Q: I’ve heard that you can install software on laptops and smartphones that will allow you to track them if they are ever lost or stolen. Which ones do you recommend? — Clifton
A: The amount of personal info contained on laptops, smartphones and tablet PCs should cause anyone that owns one to take security very seriously since mobile devices are highly sought by identity thieves.
Various options exist for most major mobile devices that allow you to locate, track, remotely lock down or remotely wipe the files should it be lost or stolen.
For laptop users (Mac or Windows) I highly recommend a free program called Prey (http://preyproject.com) that has a wonderful array of options.
The first step is to download and install the Prey tracking software onto your laptop and then setup your account.
Once the program has been installed, you simply log into your account at their website and change the status to “Missing” to launch the tracking system. The information that can be gathered on the missing device include location, IP address, any Wi-Fi hotspots that are nearby, grab a screenshot of what the current user has open and even take a picture of the person using the laptop if it has a built-in webcam.
You can activate an alarm on the missing device, post an alert on the screen or lock it down so that whoever has it can’t use it anymore.
This information is updated on your account as a report that is accessible via any Internet-connected computer at intervals that you choose and an email alert is sent to your registered address as well.
The free account will allow you to track up to three computers and up to 10 reports per computer. Various pay versions are available for anyone with a large number of devices.
In our tests, the system worked flawlessly on both Mac- and Windows-based laptops, and the best part is it’s free.
For iPhone 4, iPad and iPod Touch users (running IOS 4.2 or higher), Apple recently made the “Find My iPhone/iPad” app free (it previously required a paid MobileMe account). Once installed, you can locate, remotely lock or remotely wipe any of the devices from the MobileMe.com website. A workaround for iPhone 3Gs users is to activate the account on one of the qualifying devices first, then download the app to the 3Gs iPhone and use the same account to track it (which means you must also own one of the other devices or share an account with someone that does).
In our tests, it only took a few minutes to get everything set up to start tracking the location of our test iPad and iPhone. The remote lock worked like a charm but we did not activate the remote wipe.
For Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile smartphone users, Lookout (http://mylookout.com) will allow you to locate a missing device and sound an alarm on it (really handy when you know that you misplaced the device somewhere nearby) for free. It also includes anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware protection and basic contact backup in the free version. If you want to remotely lock or wipe the device, you will have to pay for a premium account ($2.99 a month or $29.99 a year) but you also get complete backup and restoration of your data (even to a new phone).
One last basic step to help secure your mobile devices: Activate the passcode that would block a stranger from just picking up the device, turning it on and accessing all your information.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.