4 Mac Security Apps Compared

17 Comments

The security of your Mac can fall into a few different categories. One such category would be that of preventing data loss (i.e. making regular backups). Apple has helped to make this easy in recent years with the inclusion of Time Machine in OS X. Another category is trying to prevent, or minimize the problem of, theft. This is something more difficult to defend against than a corrupted hard drive, as it’s not just a case of regularly backing data up.

Because the theft of a laptop is a great deal less common than a failed hard drive, it can easily be overlooked by Mac users. Fortunately, there are a number of applications which can step in to help you locate a stolen or missing laptop. This article will provide an overview of several competing applications, comparing them on features and price.

MacTrak from GadgetTrak

MacTrak for OS X is heralded as “the most advanced theft recovery solution available for Apple systems”.

The software is activated by logging into your MacTrak.me account and clicking a button to activate tracking. The next time your Mac connects to the Internet the software will activate and start sending you emails with the specific location and network environment of the system, as well as use the camera to take a photo of who is using the system every 30 minutes.

Some of the extra features offered by MacTrak are:

  • Wi-Fi Positioning: The ability to accurately pinpoint the location of your Mac through analyzing Wi-Fi networks
  • Flickr Integration: Social media at its best. Photos taken every 30 minutes are uploaded to Flickr with location details
  • Network Information: It also collects network information to provide to authorities

It is priced at $60 — a one off payment which doesn’t need renewing every year. It’s transferrable between computers.

iAlertU

iAlertU doesn’t take the form of a laptop tracking application, rather aiming to warn you at the point when someone is attempting to run off with your precious Mac. The software is ‘armed’ either through a menu bar button, or via the Apple Remote Control (think similar to a remote control car alarm).

Through the use of either the laptop motion sensor or trackpad/keyboard inputs, iAlertU is able to determine when someone is using or moving your laptop without permission. An audible alarm is sounded — it makes quite a racket — and a photo is taken using the iSight camera before being emailed to a pre-defined address. The alarm will continue to sound even after the laptop has closed, making a silent escape fairly difficult!

The problem with this software is that once your laptop is gone, the software doesn’t include any tracking facilities. The upside is that iAlertU is completely free.

Adeona

Adeona is an open source application and doesn’t rely on a proprietary, central service. Very strong encryption is used for storing and sending location information, and emphasis in placed on ensuring that you are the only person able to track the laptop (which is good, as it would be somewhat disconcerting if someone else was tracking your every move).

Three features are pushed as the main reasons to use Adeona:

  • Private: Adeona uses state-of-the-art cryptographic mechanisms to ensure that the owner is the only party that can use the system to reveal the locations visited by a device.
  • Reliable: Adeona uses a community-based remote storage facility, ensuring retrievability of recent location updates.
  • Open source and free: A big advantage over more expensive competing applications

As with other competitors, the OS X version has the ability to take photos using the built in iSight camera. Location information is stored at OpenDHT, and remains accessible for one week after capture. The information sent includes the internal IP address, external IP address, nearby routers, a photo and the wireless access point name.

As the software is completely free, it’s worth taking a look at.

LoJack

The final piece of software to be considered is LoJack. While possibly having the best name of the bunch, it also offers a good range of functionality. They also claim that LoJack is able to recover 3 out of 4 laptops stolen with the software installed. Impressive!

The premium version is priced the same as MacTrak, at $60, but this is a yearly rather than one-off cost. The difference here is that, rather than just offering a software service, LoJack also has a dedicated theft recovery team who will assist in tracking down your stolen machine. It is staffed by former police officers and security professionals and carries a private investigation agency license.

Other services included are ‘data delete’ — a tool to remotely wipe your laptop — and a $1000 service guarantee if they’re unable to track down your laptop (with a few conditions). These extra two features are included in the $60 package, but are not with the cheaper, $40 standard edition.

While this doesn’t apply to OS X, it’s worth noting that LoJack has an agreement with several laptop manufacturers to build their software into the compute BIOS, ensuring that it survives a re-install of the operating system.

