Mobile Devices: Lost or Stolen

October 19, 2012

Mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones are very handy when you are on the go. But because they leave the safety of your home or business, they are also more likely to be lost or stolen. You’ve probably heard of LoJack for cars. It’s a device that is hidden in the car that can be activated when a car is stolen. It’s basically a tracking device that allows the police to locate your stolen vehicle.

This same type of service is available for your mobile devices as well. But instead of a physical device, it’s software that is installed. Most of these services are not free, but there is one service that has a free option that is great for the average home user. The service I am talking about is called Prey.

Here’s how it works. First you need to create a free account on their website, Once you’ve done that, they will send you a confirmation email which contains a link you must click on to confirm the account. Now all that is left is to install Prey on your mobile devices. With the free account, you can install it on up to 3 mobile devices which is plenty for most people.

Make sure you keep a file or some sort of record (not on your mobile device) that contains your Prey login and password information so if your mobile device is lost or stolen, you will know where to go and how to login.

Hopefully your mobile device is not lost or stolen, but if it is and you have Prey on that device, all you would need to do is to login to and then report your mobile device as missing. Once you report the device as missing, Prey goes into action. On their website you can get reports from your missing mobile device with all sorts of helpful information.

  1. You can view a picture taken from the webcam which can help you locate your phone and/or identify the thief.

  2. You can view a screenshot of what’s on the screen.

    If your laptop was stolen, you can see what they are doing on the laptop screen. This can be helpful in identifying the thief.

  3. It will show you a map of where your mobile device is located.

    Note that on devices with GPS this works great, but on devices like laptops that only have wireless, this doesn’t work as well. But even on a laptop, it does give you a general location. So if your device is in another city, at least you will know. For example, when I tried it with my laptop, it showed that my laptop was 8 miles away from where it really was. However, if I were located in a more densely populated area, it would be MUCH more accurate.

  4. It will give you the IP address of your mobile device.

    The IP address is the device’s numerical address on the Internet. If you know the IP address of the device, you can find out which internet service provider owns that address. Then you can call them, or have the police call them, and find out the location of that IP address.

  5. If the device is lost, you can have Prey cause the device to make a loud alarm sound for 30 seconds so you can find the device if it’s nearby.

  6. You can have Prey show a message on the screen.

    If the laptop is lost, the message can say your name and number and, if you wish, a reward for returning the device. If the device has been stolen, you can send the thief a message.

  7. You can tell Prey to lock down the laptop.

    Prey will change the password and lock it down so that nobody can use the laptop.

  8. Hide important information

    You can tell Prey to secure important files on your laptop like email, stored passwords, etc. so that the thief can’t access them.

The paid version of Prey can do even more.

Now that you know how to use Prey and all of the great features it has, there are some caveats to Prey that you should be aware of.

  1. For Prey to work, the device must be turned on. Prey won’t help if you lost your device if the device was turned off. In that case, someone would have to find it and turn it on. If you lost your mobile phone, it was probably turned on when you lost it. But you’ll need to act quickly before the battery dies.

  2. In the case of laptops, the laptop must be logged into Windows for Prey to work.

    If your laptop requires a password to login, the Thief won’t be able to login and thus Prey won’t work. If you don’t have a password on your laptop, then the Thief can login and Prey will work. But the fallback from that is that the Thief will have access to all of your information. We recommend you have a password to login to your laptop. Then you can enable the Guest account in Windows so that a Thief could login to the laptop using the Guest account, but they wouldn’t be able to access your data.

  3. Prey doesn’t really protect against professional thieves.

    A professional thief will know not to login or even turn on a laptop so Prey would never have a chance to do anything. A professional Thief will do a reset on a phone or tablet to erase all apps and information. If you are thinking that a more expensive anti-theft service will work in this case, think again. Most laptop anti-theft software still has the problem that it is software. All the thief has to do is reinstall Windows and that blows most anti-theft software away rendering it ineffective. Keep reading for alternatives that will better protect you against professional thiefs.

  4. iPhone users can use MobileMe

    iPhone users can use MobileMe to show the location of their iPhone, but it doesn’t provide as many features as Prey.

If you want a better chance of getting your laptop back, even if it is stolen by a professional laptop thief, you have some limited options. LoJack for Laptops has an option for a special BIOS. Without getting to technical, what this does is change the programming of a special chip on the motherboard of the laptop. It’s still not fool proof, but like any type of security, it’s another deterrent level. The problem with this is that LoJack’s BIOS is only available for a small number of laptop models.

Some laptops now come with a new technology from Intel that is built-in to the motherboard’s chipset. This is even better than LoJack’s BIOS. But this feature must be built-in to your laptop and is only available on a few models at this time. If you have a laptop with this feature built-in, you can activate this service directly through Intel, but I would recommend using LoJack for Laptops because their software works with Intel’s chipset and provides more functionality overall. When you combine Intel’s chipset with LoJack’s software you have the best laptop anti-theft solution around.

Since laptops aren’t that expensive these days a better approach might be to forget about spending money to get the laptop back and, instead protect the information on the laptop. To do that, you have to do two things. First, you must make sure you don’t lose the information stored on the laptop. And second, you must make sure the thief can’t get the information stored on the laptop.

To make sure you don’t lose the information stored on the laptop, you should regularly back up your laptop. We recommend using a remote backup solution like Carbonite because it happens automatically. All it requires is an Internet connection. It isn’t free ($60/year), but it’s not expensive either. Well worth it to protect your information.

To make sure the thief can’t get your information, you’ll need to password protect Windows and also install encryption software to encrypt the information on the hard drive. Simply putting a password on Windows isn’t enough because that’s very easy to bypass. We recommend a free product called TrueCrypt. You can use it to encrypt your hard drive so that if the Thief doesn’t know your password, he can’t access the information, even if he removes the hard drive from the system and connects it to another computer. For this to work, you must use a good password that contains upper and lower case letters, at least one number and at least one symbol. TrueCrypt can be a little confusing to set up, so you might want to have us do this for you.

The technology we have talked about in this article is referred to as anti-theft technology, but that isn’t an accurate name. It doesn’t prevent your mobile device from being lost or stolen. This technology only helps you locate it after the fact and also to protect the information on that device. Of course, the best thing you can do is to be careful not to lose your mobile device, and do everything in your power to prevent it from being stolen. But you can only do so much. If you have an expensive laptop or the information on your laptop is critical or sensitive, you would be wise to implement some of the technologies mentioned in today’s article.

If you need help with any of this, please contact us. We can help.

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