Macworld 2009: New system tracks stolen Macs

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Macworld 2009: New system tracks stolen Macs

Belgian software company Orbicule took Mac theft protection a stage further this week with the launch of Undercover 3.0 at Macworld this week.

The system, which ships in two weeks, is designed to locate stolen Macs and alert the police of their whereabouts.

The latest version of the tool integrates with Skyhook, a geographical positioning system that uses triangulation information from registered Wi-Fi access points.

When a user alerts Orbicule to the theft of a Mac, the company registers the machine as stolen on its server. Every time the Mac connects to the internet, Skyhook looks for its unique ID on the server. If the ID is registered as stolen, it communicates its whereabouts, which it triangulates from local Skyhook-registered access points.

"We will be able to pinpoint the location of stolen machines within 20 metres. This enables us to provide the police with much more accurate information," said Orbicule creative engineer Peter Schols.

"We no longer have to go to the ISPs to correlate the IP address to the geographical location. Now we can get the geographical location directly from the machine."

If the machine is not able to co-ordinate its position, Orbicule uses other options to help law enforcers gather information. It uses the computer's built-in iSight camera to send pictures to Orbicule's servers every six minutes in the hope of photographing the thief at the computer.

It also sends regular screenshots, enabling the company to potentially gather information such as email addresses and account numbers that might be used to track down the thief.

Finally, it simulates a hardware failure by darkening the screen, encouraging the thief to take the machine in for repair. When the machine detects that it is being used on a different network, it displays a warning message, hoping to alert repair technicians to the fact that it has been stolen.

The software costs US$49.99 and does not carry a subscription fee.
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