Are there location tracker hardware (GPS receiver) which can be fitted inside of a laptop and it sends live location data to a remote location ? If yes, how to detect such trackers ?
Some laptops are equipped with "GPS tracking" but there are conditions. The Dell system (for Dell laptops) is typical and instructive:
- Computer will ship with the Laptop Tracking and Recovery software agent and a persistence module embedded in the BIOS. The software agent can survive operating system re-installations, hard drive reformats and even hard drive replacements.
- When a lost or stolen computer connects to the Internet, the software agent contacts the monitoring center to report the computer’s location.
- For systems with GPS technology included, Laptop Tracking and Recovery has the ability to capture and report more detailed location information. It also provides the ability to track your laptops as they change hands or move around the organization.
This gives us the key points:
- It is possible to store information in a laptop which resists casual cleanup (even a hard drive change). Savvy attackers will know that and reset the BIOS as well, but this will take some extra effort for them.
- Some laptops contain a GPS receiver which can be used to pinpoint the location geographically. For non-GPS able computers, LPS can be used (roughly speaking, inferring the location by using the WiFi access points in the vicinity).
- Regardless of the method, nothing will happen without power, and power is a scarce resource on laptops. All these "tracking devices" (most of them being mere software) will do nothing until the machine is powered-up, and when they send data, they rely on an existing "Internet connection" into which they will inject their alert message.
Portable, battery-powered tracking devices with GPS and 3G capabilities (GPS for obtaining the position, 3G for sending it) exist and can even be quite sturdy (they survive being carried by a child). For a laptop, or other similar technological products, the challenges would be:
- find some room within the product to protect for the device (free room is not exactly frequent inside laptops...);
- conceal the tracking device without impairing its GPS and 3G abilities (radio signals can be blocked by the product casing);
- plug the tracking device on the main power line so that its battery gets recharged regularly.
Battery is a critical point: devices meant for cars can draw current from the car battery; devices meant for kids need work for only two days or so (if the device did not allow recovery of the missing kid within 48 hours, despite widespread police alert, chances are that the kidnapper has found and removed the device). For a laptop, which may sit unpowered for days or even weeks at a time, and which will not elicit a nation-wide police operation, a longer autonomy is required, and available power will be a problem.