Saturday, 12 September 2009

The laptop that shouts 'Stop, thief' when stolen

“Get your hands off me, I have been stolen,” the laptop shouted. That is a new solution to laptop computer theft: a program that lets owners give their property a voice when it has been taken.

The program allows users to display alerts on the missing computer's screen and even to set a spoken message. Tracking software for stolen laptops has been on the market for some time, but this is thought to be the first that allows owners to give the thief a piece of their mind.

Owners must report their laptop missing by logging on to a website, which sends a message to the model: a red and yellow “lost or stolen” banner pops up on its screen when it is started. Under the latest version of the software, users can also send a spoken message.

The theft-busting program, Retriever, has been produced by Front Door Software Corporation, a small company based in Evergreen, Colorado. Carrie Hafeman, its chief executive, said that if owners tick a box indicating that their computer has gone, when it is started up, “a big red and yellow banner pops up, saying 'This laptop is lost or stolen'.”

The message can be set to reappear every 30 seconds, no matter how many times the thief closes it. “One customer sent a message saying, 'You are being tracked. I am right at your door',” Ms Hafeman said.

In the latest version, people can add a spoken message. The default through the computer's speakers is: “Help, this laptop is reported lost or stolen. If you are not my owner, please report me now.”

Others have introduced more direct alerts. “You can record your own. You can say, ‘Get your hands off me, you S.O.B.',” Ms Hafeman said.

The Retriever software package, which costs $29.95 (£21) but has a free trial period, has the functions of many security software programs. Owners can remotely switch to an alternative password prompt if they fear that the thief has also got hold of the log-in details.

If a thief accesses the internet with the stolen laptop, Retriever will collect information on the internet service provider in use and nearby wi-fi access points, so that the police can be alerted to its location.

Thousands of laptops are stolen every year from homes and offices, but with the use of laptops increasing, the number stolen while their owners are out and about has been rising sharply.

Other laptop security software allows users to erase data remotely or lock down the computer.

The Undercover software from Orbicule for Macintosh laptops sends back screenshots from the stolen computer and takes pictures with the laptop's built-in camera.

The “talk” update of the Retriever program works with Microsoft Windows XP and Vista and a version for Mac users is in the pipeline, Ms Hafeman said.

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