regularly, I now know how to steal a laptop and get away with it.
1. Remove Kensington Laptop Lock. [digg.com]

2. Add / Remove Ram if firmware pw is set. [slashdot.org]

3. Boot from removable install media. [intelliot.com]

4. Format Hard Drive (after you go through it and keep the good bits, music pron etc) [slashdot.org]

5. Reinstall OS

Re:How to steal a laptop (1)

Elusive_Cure (645428) | more than 8 years ago | (#15386413)

Errr.... you forgot the obvious

6. Profit..

there is a pc version too (1)

sven_eee (196651) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380156)

I rememmber about a year back I had a sales rep trying to sell me the same thing for a pc, I asked him if people could get around it by just reformating the drive, His answer was the the program would be still be installed. So i then asked him what would happen if someone just replaced the harddrive and he said it would still report back to its server. Then I asked him how does a program that only work on 2000/xp connect to a remote server on the internet somewhere if there is no internet connection and no operating system installed, He said "its a new patented technology". So I asked him where does program that needs 2000/xp and 20MB+ of harddrive space install its self if it not to the harddrive. At this point he couldn't speak english and got disconnected.

It seems people will buy anything these days. I should get into selling downloadable invisable goodluck charms for you computer.

[sVen]

Re:there is a pc version too (1)

blugu64 (633729) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380934)

"I should get into selling downloadable invisable goodluck charms for you computer."

Hey! that's my idea! (that and downloadable hardware upgrades....)

Re:there is a pc version too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15381280)

I rememmber about a year back I had a sales rep trying to sell me the same thing for a pc, I asked him if people could get around it by just reformating the drive, His answer was the the program would be still be installed. So i then asked him what would happen if someone just replaced the harddrive and he said it would still report back to its server. Then I asked him how does a program that only work on 2000/xp connect to a remote server on the internet somewhere if there is no internet connection and no operating system installed, He said "its a new patented technology". So I asked him where does program that needs 2000/xp and 20MB+ of harddrive space install its self if it not to the harddrive. At this point he couldn't speak english and got disconnected.

Most likely, they're full of it. However....

A friend of mine built something consistent with that for his EE final project. He modified an off-the-shelf internal wireless card with the addition of a GPS module, a clock chip, a smidge of flash, and a EEPROM with some firmware. Periodically (randomized time intervals between 10-30 minutes), the firmware sends a UDP packet out to a predetermined static IP address, independent of OS instructions, using whatever network the wireless is connected to at the time, identifying the machine by MAC address and giving the current GPS position.

The on-disk software is needed only if you want to change the IP address the UDP location alerts go to, or turn them off for a while... and they can't be turned off for more than a week. The generic built-in XP drivers for the chipset will let you (or a thief) use the card for networking just fine, but those don't reveal or control the revealing "ET PHONE HOME" going out. It doesn't matter if you reinstall Windows, or even remove the entire hard drive and boot to a Knoppix CD; the wireless card itself is phoning home on its own any time it's in use.

It wasn't perfect by a long shot. Obviously, something has to be listening for the UDP GPS alert on the other end. If you're using another wireless card as a sniffer and think to look, the packet CAN be seen. Sending the GPS UDP packet interrupted any other network traffic the card was trying to send at that instant. The prototype wasn't MiniPCI form factor any more, and required some extra room and dangling wires; he customized it to his laptop, but it wouldn't necessarily fit in anything but that particular Dell model. GPS reception was BAD, and it often wouldn't get a location fix. If the wireless card wasn't on a network, it won't send the packet. (He had hoped to get something that would promiscuously send to any SSID it "saw", but ran out of time before graduation.) Of course, if the laptop isn't turned on, nothing happens. And even in fairly large quantities, production cost wouldn't go much below $90. However, it worked well enough as proof-of-concept that he was talking about filing some patents and getting venture capitalist funding for it. When I last spoke to him, he had an interested (but uncommitted) backer, and was optimistic for having it on-market by 2007. (I thought insanely optimistic, but anyway....)

