People lose stuff. People get mugged. People naturally wonder “is there some way to get it back?” since they’re expensive, but also because the stuff – smartphones, tablets, laptops, external hard drives – store information like your degree thesis, the proposal you were working on, family photographs, etc. For many, the value of the data outweighs the cost of the hardware.
The answer to the question above is possibly, because there are ways to recover devices even if one didn’t prepare for what is an inevitability to many. But, these are not fail-proof. Indeed, if anything, they are failure-prone, and don’t address other security concerns like, “is my data safe?” (something that can only be answered in the positive by having the correct smartphone and other mobile device security like AlertBoot’s Mobile Security service).
The site lifehacker.com lists a couple of methods.
According to lifehacker.com, you’re able to use Gmail or Dropbox (and array of similar services) to find the IP address of your lost device: it logs the last IP address that the device used to connect to the internet. This information is enough to subpoena the internet provider and get an address.
- The device must connect to the internet. Otherwise, it won’t work.
- There’s always the chance that it’s a public hotspot.
- It could be the wrong address.
- Sometimes, the law has better things to do than to look for your gadget. There have been reports of the police doing nothing even when provided with an IP address and a physical address. Indeed, sometimes device owners obtain pictures of the potential thief, thanks to the built-in camera, but the police sit on it (possibly because of potential legal repercussions). On the other hand, there are plenty of anecdotes where the police are very helpful. It’s a coin toss.
Got an early Android? Get “Plan B”
If you lost an Android phone, lifehacker.com notes that you can remotely install Plan B, as long as you’ve got Android 2.3 or lower (the newer Android OSs don’t support it).
The caveat: it won’t work if the phone is not powered, internet connectivity is turned off, or the phone has been wiped. Plus, it won’t work on newer versions of Android (as of this writing, new devices come with Android 4.x. Version 2.3 was released in December 2010).
Plan Ahead of Time
If you really want to recover your device, you have to plan in advance. Even then, there’s no guarantee that it will work. Take, for example, this observation from lifehacker.com commentator Brianne Archer:
I created a “guest” log-in with no password required just for that reason. Unfortunately, the latest release of Prey always says that my laptop is about two miles away from where it actually is. It works great for my awesome for my tablet or phone with GPS turned on.
Prey is a device-tracking software with a few extras like remote wiping of data. I already noted its incompatibility with full disk encryption in an earlier post (basically, it won’t work if a person cannot access the laptop).
However, I certainly did not know that there was a 2-mile margin of error if it’s Wi-Fi only. On the other hand, I’m not surprised. Wi-Fi is only so good when it comes to triangulating a device’s position.
Your Data or Your Hardware?
Let’s set aside the asset-recovery mentality. Put your data security hat on. Would you prefer (a) the uncertainty of whether you’d be able to recover your device or (b) the certainty that the data in it will not be accessed by others, if said device were to be lost or stolen?
If your device holds sensitive data, you should probably opt for (b). Even if you eventually recover the device, there’s no guarantee that your device’s data hasn’t been compromised in the meantime.
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