Bringing Big Brother closer to home.
August 7, 2009 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious about 'trojan' software for tracking a computer after it's been stolen.

Human Interest Part: A very cool local bike co-op recently had a bunch of equipment stolen, including an old computer. This got me to thinking about the possibility of tracking a computer after it's been nicked.

Technical Part: So I'm thinking it should be possible (and even easy) to write a script such that a machine transmits it's IP address and a bit of identifying data to a trusted source when it connects to the net and every ten minutes or so thereafter. On the other end, another machine is set up to receive said data. This could potentially be either a pair of personal computers that are stored in separate locations, or a central server at Google or something that everyone uses. Presumably, the IP address could then be used to obtain a physical location for the missing computer, should it ever be stolen.

Questions: Does it exist already? And if not, I'm curious about the feasibility of this as a project. The weak link that I have little real knowledge of is how accurately one can turn an IP address into a physical location. Any thoughts?

FWIW, I prefer linux/*nix-friendly answers, though hearing about existing software for Windows wouldn't put me off.

I also fully understand how creepy this software would be on a personal computer; I ask mainly for the purposes of an organization that would be trying to track a usually-stationary computer.
posted by kaibutsu to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Lo Jack for Laptops
posted by slow graffiti at 11:42 AM on August 7, 2009

Best answer: Adeona

Try Googling for "laptop tracking software". If you can put it on a laptop, you can put it on a desktop or server.
posted by Xoebe at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks! Adeona looks like it will be perfect, once they figure out their backend.

FWIW, I meant 'trojan' in a perhaps more allegorical sense than the current software lingo. Here the entire physical computer is the trojan horse, and the tracking software is the hidden band of soldiers.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:21 PM on August 7, 2009

Undercover for Macs. Amazing testimonials.
posted by mdonley at 1:18 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have R-U-On's "ServerOn" agent on my laptop. This utility, intended for use on servers, simply lets you know when a server goes online or offline, and sends you an e-mail when it stops responding or runs low on disk space or is using a lot of CPU. Among other things, it records what the machine's most recent internal and external IP address is. What I did on my laptop is to simply turn off all the e-mail notifications. There is a Web interface where I can turn them back on if the laptop is ever stolen. The R-U-On service and the "ServerOn" agent is free (some of the other agents are, however, payware).
posted by kindall at 1:52 PM on August 7, 2009

Oh, and a nice thing about R-U-On is that its agents run as services/daemons, which means they are inconspicuous to users (no onscreen indication that they are running) and that they keep running even when no user is logged in.
posted by kindall at 1:58 PM on August 7, 2009

Best answer: Prey is freeware that does this.

I've got it installed on my EEE. It tries to get a page on my web server every 10 minutes; I can check the logs for my web server to see what its IP address is. If I create the page, it'll start taking a screenshot and e-mailing it to me, every 10 minutes.
posted by russilwvong at 12:01 AM on August 8, 2009

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