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back to article Stealth-cam software snaps laptop looter

A laptop thief has been busted after a security application activated the computer's built-in camera, snapped shots of the crook and sent them back to the original owner. A few months ago, Joshua Kaufman had his Macbook nicked from his apartment in Oakland, CA. Instead of wallowing in despair, though, he started to blog images …

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Thumb Up

Nice idea, I'd like a Windows-friendly version please :)

Having recently been burgled and had my laptop & netbook nicked, I'd be more than happy to pay a few quid for a windows equivalent of this. Anyone got any suggestions of suitable packages?

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I use Gadget Track

http://www.gadgettrak.com/ Think they have a windows version as well

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Stop

Windows version

If it's a Windows lappy, no-one will want to steal it anyway...

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Facepalm

@Richy

I can attest to the contrary, having had two stolen in the last month.

Don't let facts get in the way of being a dickhead, though.

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Joke

Blatant invasion of privacy

How would he like it if somebody took photos of him working, sleeping, staring deliriously & wacking off to porn.

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Paris Hilton

Because she's just such an example

"...photos of him working, sleeping, staring deliriously & wacking off to porn."

One can make a reasonable living providing such things.

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Linux

Linux equivalent?

Anyone know of a similar app that would work on Ubuntu (or derivatives)? I'm not sure who'd want my venerable Eee 701SD, but it would be satisfying in case there was someone nutty enough to swipe it, to get some mugshots (and that's "mug" in at least two senses of the word)...

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Devil

You can hack the equivalent using motion

Motion is pretty good doing the capture, trigger, etc. Your problem is elsewhere. A MacBook is likely to remain under MacOS. A stolen linux laptop will be zapped with a bootleg Windoze XP install straight away. So there will be very little or no use of putting motion on it and scripting it.

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Silver badge

Re: Linux equivalent

Be serious. Anybody who nicks a laptop and finds linux on it will more than likely install windows.

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Linux

They'll be lucky...

By the time they find a way of shoehorning Windows XP onto an Eee 701SD (8Gb SSD, 512Mb RAM, 7" WVGA display, etc.) and making it work acceptably, they'll probably have gone to so much trouble that I'd almost let them have the machine to reward their perseverance...

Tux, 'cos my 701 won't accept anything less ;-)

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Re: Linux equivalent

Be serious. Anybody who nicks a laptop and finds linux on it will more than likely take it back to the owner and ask if they have anything better to steal.

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Ru
WTF?

Uh, passwords?

This isn't the first time someone has been busted for using a laptop whose software is pretty much as it was when the device was stolen. Clearly, using strong passwords and encrypting your harddrive is no way to ensure recoverability!

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Anonymous Coward

Erm.

Wouldn't having strong passwords and encryption mean that this hidden thing wouldn't have a chance to work? Even if it did start working when the login screen is presented, then the thief would get bored (if they knew what they were doing they'd more likely to format it to get round the password), if it's easy to get into then they'd use it and hidden could collect more evidence.

I guess multiple accounts would be one way to go, I don't really like the idea of having to create an account especially for thieves though.

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Multi OS & Android software

Try http://preyproject.com/

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Anonymous Coward

That is one seriously dim thief...

Didn't do a single thing that any quarter-tech-savvy person would do in the circumstances, and didn't notice the bright green light next to the webcam... (Or does "Hidden", er, hide that light when it takes the sneak pics?)

OK: where's the "Darwin" icon when you need it?

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Linux

You mean, one seriously average person.

Bought a laptop last week on eBay.

I have now thousands of (SFW, natch) holiday snaps, 15gb of rubbish music, 30gb of OK films & series, all materials for a nursing course, expenses and budget list, copies council tax / passport / utility bills / ..., and an invitation to an upcoming engagement party (hm... better not show up).

Emailed the owner because I started to wonder if the lappie was stolen, but no. "Oh I thought I deleted it". Not zeroing out I understand, yes, but here not even an effort at deleting.

