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Sewell column: Guarding against computer theft

By Adam Sewell
For the Salisbury Post
Recently there was an article in the Salisbury Post about a college student who allegedly had stolen about 19 laptops from a local university. Unfortunately, mobile device theft such as this is becoming more and more common. The article did not mention exactly how the alleged thief was tracked down, but during my time working in higher education we had a couple of similar instances of computer theft.
But by using some network administration “magic,” we were able to locate some (but not all) of these devices that seemingly grew legs and walked off. We were only able to track these devices down because we had access to expensive network equipment that a small business or home user typically do not have. So the question then is how would a home user have any chance at locating a computer that “ran away?”
An open source project called the Prey Project helps address this problem by allowing home users to track missing devices quickly and easily. You simply install a small piece of software that will “phone home” in the event that your computer is stolen. The Prey Project (www.preyproject.com) is an anti-theft program, which means that it helps you recover your missing device whether that be a desktop, laptop or other mobile device. It is compatible with Windows, OSX, Android, or iOS.
It works like this: Once the software is loaded onto your device, you’ll have access to a control panel on the Prey website. If your device is lost or stolen (or if you would just like to play around to try out the program) you can set a device as “missing” in the control panel. This will activate the Prey software, which will start “listening” for your missing device.
Once the software locates your device, you can get a location, a capture from the webcam of the device, and even a screenshot of what the thief is doing on your computer. With this information, the police should have enough evidence to recover your device.
The Prey Project will allow you up to three devices for free, and for any device over three you can pay a small monthly fee.
There are also options for businesses; for a little over $1.50 per device per month, you can track all of your business computers. Even if the device is not missing or stolen, you can still keep track of where your mobile devices are located. The plans range from 3 devices all the way up to 500 devices.
There are other solutions available as well, such as LoJack for Laptops, Gadgettrak and a few others. With any solution, make sure that you actually install it and always record serial numbers of the devices and keep those in a safe place – this information will help identify the stolen devices.
I’ve personally never lost a laptop but I have lost a smartphone, and I was unable to recover it. Doing a little prep work could have saved me from having to buy another expensive smartphone. I highly recommend this software for home users and businesses alike — it might just save you some cash down the road.
MyGeek Computer Services has no affiliation with the Prey Project.
Adam Sewell owns MyGeek Computer Services in Salisbury. His website is www.mygeeknc.com

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