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To the bastards that stole my laptop...
October 3, 2008 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Steal *MY* laptop, will you? Now I can track you down like the pathetic dickmonkey you are. Wish you could sneak up on the asshole who stole your laptop and beat the crap out of him/her with a baseball bat? Now you can! Thanks to the beauty and glory of open source and OpenDHT, researchers at University of California, San Diego and University of Washington have created free software that enables you to track down your missing laptop. The Mac OS version even has an option to capture photos of the aforementioned scumbag so you can know your victim before you beat him/her senseless. (Note: I'm not saying that you *should* beat someone up for stealing your stuff, I'm just saying you *could*.)
posted by Geekyblonde (40 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
My dog is saying you should.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:44 AM on October 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Encrypted server side location storage is a pretty clever idea, and it helps to reduce the privacy concerns that inevitably come up when this kind of technology is discussed.

But I'm more interested in knowing about the circumstances of Geekyblonde's laptop getting stolen. I'm going to guess you still harbor some anger over this issue.
posted by quin at 9:49 AM on October 3, 2008


Apparently they must have found the webcam images folder...
posted by Samizdata at 9:51 AM on October 3, 2008


Well, unless the thief just wipes the hard drive.
posted by meta_eli at 9:56 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This post was made using my stolen laptop.
posted by Sailormom at 9:56 AM on October 3, 2008


I guess nobody asks the OpenDHT project what a "hashing service" is frequently enough to put that in the FAQ.
posted by DU at 10:01 AM on October 3, 2008


Yeah, this needs to be combined with a distress signal. So, the laptop tries to phone home with its location, as here. If it can't do so or if the server does not authenticate properly, after an adjustable period of time, then a piece of hardware inside the laptop emits a wireless distress signal. The distress signal hardware would be inextricably tied into the motherboard such that interfering with it would kill the laptop. For bonus points, the distress signal should have its own small integrated battery.

Some laptop manufacturer could make a killing in the business and government markets if it built such a device into its laptops.
posted by jedicus at 10:05 AM on October 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Steal my laptop? Ohhhh, you'd better believe that's a paddlin'.
posted by educatedslacker at 10:09 AM on October 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Yeah, would be great if integrated at the hardware level. As of now, it is likely to localize the not-so-computer-savvy crook while the ones with a little more tech knowledge will simply reinstall the OS before going online.
posted by oxidizer at 10:13 AM on October 3, 2008


(Note: I'm not saying that you *should* beat someone up for stealing your stuff, I'm just saying you *could*.)

*should*
*could*
*would*
posted by vito90 at 10:14 AM on October 3, 2008


Well, unless the thief just wipes the hard drive.

I don't think most thieves are that clever.

Although, if systems like these become more prevalent and widespread, then you're right, the thieves will know to point the camera away from them, rendering the whole security method useless.
posted by thbt at 10:14 AM on October 3, 2008


I'm skeptical. I mean, if my laptop was stolen, I'd really want it back, and I understand that this uses encrypto-tech to make it so only the machine's owner can locate it, but . . . in an era where telecoms can be subpoenaed to give up records and warantless wiretapping is more or less accepted as a necessary evil, it seems possible that this could be used for other purposes than recovering a stolen computer.

The idea that someone could remotely track me and take my picture freaks me out. Now I can't even look at internet porn without fearing that someone, somewhere, is watching me. (Big win for exhibitionists and voyeurs, though).

Aw, hell, they can already get my whereabouts from my cellphone, so I suppose just implant the subcutaneous RFID tag and let's be done with it.
posted by andromache at 10:17 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I put a Windows ME sticker on mine.
posted by mandal at 10:17 AM on October 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


Speaking as a dickmonkey, I want to assert that not all of us are laptop thieves. However, we are, as you correctly state, pathetic.
posted by not_on_display at 10:18 AM on October 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


I am a wang lemur, much different from a dick monkey, and I will steal your laptop.

*yoink*
posted by Mister_A at 10:20 AM on October 3, 2008


Sucks that the webcam feature only works on OSX. I've been trying to do something similar in python that just uploads the pics via scp, but this could have saved me some trouble.
posted by signal at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2008


I have a Wang Lemur laptop, with customizable everything. It even has a Richard Monkey welcome message!

If someone stole it, I'd be heartbroken.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2008


I almost installed it, but I'm thinking... what would I with a picture of the thief? Shake my fist angrily at his photo? Or go confront him? Would the cops even care to investigate??
posted by thbt at 10:26 AM on October 3, 2008


Harass them on Myspace?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:31 AM on October 3, 2008


I have a Wang Lemur laptop, with customizable everything.

I think the Wang Freestyle was their laptop. I'm pretty sure the Wang Lemur was just a word processor.

You can't beat going freestyle with your Wang in your lap.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:36 AM on October 3, 2008


I am a wang lemur

...and I approved this message.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:38 AM on October 3, 2008


I guess nobody asks the OpenDHT project what a "hashing service" is frequently enough to put that in the FAQ.

A hash table is a data structure which stores (key, data) pairs. Data is efficiently retrieved by specifying the key. A distributed hash table implements a hash table over many computers rather than just one.

In this example, the data stored is the computers' IP address and other locating information (encrypted) which the owner can retrieve from the DHT.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:38 AM on October 3, 2008


The cops probably won't do a thing.

The best idea is to show up with a half-a-dozen of your friends, the biggest you can find, and then very very politely ask for the laptop. That works particularly well if you're in a public place like a coffee shop where you can walk over and say, "Hello, we just called the cops. Hand us the laptop or go to jail."