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Silver badge

I bought an LG Cookie off ebay,

and found myself with an extra Memory Stick Micro (Cookie uses MicroSD) full of photos. They didn't want it back, but I'm too polite to look through the photos!

Privacy really isn't an issue, to most people.

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Happy

remember this?

Similar situation, with a desktop:

http://www.grisby.org/burglar.html

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Stop

theif?

How do we know this is the thief? It could just be a guy who's bought what he thought was someone's 2nd hand MBP from them?

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Unhappy

The software works, but the police don't.

I had a Windows/Intel laptop stolen back in 2008 which had a similar piece of software on it. The one on my laptop, like alot of these things, sits as an extension to the BIOS and also has a client installed that's hidden within the OS. Every time you boot up it looks for an internet connection and talks home and confirms if it's stolen or not.

Now because my hard disk was encrypted and password locked, the tealeaves couldn't get the data off the hard disk, and they couldn't even boot it, so they put in a new 2.5" disk.

(thus, Ru, why passwords don't mean anything - and on a mac if you know how to do it you can get around the login passwords on the OS and gain root access fairly easily. I now have a BIOS password on my Mac which is very difficult to circumvent and doesn't allow booting from alternative sources without a password)

The tracker software on the laptop is clever because if it doesn't detect itself installed in the OS when you boot, it installs itself into the OS for you like spyware (assuming you install something like Windows of course). It then calls the website and if it finds out it's stolen it starts broadcasting loads of it's details back to base. You can do things like remotely wipe the disk and groovy things like that.

Natch, we report the theft to the police and tell them it has a tracker on it. They seem disinterested.

So, the wazac in Lincolnshire who had my laptop plugs it into his Sky broadband and it starts calling home without him knowing. I have his email address, his broadband ID and the current IP address of his home router. Doing a bit of digging using this information, I find out exactly who he is, where he lives, his home phone number and so-on. In fact, by this time it had swept the disk for an image, so I can tell you the games he liked playing, which bank he banked with, what type of porn he liked, who he worked for and so-on. You name it, I had it. So I know all about this guy. I wonder if he worked out why one morning his laptop was duff - because I'd formatted the HDD in the background.

So I tell the police all this. They don't want to know at all. Even the company who make this software embedded on my laptop tried to get the police to go round and collect the laptop, but because the police are so inept at the moment when it comes to technology thefts, it was only when we escalated it that someone eventually went round. 3 months after it had been stolen. Biggest barrier the police said was getting the account details from Sky Broadband.

Guess what -when policeman knocks on the door, they find nothing. Laptop suddenly disappears (police never recovered it) and it, obviously being too hot to handle, disappears off the face of the earth and we've never seen it reappear.

So even though I have stacks of evidence to convict this guy, the police weren't interested. So although it looks like a great idea, we need the Police to be bought in to the idea of repatriation of kit.

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Silver badge

@AC

Wiping the machine was probably your downfall. He either skipped it as faulty, or passed it onto someone more technical. Most probably the former.

Best thing you can do in this kind of situation is keep your head down and harvest everything you can from the guy. The cops far prefer the old "caught him red handed with the stolen goods" than anything complicated and technical.

I confess, I would probably Frape him a bit just for the giggle.

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Silver badge
Go

easy this one

Pay mates for alibis. go and burn his fucking house down. Torch his car etc etc. Make sure you have alibis, dont use your own car, wear hoodies, dont take your mobile. Use disposable gloves, dont get seen on obvious cameras but DO get seen on local cameras wearing different clothes.

I hate fucking theives.

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Silver badge

Re: The software works, but the police don't.

You are not alone.

The police weren't interested in this case neither. It was the victim getting publicity on his blog that shamed the police into doing something.

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Meh

Nice story..

And another urban legend is born....

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Anonymous Coward

incompitent police?

