Leadership

Video: Locate a stolen laptop with Prey

Bill Detwiler shows you how the free Prey application can help you track down and recover a stolen laptop.

IT departments use techniques like encryption and remote wiping to protect data stored on laptops. While these methods may prevent the data from being compromised, they don't help locate the actual machine. A free program called Prey might. During this episode of TR Dojo, I'll show you what Prey can and can't do.

For those who prefer text to video, you can click the Transcript link that appears below the video player window or read Jack Wallen's article, "How do I use Prey to help recover a stolen laptop?" on which this episode is based.

You can also sign up to receive the latest TR Dojo lessons through one or more of the following methods:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

83 comments
jea9
jea9

Where is the manual for Prey installation and how-to-use?

farouk450
farouk450

Do I need a permission to translate this video to My langugae ?

MWRMWR
MWRMWR

If it was a Mac then the person now in possession will only be enriched and enlightened by it. ...and if it's a PC with Windows then that is sufficient punishment.

RayG314
RayG314

1. A proof-of-purchase and a system audit would go far to identifying the system and substantiating you as the true owner of the computer. 2. Our corporate laptops are locked down with BIOS passwords and encrypted hard drives. That makes services like Prey useless. It might be good for personal systems for which someone can't or chooses not to pay for a LoJack-like service.

kvernacchio
kvernacchio

Can Prey be used with a smartphone? Would like to be able to disable, wipe a smartphone that is lost or stolen.

thomasz07
thomasz07

After installing prey and testing the settings, it wouldnt stop.i tried changing the settings, but the alerts and alarm would not stop.ended up doing a system restore to ger rid of the program. i also tried deleting the device from the online control panel,but the alerts would nor quit.even after sys. restore the files were srill in my system, but i cant get to the uninstall files.

thedoc
thedoc

It seems like a pretty cool idea, but my anti-virus program will not let me install it as it says it is a known bad file??

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

One company offers a registration database where people finding, or perhaps stealing electronics can simply drop it at a post office, no questions asked, and once recovered by the insurer they issue a check to CASH. This 'tagging system' has already been taken on by Sony Canada and Motorlola to be included with new electronics and offers a free trial with online registration, to be included with millions of new products sold across Canada and the US. Another company, which I was talking to just an hour ago, offers a similar recovery system, upon paid registration. The problem with these 'recovery' companies coming out now, is that numerous manufacturers say that GPS will soon be included in all electronics and will allow fast identification, which is then tracked down by local police. Aa business venture in the new millenium, it is too late to be a big deal. If such systems were incorporated 8 years ago, they would have made their millions already, however with new technology taking over that market segment, such systems will soon be proven obsolete. Nice idea, but a late idea is useless.

ifallsguy
ifallsguy

Have my cousin Guido take him out PERMANENTLY! End of problem for anyone else.

Georgeh1960
Georgeh1960

So what happens if whoever steals your laptop, takes the drive out and plugs it into an external drive case, steals all your information then wipes it clean, installs the hard drive back into the laptop and re-installs the operating system on it? It can't phone home then..

rfolden
rfolden

If LoJack changes / modifies the computer's BIOS, what does this modification actually DO? Does it somehow cause the network adapter(s) to "phone home" occasionally? Couldn't this easily be defeated by re-flashing the BIOS? And would it not use the MAC address of the LAN adapter? Could this not be changed, too? (albeit not-so-easily). Don't these ignoramii post "protected by LoJack" stickers all over the laptop, thus practically screaming at a tech-savvy thief which counter-measures (re-BIOS, MACSHIFT, etc.) to deploy? Anyone know exactly how LoJack and the like do their thing?

gary.neely
gary.neely

video is cutting out at 1:26/10:07. I the video file corrupted?

reed
reed

If someone steals your laptop you might as well just go buy another. Johnny law aint gonna do jack for you. Don't kid yourself. Rob a bank you'll do time steal a laptop and they aren't likely even going to do a day in jail. You'll just be wasting your time. I have transported many laptops. Left them on the seat in unlocked cars at grocery stores & malls, just had a girl return one that a co-worker left at a restaurant, so I'm not real sure their is much of a market. Best to go walking tall on the punk!

