LoJack is a device that’s made life harder for would-be car thieves. Here’s how it works: a GPS chip capable of calling home is hidden somewhere on a given car. If that car is stolen, the police now have the ability to track where it is via GPS.
Wish you had something like this for your laptop? You can, and it won’t cost you a dime. Open source program Prey can do this for your computer quickly and easily, giving you the location of your computer via your on-board GPS chip or by analyzing nearby WiFi networks. Not only that, it will show you screenshots of what the thief is using your computer for. And if you have a webcam, even take a picture of them before they realize it, before you recover your stolen laptop.
We’ve reviewed similar programs before — Lalarm, Adeona and Firefox plugin Firefound, just to name a few. Prey differs from these in a few ways, but the most important one to keep in mind is that Prey is cross platform — meaning it works on Linux, Mac and Windows.
Setting up Prey is simple. Just head over to the Prey download page and download the version of Prey your operating system needs. Install the program and you’ll be told how to launch the configuration tool on your platform. Fire up that tool and you’ll see something like this:
As you can see, you need to register. No problem; just go to Prey’s signup page and sign up. You’ll need to do the standard register, email, confirm process but don’t worry: it’s worth it.
Once you are signed up you’ll get your API key; you’ll need this to configure Prey. You’ll also need a device key, which you can get easily by adding your computer to your Prey account online. Just click “Add a new device” and you’ll see some straight-forward steps. Complete this and you’ll have a device key. Go back to the Prey configuration tool and add this:
Now that you’re set up, you’re ready to track your laptop. By default Prey does nothing, but when your laptop goes missing you can log onto Prey’s website and activate your protection. Do this and you’ll receive an email as soon as the thief turns on your computer, linking you to a report so you can recover your stolen laptop.
Be sure to configure Prey online in order to get the most of it. For example, you can enable your webcam to get a picture of your thief, or turn on your computer’s GPS chip to give you a precise location. Explore your options. Find a full list of features over at PreyProject.com
Conclusion: Useless? Not Entirely
You might be wondering if this product is of any use if the laptop is reformatted, or stripped down and sold for parts. Well, not really. But many thieves aren’t all that smart; you’d be surprised how many will start up a stolen laptop without thinking about the possibility of such tracking software.
It’s also possible that a thief will fire up your laptop in order to try to find private information about you. How ironic would it be, then, if you get private information about them in the process! So it won’t save your laptop under all circumstances, but it might help in some. The main thing to remember is that this tool doesn’t cost you a dime, so why not install it just for the peace of mind? You might well be glad you did someday.
What do you think? Is a tool like this cool, or a mere gimmick? Would you install this, or can you not image a thief dumb enough to boot up a stolen laptop?
And what I’m most interested in is this: have any of you successfully used this program to recover a stolen laptop? Please share your story if you have; we’re all ears!