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Verey installs into System Preferences and lets you customize the message that appears when it turns your stolen MacBook’s screen gray.
If your MacBook is stolen and you’ve had GadgetTrak Verey ($39.95, gadgettrak.com) installed, anyone attempting to connect to a new network on your ’book is prompted to enter a password within a specified time frame. If the user fails, Verey assumes the computer is stolen, and goes into panic mode. The MacBook’s iSight camera then begins to record video, and after a few minutes, the screen turns gray and displays a message suggesting that the user contact the owner of the computer, showing contact info and any other details you have entered in System Preferences.
Verey logs key technical information, like the computer’s IP address, a possible ISP, the names of nearby wireless networks, the MAC address, the computer’s serial number, and where the computer may be located, then emails it all to you, along with the video it recorded on the iSight. The latest version of Verey can also notify you via Twitter.
Recovering the computer afterward is up to you, but the data the app records should come in handy when filing a police report and helping authorities track down the thief. One caveat: If you frequent coffee shops with Wi-Fi, Verey could become more of a nuisance than a protection, especially if you make a habit of turning on your laptop, hopping on the wireless network, and walking away to grab a latte. As soon as the Wi-Fi connection kicks in, Verey will prompt you for your password, and if you’re not there to enter it in time, that could trigger the software’s panic mode.
LoJack for Laptops’ Web-based interface allows easy subscription management, and it supports Safari.
Computrace LoJack for Laptops ($49.99 for one year, $99.99 for three years; www .lojackforlaptops.com) is a subscription-based computer-recovery service. When a protected computer is connected to the Internet, it communicates once daily with the Computrace monitoring center, to check whether it has been reported as stolen.
If a thief strikes, your first step is to file a police report. After that, you’d log in at lojackforlaptops.com, or call or fax the company to report the theft. Then the clock starts ticking: If Computrace’s recovery team can’t get your computer back to you within 30 days, you’ll receive a refund of your subscription fee (as long as the theft meets the conditions of the money-back guarantee).
The next time the computer checks in with the monitoring center, it registers as stolen, and starts communicating with Computrace every 15 minutes. The Computrace team, which the company says comprises former law-enforcement and security professionals, works with law-enforcement agencies and ISPs to obtain warrants and subpoenas with the goal of getting your laptop returned quickly.
Because of some technical issues, the Mac version of the software doesn’t work in exactly the same way as the Windows version. Specifically, the Windows version installs in the BIOS of the computer, making it more difficult for thieves to defeat than the Mac version, which only installs onto the hard drive.
LoJack subscribers manage their subscriptions through the Web-based interface, logging in with an email address and password. From there, users can see their own registration code, as well as information about the computer associated with that code, including the last day it checked in. The LoJack name is well known as a stolen vehicle recovery service, but Computrace and LoJack are not the same company—Computrace just licenses the LoJack name. We only mention this as something to keep in mind if a theft occurs, because you’ll want to be sure to contact the right company to start the recovery process.
While we couldn’t fully test the service without involving the cops (and risking getting busted for faking a theft), we found it reassuring that Computrace boasts a 75 percent recovery rate, according to its most recent data.
There’s not much interacting to do with Orbicule Undercover once you’ve set it up, except keep track of the email that comes after a successful registration. It contains your computer’s Undercover ID, which you will need if you have to report it stolen.
Orbicule Undercover ($49, www.orbicule.com) “phones home” to Orbicule every six minutes to check whether the Mac it’s running on has been reported stolen. When the owner notifies the company that a protected Mac has been lifted (by visiting www.orbicule.com/theft/), Orbicule will contact the owner to coordinate the recovery effort. Then, everyone waits until the next user of the computer tries to go online. When it does, the Mac running Undercover will send information about the network to which it is connected, as well as screenshots and images from the iSight, every six minutes. Orbicule then uses the information to determine a street address of the new user by contacting his or her ISP, and explaining the situation. The software can also send an iSight image of whoever’s attempting to use the Mac to the owner, or to a law-enforcement agency.
If recovery fails, Undercover also has a built-in Plan B. When you decide it’s time, you can tell the stolen computer remotely to simulate a dying screen. The idea is that the thief (or whoever may have purchased or ended up with your stolen MacBook) will assume it’s broken and bring it somewhere to be fixed, or try to unload it somehow. If Orbicule detects that your Mac is joining a network at an Apple reseller, it initiates a full-screen message explaining that the computer has been reported stolen, that it won’t operate anymore, and it must be returned. The Mac will also speak this message.
Orbicule’s 2006 statistics indicate a 96 percent recovery rate. The company has not estimated its recovery rate for 2007 because some cases are still pending.