dayen
dayen

Turn the evidence over to the authorities is a start if no action. Then confront the individual(s) openly on my terms. I use to do CORVET OPTS for uncle Sam, so this won?t be pleasant for them. No I would never break into their house. But I am not letting them get away and who knows I might bring back your laptop too ! P.S like the software will use the paid

john
john

Alternative recovery solutions.....a .357 in the mouth generally will do the trick. Leaving a couple of chipped teeth will provide a "Crime doesn't pay" reminder.

m_design
m_design

This file contains a virus on it.

vargbaye
vargbaye

used prey to recover the laptop.

scott.mcpherson
scott.mcpherson

We use Absolute's corporate solution to trace roughly 400 laptops. Their solution also brings a 60-day $1000 rebate if they cannot recover the stolen laptop. To date, we have had about 75% success at recovering stolen laptops -- not too shabby. And Absolute does work with local law enforcement. That is where things get iffy. If your local authorities are aggressive, you get results. If not, well, meh. Anyway, the extra value-add from the Absolute solution is great. We can get reports on the whereabouts of all laptops, and reports of all installed software. Our policy is to permanently disable any stolene laptop on day 61. Yes, you have the ability to do a "self-destruct" on the machine. We want this because we are vindictive toward anyone who would steal our stuff.

Art_Jeffries
Art_Jeffries

One major issue with Pray, not addressed in this video nor the article, is that antivirus software like Karpersky target the application and the process, rendering Pray unusable. Even after instructing Karspersky to treat Prey as an exception, it wouldn't work (which is: no report were sent from the "stolen" computer - testing unit, not really stolen).

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

Depends on who stole it: If it was a complete stranger, I let the authorities handle it. If it's a coworker, I'd approach management. If it's a friend, I'd do it anonymously and try to find out why my friend had resorted to theft.

jmhgill
jmhgill

I know the mac address of the network card of a clients notebook that was stolen. How could I track it down ?

rod
rod

What would I do? It depends on the person and circumstances.

foxkat
foxkat

The questions of what I would do are too specific to the circumstances. If I had a "relationship" with the person, I would confront. If they were a co-worker, I'd turn them into the HR department. If they were a neighbor or other, I'd turn them into the legal authorities. There is the possibility that I'd use covert methods to retrieve it, but the risks would have to be weighed carefully. If I had access remotely, I would at least secure copies of critical data and then wipe them as necessary. If there were tracking ability, I would track myself if I felt I could have success of recovery, or I would allow the authorities to do so if I felt it too risky.

_Matrix_
_Matrix_

If I stole a laptop I would do either of two things: 1. Never allow the laptop to go online and wipe the hard drive and install my OS, or 2. Immediately remove the hard drive and replace it with a new one and then install my OS. How will the owner be able to track their laptop?

Nashphil
Nashphil

They'll give the Mac back because they cannot afford to add anything to it and they can't understand the Applespeak.

JCitizen
JCitizen

What's he gonna do? Install his pirated copy of Windows? Most druggy thiefs haven't a clue!

JCitizen
JCitizen

you're out of luck! Still better that nothing! If you using LoJack that won't work for the thief, it will still install the contact files from the bios command.

maag
maag

They can sell the parts (screen, HDD) or sell it in the internet.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

It creates a couple of files during boot which phone home to a website and uploads various data to the site. It is (as far as I know) contingent upon windows and of course a network connection. I feel no need to illustrate its weaknesses here in this forum. Try that evil friend of yours. Google.

