Have you ever lost your computer? If so, you probably know how frightening of an experience it can be. Laptops aren’t cheap, and if you are carrying around a new Ultrabook, the loss of that investment alone is reason enough to curl up and cry. But that’s just the beginning. What about your files? Did you remember to back them up? Don’t worry, Prey is here to help you find your lost computer or mobile device.
Prey is an open source service that can track the location of your stolen or lost computer or device, activate its webcam to take a picture of whoever might have it, and take screenshots to monitor what someone may be up to on your machine.
Download Prey from its website.
Prey supports all of the major desktop operating systems as well as Android and iOS. Pick the installer for your operating system of choice. I’m using Ubuntu.
Once it was installed on Ubuntu, I found the process to be entirely non-intuitive. There’s no program called ‘Prey’ installed on my computer, because that could tip off any potential thief to the possibility that they are being tracked. However, there is a program called ‘Prey Configurator.’ More subtle? Not really.
The Prey Configurator is essentially an installation wizard that will guide you through the process of connecting your computer to a Prey account. If you haven’t created a Prey account, the configurator will prompt you to do so.
On the Prey dashboard, you should see your computer’s name along with some basic biographical information. Click on your computer to pull up even more information. Feel free to change the name of your computer to whatever you would like, as I did.
For the security conscious, Prey does not persistently track your computer. You must first give it permission to look for it. You can do this by sliding the toggle under your computer so that Prey thinks your computer is missing. Now it will begin to generate reports. This may take a while. I allowed Prey to search for my computer overnight.
When I came back, Prey had generated thirty-seven reports. Each report came with a picture taken via the webcam. In my case, this meant I had thirty-seven pictures of my ceiling. This was good, as it showed that my computer was exactly where I left it. If your computer really were lost, this would be much better than finding a stranger’s face populating Prey’s reports.
Each report gives you a plethora of potentially useful information. In addition to the webcam photo, you will see when the report was created, your computer’s IP address, a screenshot of your computer’s current activity, your computer’s uptime, and the username your computer is logged in under. If you hand this information over to the police, it should change finding your lost property from unlikely to quite possible.
With so much of our digital lives being stored on our computers, it is worthwhile to adopt a service like Prey to help us find a lost computer or device in the case of an emergency. All of the functionality shown in this guide can be found in the free version of the service, so why not give it a shot? You might someday be glad you did.