Mobile devices are quickly overtaking traditional desktops as the device of choice for end users. Everyone loves the functionality and versatility of a laptop, tablet or smart phone, and they are essential for a worker-on-the-go. The mobility and price of these devices also make them prime targets for thieves, and considering how many corporate resources those devices have access to, it becomes apparent that mobile devices could be a huge liability for a company if they should be stolen. For this reason many people have taken to installing tracking software on their devices.
I recently spent some time reviewing an open source project called Prey for tracking stolen devices. Right off the bat there were a few things that attracted me to Prey; first it was distributed on an Open Source license, this means that the software is free of charge, has a large community supporting its continued development, and is made by a trusted developer. Second, Prey offers many features for free that you would have to pay for from anywhere else. Prey does have a paid model, when you set up your account you can track one device for free and store ten reports online. If you pay for the monthly service, you can add additional devices to the account and receive unlimited reports. Third, it operates across many platforms compatible with Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.
After you have installed Prey to your device you can log in to your control panel at https://panel.preyproject.com to manage it. From the portal you can report it missing, and set what data you would like included in your reports such as the geo-location of the device (based on IP), network information that the device is connected to, Wi-Fi networks in the area, a trace route if it is available, a list of programs running on the device and a screenshot of the desktop plus a shot from the webcam. There are actions you can also enable, these actions take effect whether the device was reported as missing or not. The available actions are play a loud noise, send an alert to the thief to let him know he has been caught, or lock the device so that a password must be entered to regain access to it. On certain devices there is a delete sensitive files option, only use this if you are sure you want to destroy data on the target device. The actions can be hit or miss and don’t always work, but I was able to get my computer to play loud noises and offer me a reward for the safe return of my laptop.
You can set the interval that Prey generates reports at, repeating from every 10 minutes to every hour. If you are on the free edition of Prey it will store ten reports in the system before deleting the earliest report and then overwriting with more current ones. Copies of all the reports are emailed to you. Prey works across a lot of devices, it can be installed in Windows, Mac or Linux environments and will also install to your Android or iOS phone. On Android you can initiate tracking by texting GO PREY to your phone; iOS does not support this feature.
I tested Prey on Windows 8 and after some initial trouble with security settings Prey started generating reports including my exact location, a screenshot of the website I was surfing and a picture of me from the webcam in the middle of a blink. Not everything returned information and the actions were not working with Win 8, I expect this is because of Windows 8 security settings and should become more reliable as more updates come out. On Windows 7 everything worked without requiring any additional configuration. I also tested Prey on Android. There is some information that will not be available from a phone, but I was able to get geo-location, local wifi networks and another picture of my thief. To start tracking a stolen Android you do not need to log in to your control panel but can simply text GO PREY to your number.
There is a lot more I could say about this little application, but I’ll cut it short and recommend you give it a try! It’s very simple and easy to install and can be a lot of fun tracking yourself throughout the day. For a home user on a free account you will not find better tracking software, if you’re looking for more professional tracking software, there are services that include help from a team of recovery specialists and automated police reports, however these services come with a larger price tag.