How to Retrieve a Missing Laptop
By Andrew Eisner

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Okay so you didn’t follow the suggestions in our last article and your laptop walked away. Is there a chance you can recover it? If you had one of these theft recovery products installed on your laptop or even your desktop or phone the chance of getting it back would go zero to actually could happen.

Theft recovery apps sit on your computer's hard drive or in the BIOS. When your stolen laptop is connected to the internet they are first activated and then starting reporting back with information that can be used to locate and recover it. Of course, clever thieves may reformat hard drives or re-install the operating system to bypass these apps so ones installed in the BIOS which are difficult to bypass might be a better bet.

Once these programs are activated, they start sending IP addresses and ISP information that can be used by police to help track down your laptop. Some can triangulate the location using WiFi signals.

You might ask why your local police would take time out of fighting major crimes to pursue your missing laptop, but it turns out visits to locations of missing laptops often turn up other stolen items giving law enforcement extra incentive.

In addition to sending location-based information, many of these programs allow you to delete files, eavesdrop on what the new “owner,” is typing, and, on laptops with built-in cameras, like Apple’s MacBooks, send back pictures of the person using your laptop.

Here’s a list of 10 popular theft recovery products:

AbsoluteSoftware, a Canadian company, is one of the leaders in the Computer Theft Recovery software market. Many laptop vendors including Dell embed AbsoluteSoftware's, Computrace software in the BIOS of their laptops making them immune to operating system re-installations, hard drive reformats and hard drive replacements. They offer several versions including Lojack for Laptops that runs in the background on your laptop and costs $89.99 for 3 years. If your laptop (or computer) is stolen you alert the company, they track information sent from the laptop, and work with authorities to recover it. They claim to recover 3 out of 4 stolen computers.
"At my school, all students are provided with a laptop. All computers come loaded with Computrace, and it has never failed to recover a stolen laptop...even ones that have ended up overseas after being wiped and sold on eBay. The only time Computrace fails is if a) the CMOS is physically replaced or b) the laptop never sees an internet connection again." From Slashdot
PCPhoneHome, by Brigadoon, automatically sends an email message to an address you specify each time your computer is connected to the Internet, with ISP and IP information. It costs just $29 for lifetime use. If your laptop is stolen, you contact them with the information from the email and their Command and Tracking Center will start working on recovering it.
LaptopCopSoftware gives you remote access to your laptop when it is connected to the internet. You can retrieve and delete files, watch and record what the user is doing, and geo-locate in real-time where the laptop is, by using Wi-Fi hotspots to determine location to within 60 feet. It costs $50 for a 1 year license, $99 for 3 years.
zTrace is another player in this market and their zTrace Gold is a stealth software program to help in the recovery of a stolen or lost laptop.
FailSafe by Phoenix Technologies also allows the owner of a stolen computer to remotely retrieve, encrypt, and erase data. You can even remotely disable the device if necessary. The location of your computer is maintained using a variety of tracking methods and can be overlaid onto a detailed map that is accessible from a browser.
GadgetTrak offers theft recovery products for a range or products including cell phones, laptops, computers, and even USB flash drives.
ihound Software puts a file on your usb device, ipod, or iPhone like my_passwords.txt, when opened it starts sending IP info – on iPhones it will pin point its location on a map
Oribule is a Belgian company that offers theft recovery for Macs called Orbicule Undercover. It uses the iSight camera to send pictures of whoever is using your MacBook
BackStopp by Virtuity, Ltd. Can phone home using the internet or GSM phone lines for laptops equipped with a GSM card. It can make use of RFID to sound an alert of even delete data when a laptop moves too far away from where it belongs. They also include encryption, secure file deletion, and use of built-in cameras for, “culprit detection.”
Adeona is a free, open source theft recovery application available here. As soon as the person connects your laptop to the internet it sends information about it's location on the internet that goes to a storage network and can only be read by you. The Mac version even takes a picture of the user and sends it to you.
MyLaptopGPS offers protection for individuals and larger groups. For $9.95 a month, an individual gets tags that can be an effective first line of defense along with a tacking service that helps locate your missing laptop. Additionally MyLaptopGPS will wipe sensitive data off a reported laptop and send the files back to the owner.
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stolen laptop

I guess when the stolen laptop is connected to the internet they are first activated and then starting reporting back with information that can be used to locate and recover it.

Stolen laptop or notebook or netbook, etc.

I prefer the 007 / Mission Impossible approach. When the laptop is stolen it explodes and disables the thief with extreme predjudice. The case could be made from plastic explosive and the detonation is triggered by the anti-theft software.