For a time I worked for a company providing vehicle tracking devices, we had a stolen JCB digger that alerted in 3 times from the same location - each time we called the police out there and "nope, no diggers around here". Then a different JCB alerts in from the same location, call them up and false alarm, so I used some initiative and asked where it was "oh it's at our depot on <whatever> road" which matched the map location, turns out the one that had been stolen the tracker had been removed the day before and was in their depot office (which they forgot to mention when asking us to find it for them...)

What I found amazing was that the police had apparently sent 3 different police officers on 3 separate occasions to a depot full of diggers and such and reported that they couldn't see a digger anywhere... so i'd hate to think how hard it would be for them to find a laptop.

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Anonymous Coward

@Steve Evans

Apart from a surreptitious wipe of his HDD, we didn't do anything else apart from harvest his info - it only took him a couple of days to rebuild the laptop and start installing his hooky software again, and that was about a week after it was pinched. The problem was the police (3 months later) knocking on his door asking for the laptop - it was active that morning, but in the afternoon after they'd been round it vanished never to be seen again. 'We'd like to search your premises for a Dell Laptop etc..'

It did cross my mind to get a load of people round and do him in, but I was trusting the police to do the job we bloody pay them for.

Oh - and it's definitely not an urban legend - and the thing that pissed me off the most in this whole thing was the rucksack they pinched was my own that I'd bought in America, a brand new iPod Nano, and it also had my own personal 17" Macbook Pro in it too. Stupidly I hadn't itemised it on my house insurance so it's replacement was a Black Macbook, which was the most the insurance company would stretch to. Positive though was I had a backup, so nothing was lost apart from cash from my wallet. However, it's not quite a 17" Macbook Pro is it :( Wankers.

Oh - and the other thing to add - the cockmonsters who stole it also broke into a car on the same day to nick another laptop. Shame they missed the case with £150k in used notes in the boot as he was an unmarked courier. He'd stupidly left his laptop on the back seat. :)

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Re: easy this one

"I hate fucking theives."

Well don't do it then

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Happy

URBAN LEGEND

Sorry u also had a Macbook pro stolen that u just forgot to mention... U were more bothered about the cheap Windows Laptop.........As for the unmarked courier who was carrying 150K in used noted in his car and was kind enough to go round your house and let u know about it..........Yes this story is so obviously true..........

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Re: @Steve Evans

That's grim.

The cops are really going to have to start taking this kind of information seriously or with the current crop of GPS enabled devices, people are going to start taking the law into their own hands.

What would be perfect though would be getting his online banking details, log in, transfer the value of the stolen goods (plus a little bit for your trouble) into your account and tag them with "payment for stolen laptop".

Bet he would never report that!

I'm rather lucky in that a close personal friend is a cop, and he's rather old school when it comes to dealing with crims, he loves nothing more than a good scuffle with a few broken bones. He calls it job satisfaction. So that would be my first phone call.

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Bronze badge

RE: Re: @Steve Evans

Better yet just donate all his money to random offshore charity with the details as.

To attone for my sins of stealing off others.

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FAIL

@Brian 6

The key thing about this whole article and the reason I wrote about my direct experience of this was the traceability of the laptop, not what type of laptop it is. My work laptop had computrace on it. Sadly my Macbook wasn't. It didn't seem any point mentioning the Macbook Pro as the Dell was the one that had the computrace software on it and we're talking about computrace here? Even now there's nothing for a Mac that sits at a BIOS/EFI level like Computrace does on a Dell or HP laptop.

As for the unmarked courier - there were multiple thefts at the same time from the same location. (A motorway service station as it happens - a word to the wise (and yes, I would never do this again) - never leave your laptop bag in your car even if you think it's locked safely in the boot - they broke my boot open to get the laptop out - and before you jump in and say 'but they saw you put it in the boot' - not unless they'd followed me the 50 miles from my house) and I know about the money because I was stood next to the courier as we were discussing it with the policeman.

Next?

