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Undercover Theft-Recovery Software Update Gives You the Details

Orbicule’s theft-recovery software Undercover has been revised in version 4 to give customers the same remote screen captures, network data, and location information available to law enforcement.

This kind of software installs itself at a low level of the system, and regularly checks in with a central server to see whether the computer or other device has been marked as stolen, at which point new behavior is triggered. (For more background, see “Help! I’m Being Held Captive, and All I Have Is a Wi-Fi Network!,” 23 May 2008, and “What I Learned from Having My Laptop Stolen,” 24 March 2009.)

The latest version of the software is paired with a recovery/tracking Web site. You can choose whether or not to enable location tracking when the device is still in your possession, and then log into the site to see where (via Wi-Fi positioning) it was estimated to be the last time it was restarted.

In the previous release, you used an Orbicule Web site to enter a unique ID code to report a computer or device stolen. Starting with this release, you use your account to provide information about the theft, including the location, time and date, and any useful comments, such as contact information for local police.

Orbicule provides the details it obtains to local law enforcement, but this release also lets you see the same location information derived from Wi-Fi connections, the network data (IP addresses and other details), the regularly snapped screenshots, as well as pictures snapped via a built-in iSight. This new version is much more like a hybrid of the previous Undercover release and GadgetTrak’s theft-recovery software, which provides information only to you.

The program still features “Plan B,” a mode you can now trigger manually, that simulates a failing screen to trick a thief into taking it into a repair shop. Once there, the software uses text-to-speech to start “yelling” information about recovery, while displaying a full-screen message indicating the computer was stolen. Previously, Plan B was triggered when a computer was booted after 60 days of not having any Internet connectivity; that’s now been disabled.

Orbicule also has an iPhone OS Undercover app ($4.99), which relies on push notifications to try to get the finder or thief to launch the program. Once set up, you can remotely trigger a push notification with a custom message. The app works on any iPhone OS device.

Competitor GadgetTrak released a free program last year – GadgetTrak for iPhone – that relies on misdirection: the program uses a Safari-like icon, and performs the same functions as a browser. The company suggests you put the program in the Home dock. A thief might launch the browser, which triggers location tracking.

Orbicule plans an updated iPhone OS theft-recovery package for iPhone OS 4. With iPhone OS 3, no background services can run, which makes a tracking program tricky. However, iPhone OS 4 will allow background location updates, which would let you launch a tracking program, and have it report updated position remotely. If stolen, unless a thief rebooted the phone, you’d be able to track its position. (It’s unclear whether Apple will allow a launch-at-start set of apps, although that seems unlikely.)

The Mac OS X update is free for Undercover 3 users. A single-user license costs $49, or $39 for students. A household license for up to five computers is $59. Volume pricing is also available.

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