Conclusion

Many people do not use a security service/software package for their laptop and may simply extend their house insurance to cover a loss or theft. If you would like to be able to locate a missing Mac, along with potentially catching those responsible, using software such as LoJack or MacTrak would certainly be advisable. They offer a great range of services and have an impressive track record. $60 is not a great deal to pay for the peace of mind and added security.

Both the free iAlertU and Adeona are great tools, but aren’t backed up with quite the same support and service network as the commercial software.

Do you use a piece of security software, or do you think it’s unnecessary caution? I’d be interested to hear your opinion.

17 Comments

dani

Great comparison. Petty that you did not include Undercover.
I just bought MacTrak (but I was about to choose Undercover, but I preferred less intrusion) and I installed iAlertU.
Great!
Nevertheless I should mention, that if you have your laptop password protected you better create a guest account, other wise I guess that if they steal it they will not be able to use it and therefore to take pictures of the person who took it from you.
Also to add a firmware password using your installation CD. That will prevent to reinstall the OS and delete everything.
MacTrak and Undercover have good things. The first one uses wifi location technology and the company has nothing to do if you activate tracking. You get emails and flickr photos directly from the Mac. The second they do it. They just use IP to locate (not always very accurate) but they have a plan b, to fade the screen and display that this laptop is stolen. I like that….

Scott

@Hendrick ROFL! Good one, that is just too funny. Thanks for that, it made my day.

Chris

I purchased the MacTrak product after this review, the location was really accurate, about it showed my neighbors house, but still that is pretty cool, this along with a photo could be really useful.

I was curious about the Wi-Fi positioning used by MacTrak, it is pretty cool, I didn’t know the iPhone and iPod Touch were using this, even the 3G as it appears the GPS does not work indoors, there is a video overview here:

http://skyhookwireless.com/howitworks/

Pretty innovative, I was also really surprised to see that they have a database of wi-fi routers all around the world and not just in the US. It works in from Seattle to Singapore. I am curious if this will work on the Virgina Atlantic flights that have wi-fi now :-)

Hendrick

I would say compare lojack, verey from bak2u and undercover from orbicule.

Chris

@ Jason: The security discussed in the article is the actual physical theft of the computer.

Stefan

I personally have undercover and it gives you great piece of mind, yet, I think it would make the apps that much more compelling if it had some of the features of Gadget Track,ie. webiste to see the location etc. – and even if it is just to see that it works with your own eyes.Overall, still the best though I guess.

Embedded in hardware would be brilliant, but I guess Apple would be the last one to go down that path – far to “corporate” I guess.

Cheers

Eric

I was always curious how Undercover works with law enforcement in the United States, when they are based in Belgium(?). I don’t think they do all the work for you, as by law you have to file a police report yourself in person. I would prefer I provide the evidence to the police myself, it just makes more sense than asking a company in Europe to contact the police in my city. I am also paranoid, so I don’t like the LoJack approach where you have to contact a company to get data they collected from MY system. I guess I am less lazy and more paranoid.

Bertrand

For sure, undercover is one of the best application. Why ? Just because they do all the law part for you by giving evidences and so on to justice so that you can claim your laptop.
I will have a look to the 3 apps you mention.

Terry

tried adeona. never worked. OpenDHT seemed to be down or inaccessible so frequently that adeona never reliably reported any data. better than 80% chance that if you lap top took a walk you’d never see it again. in this case, free was not a good enough deal.

DJFelix

Hmm … I believe I remember this from April …

http://theappleblog.com/2008/04/25/protect-your-mac/

Yup. New editing staff must not have remembered to do a search first. Last time, they only reviewed LoJack and Undercover.

I agree with everyone else above. Undercover is the best. The reason is that they will deal with law enforcement for you. They do this on a daily basis, so they know how to approach law enforcement, what to tell them, and how to get them to respond … quickly.

It’s priced much cheaper than LoJack, and they even have a family plan.

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