A client shared a story with me about a laptop theft that happened to them sometime ago. They relayed how a new laptop was stolen right from their car, shortly after purchasing it. Apart from the monetary loss and invasion of privacy, there are other factors to consider.

Have you ever had your laptop stolen? All your contacts, emails, data – business and personal – lost in the blink of an eye. How about losing your smartphone? With the Enterprise push for BYOD, there’s no telling where all that data could end up or even the legal ramifications stemming from such a loss.

Prey to the rescue! Prey is an anti-theft security solution, offering a web-based dashboard to manage cross-platform computers, smartphones, and tablets. And did I forget to mention it’s open source too? Supporting OS X and iOS (among other popular platforms), Prey offers a whole suite of tracking tools and reporting features in the event that a device gets misplaced.

Let’s start with the setup process. On a Mac, it’s as easy as visiting Prey’s site, downloading and installing the small client application and creating your account — which can be done right from the Prey installer. Once the app is installed, it runs as a background service on your desktop or smartphone and communicates with the dashboard in real-time. Like any good anti-theft system, the application is only as good as when you truly need it. Let’s take a further look at just a few of the sleuthing features built-in to Prey.

What you get

Figure A shows the main menu of the dashboard:

It’s straightforward and non-cluttered. Main is where you’ll spend most of your time configuring modules, such as the ability to Geo-tag, monitor network traffic, and even perform automatic trace routing to best determine a device’s location (Figure B).

The ability to activate the webcam and capture screenshots while the device is in use is a particular favorite of mine (Figure C). This, coupled with being location aware, offers you great evidence if this incident needs to be reported to the authorities…but there’s more!

Figure C

Also included in Prey are theft-deterrent-like features that go into effect only when a device is marked as missing. Sound an audible alarm, lock the screen with a remote password, and even display visual alerts. These modules alert the person using the device, letting them know you’re onto them (Figure D). Use these sparingly!

The Configuration menu (Figure E) contains settings that are mainly geared to backend options such as SSL reports and AES-encrypted, two-way communication between devices. These features are mainly for “Pro” users on subscription plans. But more on that in a minute. There is also a Hardware menu that details the specifications of the device in question and a Reports menu that stores all the module data in queue.

Figure E

Just to clarify, Prey is open-source and free to use for up to three devices per account. While optional, there is a Pro feature set that is available on a subscription basis. For a full listing of the upgrades that going Pro will bring you, go to http://preyproject.com/plans#pro-account-features for a breakdown of features per pricing tier.

Whether you’re managing a deployment of mobile devices or looking to secure each and every computer, smartphone and tablet in the Enterprise (OS X/Windows/Linux to iOS/Android/Windows Phone*), automated deployment for pushing out installers makes large-scale rollouts simple, and the easy-to-use dashboard gets enhanced modules with better reporting times and active-mode real-time communication.

The bottom-line is that no one ever really wants to be in a position to have to use these features, but with an intuitive layout, easy-to-use menu and high-end features with a arguably low-end price, Prey may end up delivering more than just peace of mind with all the bells and whistles…it could mean the difference between recovering lost assets or losing valuable data.

*Note: As of this articles writing, Windows Phone support is planned, but not yet in development.