Prey Turns Laptop and Phone Thieves Into the Hunted, For Free
Setting up Prey is very straightforward. Sign up for an account, download the software for your device, and register at the website. Then, if your laptop or phone makes like Houdini, you can activate the tracking software, either from the site or via text message. The ability to track your hardware using GPS and Wi-Fi should be enough to satisfy you -- especially since Prey is free for up to three devices -- but the service hosts a bevy of other actions to help you locate your misplaced gadget.
Prey can tell your missing phone to report its location back to the site, or force it to sound an alarm. It can also pop up an alert (in an attempt to inspire the thief to return your phone), and keep prying eyes out by remotely locking the device. But locking your phone or laptop with Prey is not the same as locking it in your pocket. To unlock the phone again you'll have to enter a Prey-specific password (that you're free to change as many times as you'd like) from the website. So, potentially, you can thwart brute force password hacks by simply changing the password every hour.
You have even more options while hunting down a laptop. In addition to locking, tracking and sending a message, you can also force a laptop to hide your e-mail, and, in an attempt to secure your accounts, erase any saved passwords and cookies. If you really feel like an espionage pro, you can also gather valuable information about what a person is doing with your machine. For proof, Prey will snap a photo with a webcam, capture a screen shot, report a list of running programs, and even send a list of recently modified files. If you really want to freak out a thief, Prey can locate an IP address for you. (You'll need to plan ahead of time and requires a bit of savvy, though; by setting up a remote client such as Team Viewer, LogMeIn or a VNC server, with an IP address, you could theoretically take control of your own computer while the thief is sitting in front of it.)
Prey does have a premium version that unlocks additional features, including: on-demand reporting (since free accounts can only collect data according to an automatic schedule); up to 100 reports-per-device (as you're limited to ten with free membership); and full SSL encryption for any data sent from your devices. Other features are aimed primarily at small businesses; Active Mode tracks computers or phones full-time, and reports back when one misses a scheduled check-in. You could also enjoy the ability to track up to 500 devices if your organization has the $399-per-month Max plan. Person Pro plans have all the pro features, but keeps the three-device cap for just $5 per month. The Pro features are really only necessary for the truly paranoid, or for those particularly prone to losing expensive hardware. But since the basic services are free for Android phones and laptops running Linux, OS X or Windows, there is absolutely no reason not to download Prey now.