Software traces stolen laptops

2010-10-18 08:34

Cape Town - A company specialising in security has unveiled a software package that promises to give laptop users the ability to track down their computers in the event of theft.

CyberSentry runs in the background on laptops and will enable the user to "track a lost or stolen laptop using GPS, 3G, Wi-Fi or IP trace" the company said.

"When you get the software, it installs a small file on the laptop. You have to put in an email address as the reporting address and after it is stolen it will communicate any activities," Intertel's Director: Special Projects Brett Powell told News24.

Unlike cellphones that are always connected, the stolen laptop requires the thief to connect it to the internet, but Powell said that the owner could instruct it to perform a specific function after it was stolen, and the device could even take advantage of open Wi-Fi networks automatically.

"It's got a Wi-Fi auto connect feature, which will allow the laptop to connect to any Wi-Fi hotspot and send all information on what the thief's been doing."


The software is able to conceal information such as images, emails and documents as well as giving the user the ability to remotely delete files in a way that they are irrecoverable.

While Powell said that the best way to prevent theft of laptops is being watchful, he added that the features of the software could also have benefits for companies that provide computer hardware to users.

"If you exercise good physical care, the likelihood of theft greatly diminishes, but we've built in a few extras. There's an icon on the toolbar that allows a client to leave the laptop on a desk and even though it will look off, you could use the camera to monitor colleagues in an office.

"It would also help to combat inter-office theft. One can make the laptop unusable, but it makes more sense to me to hide your personal information instead," Powell said.

He added that the software would particularly serve the corporate and government environment where there were significant losses of equipment.

"Government departments suffer incredible losses of equipment and laptops are taken for resale value or for specific information. This software makes it harder for the thief to use the laptop unless he replaces the hard drive, which would probably not be worth the thief's while."

Reward system

Powell said that the software, which was developed in SA is compatible with all operating systems and his company was considering offering a reward system for people who returned stolen laptops.

But he hinted that the company is working on a trace system for cars.

"We're working on a camera system for cars that could record the interior and exterior that would stream data to a remote computer. This would be useful for people, for example, if you're dealing with corrupt cops."

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  • Brett Powell - 2010-10-18 08:58

    To find out more about CyberSentry see intertel dot co dot za

  • Johnathan - 2010-10-18 09:00

    What if the laptop's harddrive if formatted?
    It would be better if it was some sort of hardware installation of a small flash-memory chip that would still function even if the harddrive was wiped.

  • Al - 2010-10-18 09:01

    Neat works guys! Made in SA. Love it.

  • Mark West - 2010-10-18 09:10

    Congrats Intertel. Sounds like an excellent product, but I guess (as with all things) the criminals will eventually find a way around it. Hope you keep developing the product to stay one step ahead.

  • Brett Powell - 2010-10-18 09:19

    Johnathan > After installation it will be impossible to reformat the hard drive as changes are made in the system BIOS.

  • Riaan - 2010-10-18 09:30

    This would not work if you format the drive first time round. It would probably not work on a OS like Ubuntu Linux or OSX. I can't find the companies domain, does anybody have this?

  • johnP - 2010-10-18 09:31

    but still harddrive is so easy to replace, why can,t you link the software with the board so that it will require the thief to replace the whole board, not just the harddrive.

  • Zahir - 2010-10-18 09:31

    My laptop came out with this. This 'technology' is pretty old and doesn't work if the o/s is replaced/reinstalled. A good 'computer guy' could probably remove the windows service (that's what it is right?)

  • Riaan - 2010-10-18 09:33

    @Brett Powell, I stand corrected about the OS'ses, Welldone, but a format would still remove the software.

  • D du Plessis - 2010-10-18 09:45

    Unfortunately it would take someone with intermediate knowledge in computers 5 minutes to circumvent software like this. You will however make a quick buck out of the 99.9% of people that don’t, maybe even get some big corporation into buying into the idea that something like this might actually work, selling to them in bulk. Most IT managers of those don’t even know what an IP address is/does.

    I tell my IT manager whenever he asks me what I’m doing that I’m busy doing a trace of a packet malformed as and ARP, busy with a DDoS on our IP enabled coffee machine, forcing it to do RSS updates every 30 seconds. Keeps him off my back for the rest of the week.

  • ToAst3d - 2010-10-18 09:49

    If the drive is formatted this software wouldnt work. So the criminal would have to sell it "as is" for this tracing app to work.

  • Ben Johnson - 2010-10-18 10:10

    This is not something new. There are many products like this on the market, some of them even for free. Google "Prey Project" for a very good free solution, they even have a version for mobile phones.

  • Johnathan - 2010-10-18 11:03

    Ah, that answers my question, Brett. Thanks. The BIOS can still be flashed, though, but I doubt that this is done routinely by laptop thieves.

  • strange1 - 2010-10-18 11:09

    I can't see how this could be effective as a good "format" for the Hdd and a reset to factory defaults for the BIOS will remove this software totally. with the exception of a BIOS flash built into the software install and then I would not let it anywhere near any of the notebooks on my network.

  • chima - 2010-10-18 11:09

    i think the best theft solution should be a chip inserted on the board of the laptop like 3g softwares application can only work for few days before everything is formatted or replacement of the harddrive.

