How to Recover a Stolen Laptop With Anti-Theft Software

Recover your PC or Mac from thieves

Laptop theft is not uncommon, but the risk is made greater by the loss of not only an expensive computer but of the data on that computer as well. According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 97 percent of stolen computers are never recovered.

One way to tip the odds in your favor is to install an application to help you locate your missing device.

Information in this article applies broadly to a wide range of software. Check the specifications of individual programs to determine if they are compatible with your computer.

Man sitting at a bar using a laptop.
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What Is Laptop Tracking and Recovery Software?

Anti-theft applications are designed to trace your laptop's location so that local law enforcement can retrieve it. For laptop tracking to work, you must install and enable the application before the laptop is stolen. The software runs in the background, unbeknownst to the thief. However, the laptop must connect to the internet (i.e., the thief has to go online) before the software can update the computer's location.

Some tracking and recovery applications can be circumvented by formatting the hard drive. Other laptop recovery applications are embedded in the computer's BIOS (firmware), which makes them harder to remove.

Laptop Tracking Security Concerns

Location-based tracking services continuously announce your laptop's whereabouts to a central server, opening you up to a host of privacy concerns. That's where Prey comes in.

Prey is a free application that works globally on most operating systems. Because Prey is open source, and location tracking is triggered by the user only when needed, there may be fewer privacy concerns than with proprietary solutions. As with other tracking software, Prey provides location reports, sits silently in the background gathering network and Wi-Fi data, and uses the laptop's webcam to photograph the thief.

Premium Laptop Tracking and Recovery Applications

Another popular laptop retrieval solution is Absolute Home & Office, which not only tracks your laptop via GPS or Wi-Fi but also allows you to remotely delete your data from the hard drive.

For Apple users, HiddenApp offers protection for MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones using the built-in camera, which has the ability to capture screenshots from the stolen Apple device. Only the individual owner has the password that can initiate device monitoring.

How to Catch a Thief Using Remote Access Software

If your laptop is stolen before you install a recovery tool, all may not be lost. If you use remote access software such as Back to My Mac, pcAnywhere, GoToMyPc, LogmeIn, or SharedView, you can connect to your stolen computer remotely and use the webcam or other clues (such as information in open applications or the IP address found in the network settings) to discover the location and identity of the thief.

How to Prevent Laptop Theft

Tracking and recovery software increases your chances of retrieving your laptop if it is stolen, but it doesn't actually prevent theft, nor does it prevent thieves from accessing the data on your computer. Cable locks and alarms can deter physical theft, and encryption software like VeraCrypt can protect your sensitive information from being accessed. You should also follow best practices for computer security, such as not storing sensitive information on your portable device unless absolutely necessary.

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