I don't want my stolen Mac back (1)

tsa (15680) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380163)

This sure is a nice program and I'm tempted to buy it, but only because it can help the police track down the criminal who stole my computer. But I would not want my computer back. Who knows where it's been, and how roughly it has been treated? I can't imagine that thieves treat computers with the care they need.
My iBook was stolen recently, and although that is a PITA, I have backups so no data was lost. And with the money I got from the insurance company I can buy a new MacBook now!

Re:I don't want my stolen Mac back (1)

Mistah Blue (519779) | more than 8 years ago | (#15386489)

Just like if my car is stolen, I don't want it back. Same reasons, plus it just wouldn't feel right. It is a violation of your "space," to have something stolen. I had my wallet stolen when I was a teen. I learned a lot of lessons from that event. The number one lesson is to be aware of your surroundings and don't be a victim.

Has the makings of a TV show.... (1)

countach (534280) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380216)

Television station buys a dozen laptops. Leaves them unprotected in various spots with clearly marked names and addresses. Nabs would-be thieves and shames them on TV.

Re:Has the makings of a TV show.... (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15381018)

"Hi, I'm Chris Matthews from Dateline NBC. The police are right outside of your front door."

LK

I've dealt with several stolen laptops. (4, Interesting)

TwitchCHNO (469542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380263)

Sending you screenshots of the laptop being used is very useful, most security software "phones home" but only gives limited information, like the IP address of the machine (public IP if it is NATed).

The stolen laptops that law enforcement have contacted me about, have been largely pointless (as I work for an ISP and have access to the customer records). The perpetraitor or possesor of stolen goods is almost always at a hotel (wifi hotspot - what have you). Under US law - John Doe search warrant of a hotel isn't good enough.

You can't wake everyone in a hotel up and search thier rooms, the police need a specific name and room number, they can only search one room.

So thus screen shots, and knowing the identity of the person who's using their stolen laptop, improves your chances of recovery immensely.

Re:I've dealt with several stolen laptops. (1)

HTL2001 (836298) | more than 8 years ago | (#15381010)

"Under US law - John Doe search warrant of a hotel isn't good enough."

Say he's using the laptop to coordinate a terrorist attack, that should get you a search warrent. You probably won't get the laptop back, but said theif will likely dissapear and never be heard from again.

Re:I've dealt with several stolen laptops. (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 8 years ago | (#15381028)

About the hotel thingy. If the software gives the private IPs and mac-addresses then that's good enough in many places to figure out which room/area that laptop is in.

Of course if it's WiFi the area could be a bit big.

All the people grousing about how useless this is (4, Insightful)

AEther141 (585834) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380406)

have obviously never met the kind of person who steals laptops. Almost without exception they are heroin or crack addicts stealing for drugs. They will get perhaps fifty dollars from the pawnshop owner or dodgy friend and be very happy with it. For very obvious reasons the laptop will be sold on as quickly as possible, usually at far below market value. Given that 95%+ of laptops are unprotected, anything that doesn't boot straight into an OS will be refused by the middleman - for the same reason that there are very few mac and linux viruses, these guys never bother to learn much more than how to reinstall windows. The level of skill people are talking about when they say "the mac firmware password is easy to bypass" is more than enough skill to get a higher paying, lower risk job in IT rather than spending your day looking over your shoulder and dealing with jumped-up crackheads.

This is really a bit convoluted as an anti-theft measure, although it does look interesting. By far the best way to avoid having your laptop stolen is not to leave it unattended, not to use it anywhere you wouldn't wave $1000 in cash above your head and not to keep it in anything that resembles a laptop bag - use a ratty old satchel or a diaper bag. Muggers are just about the bottom of the criminal food chain, it doesn't take a lot to outsmart them. Just like net security, you just need to be a slightly more difficult target than the next guy and that next guy is talking on his cellphone while walking through a car park at 11pm with a swanky leather 'dell' bag on his shoulder.

