Prey's tracking software can cost-effectively hunt down lost and stolen laptops and Android smartphones.
When it comes to data breaches, one of the biggest vulnerabilities companies have is the loss or theft of laptops and other portable devices, according to many reports.
One way to safeguard such devices is through tracking software. One relatively new solution, called Prey
, could be worth a look for a few reasons. The program, from Fork, Ltd., offers many of the functions of products that are considerably more expensive. It can be run on all major operating systems used by laptops and also on Android phones. The program can provide device owners with a host of data streams about their missing devices, including an accurate Google map and even a Webcam photo if the device has an internal camera.
Prey does have a few significant drawbacks compared to more expensive competitors. One is that it cannot be used to remotely delete data from a stolen device; another is that the program’s vendors do not offer to work with law enforcement if a device is stolen.
To use Prey, a user begins by opening an account at Prey’s home page. The user receives a link via e-mail to confirm the account. Users then download and install client-side software. At this point, users can choose between two ways of using the program. In the default mode, users can view lost device reports and make security changes mainly on the Prey Web site; in an alternative mode, users opt to receive e-mails that include report information. The former method may be simpler for many and was tried in this review.
In this default mode, users sign into their account and access the program’s control pages. Consisting mainly of a few different security control modules, the site is easy to navigate. In the report module, users can decide how often they want to receive reports if a device is marked on the page as missing; the default time is 20 minutes. Clicking simple on and off buttons, users can decide which types of information to receive including a screen shot and a list of running programs.
The “Geo” option, which relies on a Google program, can help identify a device’s location through information such as access points or a Global Positioning System if available. Data can also include a device’s private and public Internet Protocol address as well as the name of the router, or access point, which the devices are connecting to. The latter could prove to be especially useful if such supplied information included the name of a coffee shop chain, for instance, or perhaps the actual street address.
A second module gives users security options that can be turned on whether or not the device is marked as missing. They include the option to take a Webcam shot and an option to lock the device unless a password is entered. Another option lets users remotely delete passwords and other data stored in browsers including Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.
Individual account holders can also add up to three devices through their online account.
Prey’s recently introduced “Pro” version offers added features, including the transmission of data via Secure Sockets Layer encryption. It also lets users monitor a device’s whereabouts and other information such as what programs are running continously.
To test the product, I marked a Windows-based laptop as missing and received a report after about five minutes. Information included an accurate Google map and a Webcam shot. After marking the device as missing, there didn’t appear to be any changes to the laptop or its programs, which could be good for keeping potential thieves in the dark. (After Prey is installed, it only shows up in a device’s programs menu, which could help keep all but the most suspicious or keen-eyed thief unaware.)
If a device is thought to be stolen, users should contact law enforcement. They can offer police the data they collect through Prey as evidence. Users should also provide additional information, such as circumstances surrounding the loss as well as the device’s serial number, which Prey also provides in its Web site control panel.
The standard version of Prey is free; the Pro version costs less than a dollar per account. At that price, the program’s ease of use, wealth of location data, and other security features could make it a valuable tool when portable devices are stolen or simply lost.
Pros. Numerous location and security features including Google Map and a possible Webcam photo. The software is easy and quick to install; the control site is simple to navigate. Passwords can be remotely deleted.
Cons. Unlike a few similar programs, Prey does not offer to help users work with law enforcement to retrieve stolen devices. It cannot help users wipe clean their hard drives remotely.
Where to get it. Prey can be downloaded at preyproject.com.