  • Travis Petersen - 2010-10-18 11:12

    I agree with Ben Johnson. this is certainly not by any stretch of the imagination ground breaking technology. I worked with a product developed by IronMountain digital many years back. And they have a laptop anti-theft software that destroys the info on the hdd the moment the stolen laptop is started. It even detects it when you remove the hdd and attach it as a slave to another pc. But then again, 99.99995 of the uninformed would think that this is the next best thing to sliced bread...... Try again with the informed... Brett Powell..

  • Ch1171 - 2010-10-18 11:24

    Good but what if the thief format the laptop and removes the service that reports the location.

    Now i know normally the thief itself wont have the technical know how but how about the guy that buys the computer he must have some kind of technical knowledge , especially in the case where the Operating system is locked with a password in order to reinstall the system.

    The best way to stop the problem would be to rain hell down on pawn shops who buy electronics from people who do not carry the slips.

  • Christopher Brunsdon - 2010-10-18 11:30

    Not an original idea, but perhaps being a local offering it will have a better uptake. I always see value in such products and hope you guys make a success of it.

  • Tommy - 2010-10-18 11:48

    Thieves will always sell something onto someone who knows what they're doing. Be it laptops, car radios, etc...

    Anyways - some good marketing and PR and you can dupe the public...

  • Adriaan - 2010-10-18 12:08

    Spoke to them this morning, the CyberSpy product costs can get freeware apps that do all that on the web...don't know what this product will cost though?

  • NCT - 2010-10-18 12:15

    Hi Brett, what is preventing a user from modifying the file? You claim the file is hidden on the hard drive, but there are many (even free) software tools available that allows users to modify files that is hidden from the user via the OS. Also, as Jonathan mentions, BIOS can be flashed, so formatting the hard drive is still an option for thieves.

    What concerns me the most however, is that this application seems to allow the execution of instructions remotely. What security measures are in place to ensure that an attacker doesn't use your application to remotely take control of my system?

  • Nkulee - 2010-10-18 12:42

    FORMAT!!! what can be installed can easily be uninstalled.

    my opinion, this is a waste.

  • Mmoko - 2010-10-18 12:46

    It sounds good that it has been designed in SA, but it won't solve anything. Otherwise u will make a lot of money!!!

  • jon - 2010-10-18 13:15

    I bough a Dell computer 4 years go with this technology built into it. Since then my employer also buys tons of Dell's with that technology. It runs hidden in the background and has helped us track and recover much of our stolen equipment.

  • Mfanafuthi - 2010-10-18 13:17

    nice work keep it up..

  • Corry @ NCT - 2010-10-18 13:24

    Exactly, I was thinking the same thing. THis is basically a "back door" into your system which could easily be exploited

  • Mark - 2010-10-18 13:28

    This all sounds great, however the company NetTrace has been perfecting asset (computer) tracking for over 6 years. They also specialize in monitoring rental information so corporates and government bodies return their leased assets on time to avoid penalties. And there's more, NetTrace also offers theft recovery - so it's all good knowing where your laptop is but in the end, who's going to recover it? NetTrace will. They have also perfected the art of remote data delete. Providing over 400 fields of information for each and every PC, NetTrace is the current leader in asset tracking within South Africa. They have saved me millions! P.S Once the NetTrace agent is on a machine, nothing can remove it. Reformatting won't accomplish anything.

  • Brett Powell - 2010-10-18 13:54

    @Adriaan - wrong product my friend. You enquired about CyberSpy (our computer monitoring software). This article is about CyberSentry.

  • Ranter - 2010-10-18 13:55

    Not very effective if a format will solve the issue.

  • Mbongs - 2010-10-18 14:05

    the hard drive can be slaved or plugged as usb external drive and be formated that way, Bios jus flash the poor thing you done, simple solution if nokia can put a gps on my cell how difficult is it to have one on a laptop? then tracking it will b much simpler

  • Smiso - 2010-10-18 15:38

    As awesome as it sounds it still doesn't cut down to solution of the problem. it doesnt Garantee you will find your stolen laptop.and John P is right

  • Joe - 2010-10-19 00:30

    There are free tracking programs out there already that sends a notification of your laptop whereabouts every time it automatically connects to a different IP address or WiFi spot.

  • Debbie - 2010-10-19 09:39

    Great, but I've already downloaded and used the same software also from SA called redpill spy and its FREE!!!

  • Stacy - 2010-10-19 11:02

    I agree, Why pay R2500??? i've upgraded from my free redpill spy version for only R249.

  • Angela - 2010-10-19 11:32

    Or you could register your laptop's serial numbers free and if the cops recover the hardware, even after it's dismantled, they will be able to return it to you.

  • Brett Powell - 2010-10-19 14:29

    @Stacy CyberSentry does not cost R2,500.00, it costs R250.00. Adriaan was just a little confused and/or didn't check his facts before posting.

  • sam - 2010-10-19 23:52

    Wonderfull ...excellent...that some body,t track you / or one ....

  • Patrick - 2010-10-24 18:13

    Great one Brett! As a victim of multiple burglaries at my home, the last one I lost 4 laptops (2 with source code), I thought of fitting RF tags to them, perhaps you could consider this as a future development? In any case best of luck with this, it's about time something was done about this scourge.

  • Brett Powell - 2010-10-25 21:46

    @Patrick thanks for the positive comment. Contact me via our website for more information about other ways we can assist you in securing your laptop.

  • Soretha Schoeman - 2014-08-14 11:47

    When is this software available..??? Especially in SA? I think I could start a company monitoring the stolen PC's

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