Re:All the people grousing about how useless this (1)

dakryx (646923) | more than 8 years ago | (#15392844)

Everyone always talks about how there are cheap laptops in pawn shops, but have you ever went there looking for one? I know I saw nothing worthwhile.

Another Option (2, Interesting)

Wolfout (976406) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380475)

I administer a network of over 8000 computers, half of which are Apple computers. We use a program from http://www.absolute.com/ [absolute.com] called Computrace (Win/Mac) and it writes a piece to the BIOS that calls home REGARDLESS of OS reinstall. If removed, it will reinstall the software to call back home. Can it be stopped? Yes, but only with packet captures and other assorted goodies. Works really slick and it has been tested.

Re:Another Option (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15399199)

This is complete and utter bullshit. There's no magic program code you can install in the BIOS, much less an entire fucking TCP/IP stack and shit. You've really got to be kidding me if you believe this.

Would this actually hold up in court? (1)

ShyGuy91284 (701108) | more than 8 years ago | (#15380968)

Could you go to the authorities and say "OK, my Mac was stolen by this person", explain to them the situation, and would they actually be able to go after the person? And another thing. If I were to steal a MacBook (which however temping with my itty bitty iBook may be I wouldn't), the first thing I'd do if it started announcing to the world I'm a thief would be smash it into bitty bitty pieces and then let those pieces swim with the fish.......

a more reliable solution (1)

lon3st4r (973469) | more than 8 years ago | (#15382806)

a software solution to track stolen computers is, IMHO, a very unreliable method. software can easily be broken, in today's scenario. a better method would be to sprinkle micro-scopic uniquely identifiable "dots" (with RFID) in/on the computer spares/parts. a central agency can keep track of lost/stolen hardware ID's and flag them whenever they're detected.

Re:a more reliable solution (1)

pep11 (796061) | more than 8 years ago | (#15425696)

a better method would be to sprinkle micro-scopic uniquely identifiable "dots" (with RFID) in/on the computer spares/parts. a central agency can keep track of lost/stolen hardware ID's and flag them whenever they're detected
yeah goooood Idea, the next step would be either to add those chips in kids brain, just in case they get lost, or to add remote control on these chips (or even both)
I am always sad to see people willing to give-up privacy for security, I'd rather pay for the insurance. My laptop is a *mobile* device, I almost bring it anywhere I go and I don't wan't any local or foreign agency to trace me!

Re:a more reliable solution (1)

lon3st4r (973469) | more than 8 years ago | (#15426893)

you have a point there, pep11. it sure wouldn't be a nice idea to implant chips in kids brain and add remote control on these chips. what i meant by this idea was the same as the technology that is used in cars.
the idea is to have small micrometer sized dots sprayed all over the car. it is *impossible* to clean-up the car of all the dots from a stolen car. investigators / spare part shops can detect stolen car parts this way. this prevents cars from being stolen and sold in parts as well. see here for more info [montreal.ctv.ca]
insurance is a good idea; but it does nothing to deter theives. it doesn't prevent people from stealing - which is what the whole idea is. it just covers ur a$$ if you get something stolen.

we could have something similar for laptops. it was a mistake, IMHO, to associate the term RFID with this, though. as far as privacy is concerned, i think this idea will leak out less information about where i have been using this mobile device than the cellular phone i'm carrying. my cellphone broadcasts my location everywhere i go via a "Location Update".

* lon3st4r *

script to do this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15388507)

I'm certain I saw this on slashdot awhile ago, but I have my Mac run a scripts each hour. It leaves a bit of text in the logs on my website. If it's ever stolen, at least it provides a slightly higher chance of recovery, and it doesn't cost a thing. Entry in /etc/crontab:

1 * * * * root curl H T T P://your.website.com/bogusPageStolen.html &>/dev/null

Mac PhoneHome (1)

mkmurray (977414) | more than 8 years ago | (#15415354)

This kind of software has been around for awhile. Have a look at https://www.pcphonehome.com/ [pcphonehome.com] It also relies on the firmware password Michael
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