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Happy

Tune in for more tomorrow...

" .....and I know about the money because I was stood next to the courier as we were discussing it with the policeman....."

So the courier was discussing the fact that he had "150K in used bank notes in the boot of his car" THAT HADN'T BEEN STOLEN. There are very few legit reasons for having that sort of cash in your car. I'm sure the police would be the last people he would be telling about the cash. Why dont you just write a book ?

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Alert

I must remember

Not to feed the trolls.

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Tracking software, an extension of bios...????

@ "Anonymous Coward" - what is the software you used that worked even if the hdd was replaced? That sounds truly impressive!

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Anonymous Coward

@Jim

It's Absolute's Computrace. (Known as LoJack across the pond) Most of the current crop of laptops already have it loaded into their BIOS. You have to pay your money and turn it on.

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FAIL

Many weeks for the police to take notice ...

... as soon as this trends the laptop gets found ...

... i smell a marketing campaign for a certain piece of software!

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Bronze badge

I would not have called the police

Calling the police is pointless as you found out. Whatever made you think they give a toss about crime?

Given that I had the guys address, his porn collection, and probably a load of other private info, I would have spent 3 or 4 weeks collecting as much as possible. I would then have doorstepped the fool one night with a few mates. A couple of the bigger ones sit on his head while I nip upstairs and collect my laptop. I would then tell him that it had a web cam and that I've got a disk full of pics of him whacking himself off. I'd mention some of his porn tastes, just so he knows I am not kidding.

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Anonymous Coward

Think of the children

I would have remotely set the stolen laptop to download a bunch of kiddie porn and then shown that to the police. The laptop might remain as evidence for a long time but one would have the satisfaction that the thief would be getting some serious punishment.

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Alert

I refuse to enoble a simple forum post!

which is all very well except the vast majority of us wouldn't have the faintest idea where to find such porn and I certainly wouldn't be looking for it to frame chummy.

No teh correct weay to deal with this situation is the late night visit with a couple of mates and then you call the police about the stolen lappy.

As has been said, you just make sure you have an appropriate alibi.

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Thumb Up

Another system

I discovered this system recently, which seems really nice. They even support linux, mac, windows and android!

http://preyproject.com/

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TFk

BBC News

The good ole beeb has coverage of this one:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13624265

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Mushroom

Sod the filth

You've got all this juicy info on him, ring him up tell him you've got his bank login details and if the laptop is not returned forthwith you'll be making a large withdrawal and then emailing all his contacts with the contents of his porn collection

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Anonymous Coward

"You've got his banking details ..."

... and suddenly that email from the late Nigerian Oil Minister's wife has a potential use.

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joi

eh...

First thing I thought was: "nice viral marketing stunt"

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There's SMSCON for the N900

You can set a 'trusted' SIM card and a number/email/sshd to phone home to. If someone inserts a 'untrusted' SIM it will turn on the GPS and tell you where the phone is. You can also SMS it commands to lock the device, take pictures etc.

http://wiki.maemo.org/SMSCON

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Trollface

is this story for real?

I'm supposed to believe there was a white guy in Oakland, and he owns a bunch of Mac stuff, who then had it stolen by *another* white guy in Oakland?

It's like a story about Bigfoot and Bat-Boy getting abducted by chupacabra aliens.

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Think just what you're paying for.

"The $15 (£9) Kaufman paid for the application turned out to be worth every cent yesterday after Oakland police swooped, arresting the man in question, based on the evidence supplied."

Doesn't say he got his laptop back though, so unless you think it's worth paying an extra $15 (on top of your taxes) for the privilege of doing all the detective work to enable the police to arrest someone (if you can embarrass them enough into action), I'm not sure it's worth it.

Might be better just encrypting and password protecting the laptop, keeping decent backups, and paying for insurance to get you a replacement machine if it gets nicked. You'd probably get it quicker than waiting for the police to decide they no longer need to keep your old one as evidence as well!

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