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I have been reading about solutions that track your computer in case of missing. Since I'm using Ubuntu 12.04, the best option would be prey for me, but I'm open to other suggestions.

The question is not about WHICH one, it's about WHETHER they work. I have a password to login into my user account. How would you make your laptop secure against theft, both the hardware and data, and make it recoverable?

The way I see it, I can either protect my information (encrypted home partition with login password) OR attempt to recover my laptop (geolocation, wifi, webcap pictures etc), but each option excludes the other.

Is there any other option that you know?

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    May I add, that the two solutions are not exclusive? You could set up an encrypted system as usual and then install a second, unencrypted system acting as a decoy. Maybe even use something popular like Windows 7/8/10 making it easier and more attractive for the thief to use. Just make sure to remove the password on the administrator account. Then you could install your tracking software in the decoy OS and set it as the default boot option.
    – Potaito
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 14:33

4 Answers 4

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It all depends who steals your laptop. If its running Linux and the thief can't use it, then it's not going to be switched on, and prey will be useless. The attacker is just going to install Windows and sell it on eBay.

What happens when you steal a hacker's computer is interesting. Due to the fact that he had an insecure setup and that the thief could use his machine, Zoz was able to track it down using a dynamic DNS update and ultimately recover it.

To be honest I would use full disk encryption, set a BIOS password, disable the Ubuntu guest account and when the machine is stolen consider it lost forever (and hopefully useless to the thief). It's very unlikely that any software will be helpful in recovering it.

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  • This is also good advice for business. Many US state breach notification laws do not require notification if the data was encrypted.
    – Scott Pack
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 21:13
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    Agreed - this way it is purely a hardware cost to replace. Annoying, but as long as you have backups, it isn't an information problem.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 21:46
  • I'm using already full disk encryption which I plan to stop (because of this bug), BIOS password and just deactivated the guest account. The video was hilarious, thank you for sharing it. Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 23:30
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    @FrankPresenciaFandos Try switching to TrueCrypt's system encryption. It allows you to completely encrypt the disk, and have it decrypted at boot via the TC bootloader. This ensures that your entire disk is safe, including the OS and any swap file you might have.
    – Polynomial
    Commented Sep 3, 2012 at 6:05
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I had only skimmed through the most popular tracking software there. After reading thoroughly the extensive FAQ of prey, I found this question to answer my original:

Will Prey still phone home if there’s no user logged in?

The answer is yes, since Prey runs in the background as the root (system) user.

Now, if there’s no active session then Prey won’t be able to obtain some information — e.g. a screenshot — so we recommend creating a dummy account with no admin privileges and no password, just to lure the thief in. On Windows you can do this through the Control Panel, or even through the Prey Configurator (in Settings).

EDIT. It doesn't specify the OS in which it loads before logging in, so I will send them an email asking it.

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If you have (or get) a Mac, and enable FileVault full disk encryption, you can then use Find My Mac to locate your laptop while it remains encrypted, and the confidentiality of data remains.

This relies on the fact that "guest mode" is active, allowing a guest user to physically login and connect your laptop to wifi, allowing it to phone home where you can remote wipe, play a sound, or locate, etc.

Guest mode allows access to Safari only running on a separate unencrypted partition.

Of course if they never connect it to wifi, or wipe the computer before using it then you have no chance of finding or recovering it. Regular backups and full disk encryption are your friends for availability and confidentiality here.

However, if you do get it back, then you have the evil maid attack to worry about instead, risking first integrity and then possibility availability and confidentiality of your laptop and data at a later time, if it is stolen again.

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    +1 for telling that actually having it back may in fact be more troublesome than just considering it lost. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 10:04
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You need a dummy OS to load automatically on boot and honeypot account to auto-login. You want the thief to plug the computer into a network and use it.

Windows Honeypot user account for tracking laptop

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