Prey

Prey is a lightweight application that will help you track and find your laptop if it ever gets stolen. It works in all operating systems and not only is it Open Source but also completely free.

That’s what their website says anyway.

You have to admit that it sounds quite intriguing. There are a lot of utilities around that you can *pay* for that offer some reasonable facsimile of helping you track your stolen laptop and get it back, but this is the first open source one I have come across.

Further inspection shows this to be “the real deal”. At least as far as I am concerned. I cannot yet comment on the mac/win versions of the software, but the Linux version is pretty slick.

Essentially, Prey runs through cron every 10 minutes by default, completely in the background, hidden from view. It checks for the existence of a specific website and if it doesn’t find this website (gets a 404 message), it starts grabbing information from your machine like ip addresses, screenshots, pics from your webcam, etc., and sends them either to Prey’s website for you to view, or directly to your email account. This is all information designed to help you track down where your laptop is, and identify who might have it.

I tried it on my Ubuntu work laptop and the client is literally a drop-in dmg package. It installed and asked me to run a control panel applet for configuration. This only really asked me for 2 pieces of identifying information, the API key and the device key, both of which were available to me after I registered (for free) on Prey’s website at http://preyproject.com.

Once you are registered and get your device (laptop) listed on the website, you can tell Prey, via the website anytime, that your laptop is missing by going to http://control.preyproject.com (and after logging in) clicking on the appropriate device listing (they let you have 3 for free btw), changing the “Missing” slide switch to “on” and hitting the update button at the bottom of the page. There are other options in there you can change as well to suit your needs. The next time your laptop can find an internet connection and check in, Prey will have it sending reports out so you can find it. I was pretty happy and impressed with how well it worked actually.

The only con I can think of with this program is the fact that I run Linux. Not that people won’t steal laptops with Linux on them, but that I imagine that anyone who would steal one of my laptops would immediately install windows on it, thus rendering Prey useless. If I were to employ the use of that auto-login stuff, that could perhaps stave off a would be thief long enough for Prey to do it’s job, but I do like having to log in to my machines (just makes me feel more secure). It’s something to think about, and I will look into what other people have to say on the subject in Prey’s forums. That being said, however, I am still putting the software on my laptops. Hey, it can’t hurt right?

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