Tracking lost devices

Prey AntitheftMobility is all around – and so is losing mobile devices. Years ago I shamefully left my beloved Palm Treo 600 unattended on the couch at Ikea’s. It was a true smartphone, but not smart enough to find its way back to me. I suppose a good Glaswegian will have befriended it.

So, with all the mobiles we have around today, how do we trace these when we lose them? Or, how do we prevent that others will not access our data or use our phones? Apart from the usual security – backup regularly, encrypt if needed, install virus scanner and firewall, and keep a careful eye on your lingering mobiles – the best answer is: use an online device tracking service. Such as Prey Antitheft.

Prey Antitheft

This is how it works. You install an app (called ‘agent’) on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or even desktop. The agent can be contacted from the Prey Project’s server as soon as you tell it to. Using IP addresses, GSM data or GPS trackers it can locate the device. Remotely you can make it scream very loudly, you can send a message to it, or you can lock the device. That is all included in Prey’s free version. If you pay for it, it also enables you to remotely wipe all contents from your lost property. The only requirement is, of course, that the device is in some way connected to a network, be it mobile phone, WiFi, local network or anything, provided that links into the Internet. Anyone switching on the device will connect directly.

Prey Antitheft can be installed on Windows, Mac or Linux computers, and on iOS or Android mobiles. Recently the whole service and its user interfaces were completely overhauled. Complaints you may find online about unfriendly user interfaces have been dealt with conclusively. Prey Antitheft is open source and Creative Commons licensed.


Installing the app on mobiles is easy: just go to Google Play or Apple App Store and install. After installation you need to register for an account. The free account is basic, but good enough for tracking your device if needs be. Through the Prey Control Panel you can always access your account and trace your devices.

Yet, installing on my Linux laptop (Kubuntu 14.04.2) was not as straighforward as on my Fairphone. This is how I fared.

I downloaded the DEB package. No problem. In a terminal I ran ‘dpkg’:

sudo dpkg -i [name_package]

…to find out dependencies were missing. (Read the terminal output to see which ones.) So I did:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install scrot streamer

…and then I ran ‘dpkg’ again – successfully this time.

The install script ended telling me I had to run ‘prey config gui’ to complete the installation. That was inaccurate. It should have been:

sudo [path_to]/prey config gui

(In my case the path being ‘/usr/lib/prey/versions/1.3.9/bin’ which is not an obvious place to locate an executable, really.)

OK, then finally the Prey agent started and I could register the laptop.


Today the virus hunting world has discovered the oceans called ‘Android’, ‘iOS’ or ‘Win Mobile’, and they launch virus scanner after security suite. Often packed with extra’s like firewalls, identity protection and more. And in fact also with device tracking software, the likes of Prey Antitheft. Even if you confine yourself to the free versions of these security apps, device tracking may be included. In most cases with features that Prey only offers with the paid versions. So, for your Android or iPhone that might be a good option. I installed Avira Antivirus Security and registered for the Anti-Theft option. Runs fine, no annoying ads, so far.

Other alternatives include AVG AntiVirus Free, avast! Antivirus & Security or McAfee Security & Antivirus. And more. The first two soon annoyed me with messages or ads, but they did seem to do their jobs properly.

I still need Prey Antitheft on my laptop as an antitheft precaution. Simply because the virus scanning world is leaving the Linux platform just as fast as it is embarking on the mobile fleet… The only remaining virus scanner for Linux actually is the open source project of ClamAV, but that just scans for viruses without any other frills.

Now the only task left is simple: not losing my phone, tablet or laptop.