JCitizen
JCitizen

the avarice of an insurance company, if they have to they will send a repo-man to get it, and in some states - prosecute them using their own sources.

mikebarich
mikebarich

Finding "things that the others miss" does not mean those things are actually malware, nor does it mean things that the others find are actually malware. I have submitted many files to different sites which run them through multiple malware detection programs and give grid results showing what each found, or did not find, and what they identified them as. See this response to one file I sent: http://virscan.org/report/e2d025fe0568f2451127fe6f54724d41.html I looked at the code and decided it was malware and deleted the file. But look at all the programs that didn't agree, some of them very prominent. The interesting thing is that this spread is not at all uncommon for many EXE programs, including ones I know for certain are not malware, but the results vary all over the place as to who considers which code malware or not, and what they identify it as. In other words, you could easily get results EXACTLY OPPOSITE to my example with another file submitted, and I have. And it didn't matter whether that submission was really malware or not. (Edited twice for spelling only. Too bad these computers make so many mistakes.)

elrico-fantastica
elrico-fantastica

MAC addresses are layer 2 so you can only see them if you are on the same network segment. IP addresses work on layer three so by the time any data is "routed" the MAC information is stripped from the packet.

allan
allan

Surely anyone clever enough to use this program would also have a password on their laptop login so the thieves or their recipients will need to wipe it to gain access. Making this program pretty useless.

igtddave
igtddave

oh, I don't know....maybe the MAC address?

Bigbyte01*
Bigbyte01*

When I was purchasing my expensive desktop replacement laptop I contacted Absolute the mfg of LoJack and asked if my laptop was traceable if the HD was replaced. They said yes, that their software installs code into the BIOS. That convinced me to buy a three year license and install LoJack on my Laptop. I use Windows XP Professional and require passwords to login to my account. To aid and abet anyone who might have stolen my laptop I created a second account that did not require a password and had with very limited access to the hard drive. This was to encourage the thief (or new laptop possessor) to log in to the internet and thus provide IP info for tracing purposes. I don?t believe most thieves or receiver?s of stolen laptops are going to mess with the BIOS.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

Then you will realize that you arent so smart after all. And per your scenario, it would only be a matter of time if the owner of that laptop used Lojack or computrace.

jacques.francis
jacques.francis

Matrix - that's what I would do too, but then you and I are both techies (I mean no offence!) reading an intelligent Web site. The average laptop thief would be less technically savvy than us, I would think, and probably wouldn't even understand enough to know he or she should wipe the hard disk before going on line. That means that Prey isn't a perfect solution, but it's not totally without merit.

Lord Deonast
Lord Deonast

My laptop is also password protected. While some may say they could use a password cracking program, if they are technically savy enough to do that then they would just wipe it and install a new OS. Only curiosity would lead them to try and crack your password to look at your files. I think the chances of Prey working for me would be very slim.

Pint15
Pint15

No need to to know a password. There are plenty of freeware password cracking programs that are easy to find on the web. Just slap in the cd and boot it with the software.... and you have all the id's and passwords you need. While Prey isn't a 100% solution. I think it has it's place. Better than hoping know one steals your laptop. Not a bad idea for you home PC either.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I simply have logmein pro installed, I could get all my files back with my Control Central page, and then, report them to the police.. The insurance company would make sure they were prosecuted, believe me. In this state you don't need no stinking DA to prosecute someone! You better have a good case however, the insurance company has deep pockets.

SmartAceW0LF
SmartAceW0LF

Relatively easily defeated, but not by your typical thieves. And as far as I can see, is still about the best thing available. It is rather amusing though the numbers of people who believe that wiping the drive or even replacing it will cover their transgressions. This whole post reminds me of an amusing headline I read sometime back about a guy having tracked the thief of his laptop and caught him on the web cam and the thiefs ensuing arrest. Honestly, if there were ever a better strata of society to illustrate more perfectly "The Difference between genius and stupidity" I dont know what it would be. Not a bright bunch. Oh and the difference from the quote above? Genius has its limitations!

Lord Deonast
Lord Deonast

If their intent is resale they might slip on a 3 month eval version of windows 7 and pass it off that way, costs a download and that is about it. Not a good permanent solution though.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I think you'll find the reason that many do not install a new OS is that it costs them money to buy a OS Install Disc. Not everyone has easy access to a Base of Volume License Windows Install Disc's and associated software. ;) Col

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