Here’s the thing about mobile and portable devices: since they aren’t tethered to anything, it’s almost too easy to lose them or, worse, have them stolen from right under your nose. I mean, if you really think about it, all somebody needs to do is run past you and grab your phone while you’re using it and they have a good chance of getting away with it.
About a year ago I wrote a review for Bitdefender Anti-Theft, a program designed to keep your devices safe and sound by offering you a method of tracking them in case they ever got lost or stolen, but it costs money and uses a subscription-based model. Thanks to a suggestion by one of the readers, I’ve discovered a free and cross-platform alternative called Prey.
With Prey, you’ll never have to worry about absentmindedness or theft ever again, at least when it comes to your mobile devices. Keep reading to find out why this program is so useful.
Prey is great for three main reasons – it’s easy to set up, it’s easy to use, and you won’t ever have to pay a cent to use it. There’s no trial period or crippled feature set here – the free version is enough to keep your devices adequately protected. Of course, there’s a premium version but its features are mostly for power users and those who want convenience. We’ll talk more about that later.
The installer for Prey is about as easy as they come. I had it up and running on my Windows box in less than a minute and it was ready to go on my Android phone just as quickly. I don’t have any other devices to test it on, but I can only assume that those alternatives are just as simple and fast.
In order to use Prey, you’ll need to create a free account on their website. Why, you ask? Because the individual installations on each device (PC, Mac, Android, etc.) only provide the capabilities for tracking those particular devices. The actual control panel, or dashboard, is entirely web-based for your convenience. In other words, no matter which device you lose, you’ll always be able to track them down as long as you have Internet access.
The dashboard itself is rather simple yet elegant. It lists all of the devices that are hooked up to your account and have Prey-tracking enabled. The listed information is just enough to give you an informative overview without being overly cluttered or convoluted. If you want more details, you can click on each device’s name.
Prey is available on the following platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. For the desktop OSes, all you need to do is download the installer files (or packages) from the website and run them like any other installer. For the mobile apps, you can find them in the Apple Store or Google Play.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what exactly Prey can do. The screenshot above shows you the Prey profile for my Windows desktop computer. Fat chance that someone will manage to steal my home computer, right? But let’s imagine for a moment that this is a laptop installation (which is far more practical example).
Prey allows each device to be set as either OK or Missing. When it’s OK, the device will assume everything is all right and won’t send much data back and forth. However, when you set it to Missing, that’s when all the magic happens.
When a device is set to Missing, it will begin sending Reports to the central Prey servers. How often does the device send a report? You can set it in the dashboard. You can also set the activation and deactivation phrases. If you have Prey set up on a phone, send these phrases by SMS to your device in order to wake up or shut down Prey.
Each Prey report can contain as much or as little data as you choose and these options can be toggled in the dashboard.
For example -
- Geo will include geological data based on GPS in the report.
- Network will include information such as the device’s current IP address and nearby WiFi networks.
- Webcam will attempt to take a picture from the phone’s camera. If you have Prey installed on a laptop, you can also choose to include Session data (e.g., a screenshot to show what the thief is doing with the computer).
Prey can also perform a few actions on the lost/stolen device -
- Alarm blasts a sound for 30-seconds to help you locate it.
- Alert will notify the thief that you are tracking the device.
- Lock the device with a password to prevent usage.
- Secure deletes sensitive data on the device so no one can ever access it.
Free accounts are limited to 3 total devices and 10 stored reports. Prey offers a number of paid subscription plans that unlock a host of premium features depending on the plan – add more devices, increase the amount of stored reports, and unlock On-Demand Mode which lets you request reports and perform actions whenever you want.
All in all, I’m impressed by the power and flexibility offered by Prey even in its free version. If you’ve been looking for a security tracker for your lost devices but couldn’t afford to shell out money for a Bitdefender Anti-Theft subscription, then I highly recommend that you give Prey a try. As far as I know, it’s the best free alternative out there.
Let us know if you have had a positive or negative experience with Prey.