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Laptop tracking device

Use the wireless card to sync your current IP to a server, track movement by IP
  (+6, -1)
(+6, -1)
  [vote for,

I just got a wireless card not too long ago, and tried out netstumbler to see how many networks it could see. I was surprised to see three from my apartment alone. I left my computer turned on while driving to a friends', about 100 miles away. I expected the little "found new network" chime to go off maybe 100 times during that trip. It went off THREE THOUSAND TIMES. There are wireless networks *everywhere*, most unsecured, and most modern laptops have wireless network cards to communicate with them. Creating a tracking device for a stolen laptop is as simple as a piece of software that sends a tiny identification packet to a server every time it finds a new network connection. No real cost involved except the software.

I imagine most thieves are just opportunistic, and will turn on the laptop at some point (or neglect to turn it off while stealing it). It will connect to the nearest open network and identify itself to the server, which can then track the laptop by geolocating IPs.

I think some things exist like this already? Even better, to prevent thwarting this by removing the hard drive, you could have a card inside, less complex than a USB keydrive, that looks like a hard drive to the computer and contains a bootloader. It would load the theft protection software into memory and then boot the main hard drive's bootloader? Not sure if that's possible.

A knowledgeable thief would turn off the computer immediately and never turn it on again until the computer was disassembled, so you could make it send out the packets even while off? But then they could remove the battery. Anyway, I think it would help find laptops stolen by the typical bumbling criminal.

I am going to try to figure out how to implement something like this for my own computer. Since it's unique to me, I have the added benefit of security through obscurity. (Except not so obscure now that I've told the entire Internet!)

omegatron, Jul 20 2006

Berkeley laptop thief is scared out of his wits by professor http://www.boingboi...ey_laptop_thie.html
(via BoingBoing) [Dub, Jul 20 2006]

PCPhoneHome http://www.pcphonehome.com/
"secretly send an invisible email message to an email address of your choice containing the physical location of your computer every time you get an Internet connection." Add netstumbling and baked. [BunsenHoneydew, Jul 20 2006]


       one, i know of at least one program that will display a "this computer has been stolen" across the screen and lock everything down when certain criteria haven't been met. it then emails its parent service with its believed location, and the service then contacts the authorities.   

       two, i'd rather let someone steal my computer than install this bloated invasion of privacy on it. it violates the privacy of the computer owner, because it could be used at any time to find their location, and it violates the privacy of the network owners because of the infrastructure that needs to be in place for this to work.   

       third, any thief stealing a computer could just pull the wireless card out until he has a chance to wipe the system. there isn't much that can stand up to a full disk wipe, and this security program probably isn't something that can. this would only work as long as it's unknown, and security through obsfucation isn't security at all.
tcarson, Jul 20 2006

       // and security through obsfucation isn't security at all.   

       Oh really?   

       None at all?   

       Are you sure about that?
omegatron, Jul 20 2006

       once someone has discovered a way around it, it is no longer even given a semblance of security. base your security on encryption, and even if someone knows what the encryption routine used was, they won't necessarily be able to crack the code.   

       do you remember that whole kryptonite bike like fiasco a couple of years ago? it used to be that anyone figuring that out would have a pretty limited ability to spread that info. with the internet, once the security has been broken, anybody can find out about it with a few key presses.   

       you still haven't addressed my more pressing concerns about privacy though.
tcarson, Jul 20 2006

       i think [dub]'s link is better than the idea it's posted to.
tcarson, Jul 20 2006

       // if someone knows what the encryption routine used was   

       Hence my comment. You're improperly applying crypto-nerd logic to a real-world object being stolen by a real-world criminal.   

       If you leave your bike sitting on a street with few witnesses around, it's going to get stolen. If you leave it behind some garbage cans in an alley, but otherwise in a publicly accessible area with few witnesses, it's less likely to get stolen. Security through obscurity.
omegatron, Jul 21 2006

       [tron], when you talk about computer security through obscurity, you're often relying on weak encryption that is made slightly stronger by the fact that no one knows what it is. as soon as the identity of the encryption is discovered, you've nothing left. obscurity is a crutch, and a weak one at that.   

       you leave your bike sitting on a street with few witnesses but a sturdy bike lock, and it's likely going to be their when you get back. you leave your bike sitting behind some trash cans and someone even a little curious comes by, you've lost your security and that piece of string attached to the bike won't do shit in stopping them.
tcarson, Jul 21 2006

       // when you talk about computer security through obscurity, you're often relying on weak encryption that is made slightly stronger by the fact that no one knows what it is.   

       Yes, that's what it means.   

       This isn't encryption; this is anti-theft.
omegatron, Jul 24 2006

       but if the anti-theft device is easy to remove, it's completely and utterly useless.
tcarson, Jul 24 2006

omegatron, Jan 17 2010

       This is so baked now.
omegatron, Sep 14 2016


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