In the spirit of find my iPhone comes a program called Prey (thank you Stephan), which lets you keep track of your Android phone or Mac OS/X, Linux or Windows laptop if you loose it or it is stolen. I’ll admit to having initially been very skeptical about the program, perhaps because I first skimmed over its client source code and found that it consists of a bunch of (admittedly clever) shell scripts. Nevertheless, I tried it (on Mac OS/X) and find it works as advertised. After signing up (the Web site doesn’t support plussed e-mail addresses!) I downloaded and installed the package. This creates a directory /usr/share/prey and an entry in root’s crontab.

    */20 * * * * /usr/share/prey/ > /var/log/prey.log

When the installation completed, I saw my device on Prey’s control panel: But the big question is of course, what if the device goes AWOL? I used the Web-based control panel to report my device as missing, whereupon I promptly got a friendly e-mail telling me to keep an eye out for incoming reports. A few minutes later (i.e. at Prey’s next run on the device) I got another e-mail from the Prey control panel with a link to a report created by my device. The Web page neatly displays all data I told Prey to collect from my device, including IP address(es), a map showing the device’s location, and a screenshot taken from my Mac’s camera. The latter hopefully grabbed a picture of the thief. Prey can gather and report on Network details (active connections, nearby WiFi hotspots and traceroute), Geo location and session information. Session data optionally contains a screenshot, modified files, and a list of running programs. In addition, said Webcam picture can be grabbed and added to the report. The control panel also allows me to set off a 30-second alarm on the device, show the thief an alert, lock the computer with a password and hide e-emails and delete stored passwords. I haven’t tried all of these though. What I like about Prey is that it appears to be possible to configure your own server for reporting to, by SMTP, HTTP POST or SSH; this could be very useful. What I don’t like very much is that Prey leaves a lot of stuff lying around. First, there’s the last XML instruction set it received from its server in /tmp. Then there’s a log in /var/log/prey.log which, doesn’t contain much unless you’ve reported your device missing and Prey has been able to contact it’s target server. Last but not least, the full source code is on my system. It isn’t safe to assume that a laptop thief has no IT knowhow, but Prey may just be able to issue its first alert before the thief finds and disables it.

Security, Mobile, and CLI :: 22 Dec 2010 :: e-mail