There is some risk - there's a correlation between theft, violence and madness...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:40 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've had Undercover installed on all my Macs for years.

Yeah, would be great if integrated at the hardware level. As of now, it is likely to localize the not-so-computer-savvy crook while the ones with a little more tech knowledge will simply reinstall the OS before going online.

Anyone with a Mac can set a firmware password to make this a lot more difficult.
posted by designbot at 10:40 AM on October 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


I for one am not concerned. For years I've been surfing the internet only when wearing a balaclava and tin foil hat, regardless of stolen laptops.
Come get me..
posted by mannequito at 10:48 AM on October 3, 2008


designbot- you can reset the firmware password by removing a piece of ram from the machine.

Of course if the thief is savy enough to know that, then really short of a separate gps location / lojack hardware thing, you probably wont get your machine back.

Apple can track and lock down stolen iPods if they wanted, they already keep a database of machine serial numbers, but they still wont provide such things to the end users. I think they would prefer to keep out of any legal issues, instead of offering what is assumed as legal evidence for the courts, etc.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:48 AM on October 3, 2008


Of course, this could be implemented as a rootkit, so even if the thief "wiped" the hard drive it would only appear wiped and actually still run the software, in that case they would have to physically remove the drive and wipe it in another machine.

If laptop makers wanted too, they could actually put this in the machine's firmware, making laptops impossible to operate without the owner's permission. Since laptop makers are putting things like fingerprint readers on their machines, it wouldn't surprise me if they did this, however, I think most people would want a machine that was as secure against the government as theives, making it hard for laptop makers to play along, not wanting to piss off the government.
posted by delmoi at 10:55 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


> making laptops impossible to operate without the owner's permission. Since laptop makers are putting things like fingerprint readers on their machines,

Most laptop manufacturers don't care about locking down a machine so it is worthless to steal. What they want to offer is a machine whose data is not compromised when it is stolen. Full disk encryption is the new hotness, for the majority of businesses they loose more money in the data and assets on the machine, than the $3k worth of hardware.

Not to mention from a service perspective, you will always have to be able to disable the physical hardware protection if you want it to be in anyway repairable. Unless you just want to sell disposable machines you throw away after 12 months.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:11 AM on October 3, 2008


Yeah, would be great if integrated at the hardware level

Yeah. Great. Ask my wife someday about how great the fingerprint scanner on her Vaio is. All it does it cause intermittent memory errors and lockouts even when disabled.

The real trick to laptop security is to encryption, passwords, have backups, insurance and buy laptops you can afford to replace.

Anything else is snake oil.
posted by srboisvert at 11:13 AM on October 3, 2008


The cops probably won't do a thing.

Actually, there's a history of them acting on these kinds of data. I read a post...here, I think, though I can't find it, about some computer science researchers who lost a Macbook they had dynamic DNS software installed on. They were able to take the pics and record the IP address of the computer. Once the cops had that, they were able to locate the computer and arrested the thief in his apartment.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:14 AM on October 3, 2008


Undercover recovery stories
posted by designbot at 11:17 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


That works particularly well if you're in a public place like a coffee shop where you can walk over and say, "Hello, we just called the cops. Hand us the laptop or go to jail."

Reading that sentence made me think of P-P-P-Powerbook for some reason.
posted by educatedslacker at 11:28 AM on October 3, 2008


See also: The Karma of the Irish (great recovery story, with pics)
posted by designbot at 11:28 AM on October 3, 2008


Aw, hell, they can already get my whereabouts from my cellphone

Whereabouts?! That's so 2005.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:00 PM on October 3, 2008


Getting it's IP address? Emitting a distress signal? Pfft.
I want to be able to send an encrypted self destruct command that activates an explosive charge under the keyboard.

I wasn't going to bring my laptop onto a plane anyway.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:11 PM on October 3, 2008


The problem to me is that it requires the thief be able to boot the thing. I'll take my whole-disk-encryption.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:57 PM on October 3, 2008


Ask my wife someday about how great the fingerprint scanner on her Vaio is. All it does it cause intermittent memory errors and lockouts even when disabled.

It must be a software thing. The one on my new Dell XPS works perfectly. I'm really surprised by how well it works.

You do have to be sure to start scanning from below the joint though, otherwise the scan is short to register.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:59 PM on October 3, 2008


I want to be able to send an encrypted self destruct command...

The part about sending the command is actually trivially easy and requires no special software. If all you want to do is to be able to send a command to the laptop when it's connected to the internet, then you just write a little script in your favorite scripting language that runs at startup, or as a scheduled task or (ideally) when a network connection is established. (The latter is a particularly easy to do on a unix like OSX or Linux but not especially difficult on Windows.) All the script has to do is fetch the contents of a certain URL, one that preferably only you control. If the contents at that URL contain a certain code word, run whatever demonic program you have prepared.

So if your laptop is stolen, once you're sure it's gone and in the wrong hands, just put up a page which contains the command at that URL. The next time the laptop is connected to the internet shit will happen, even if it's behind a firewall, provided it has access to the web.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:18 PM on October 3, 2008


Ask my wife someday about how great the fingerprint scanner on her Vaio is

What you're describing is crappy hardware implementation. I was, of course, operating on the assumption of non-crappy hardware implementation.
posted by oxidizer at 4:30 AM on October 4, 2008


You do have to be sure to start scanning from below the joint though

Great - now you're going to get ash and blim-burns all over your nice fingerprint scanner.
posted by kcds at 6:01 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


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