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 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 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.
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.
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.