Ware of the Week: Prey Anti-Theft

In our weekly series, Ware of the Week, we showcase our favourite organised lines of code from the world of mobile and desktop computing. In today’s edition, we profile a cross-platform app that’s all about device security — Prey. If you missed our previous Ware of the Week winner, catch it below.

Read more: Ware of the Week: Imagine Free for Instagram

There are some applications and programs I immediately install when I receive a device. Prey is definitely high up on that list.

It’s usually because I ask myself these two questions before I venture beyond any set of doors: “How secure is your device at this very moment? Do you have some concession or plan in case it gets nicked or lost?”

If you answered yes to one of those questions, good on you. A good recovery tool, like Google Android Device Manager or iOS’s iCloud, is essential to ensuring that all your devices can be wiped if they fall into the wrong hands.

I’ve been in this boat before, and it’s not a good feeling. So when I bought my current laptop back in 2010, I immediately wanted a software package that would let me track, recover if possible or lock my laptop if need be. I turned to the then open source Prey Project, which was much less advanced than it is today.

Prey Window Dashboard

What is it?

In essence, Prey is a web service and a gaggle of apps that can be installed on a number of popular devices that allows users to keep tabs on installed devices. Although it’s labeled as “freemium”, the user can install up to three devices on the Prey account for free.

Although it has “anti-theft” in its title, it’s a brilliant little service if you’re just looking for a misplaced phone or if you can’t remember if you left your laptop at work. Prey will find it, and report back to you the essentials.

Why it’s brilliant

Although I love Google’s Android Device Manager, it can’t be installed on everything. Prey is fairly platform agnostic, which means that there’s practically a version of the app for every major operating system around. All devices are logged onto your account, which means all devices can be monitored from the same dashboard. And that dashboard is really where all the magic happens.

Users can log into the web interface from any computer or device to check on their devices, which means that should you lose yours, you can use another laptop entirely. The dashboard is also a nice place to be (the Prey team has made important strides towards a more user friendly interface).

Clicking on a specific device highlights a few more options. There’s the “Sign the Alarm” trigger, which will force the stolen or misplaced device to play a siren at the top of its lungs. There’s an option to “Lock” the device too, allowing users to practically render the phone unusable and there’s also an option to “Send a Message” to the perpetrator, which I’m pretty sure supports a host of obscene words that you may want to use in such cases.

prey-Crown-Vic-Asteroid-USA

We’ve even seen a resourceful bunch installing Prey in their cars too.

And if words don’t quite do it, Prey will snap images of the crook or the device’s surroundings with front or rear cameras and report back to the user’s dashboard. Prey also provides a navigable map that plots devices’ current or last seen locations, which aesthetically is more pleasing than Google’s implementation. Additionally, there’s an option to view the current hardware configuration and plot the device’s journey on a map.

The interface also seems slicker, and while Google’s Device Manager only accounts for Android devices, Prey is cross platform. Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android based devices are all supported.

Up to three devices are available on the free plan as mentioned before, which should be more than enough for an average user.

Why it falls short

Prey 1

This is quite a stark limitation though.

Pricing plans allow users to add more device to the service, but ten devices will set you back US$15 a month. It’s not too bad considering the added layer of security it allows, but compared to free alternatives from Google and Apple, it seems a bit much.

Also, Prey doesn’t exactly allow users to completely “destroy” the device’s storage. Although the “Lock” option does restrict user access to the device, the SD card can still be removed and perused at will. We’d love to see an implementation that completely fries all the data on the device.

And while device tracking does seem rather accurate, if the machine isn’t connected to a network, this feature falls on its face. Obviously, this is an issue with all tracking services and wouldn’t be too bad if the non-techy criminal snatched your hardware, but it’s definitely an issue if a relatively tech savvy crook swiped your tablet and instantly unhooked its network connection.

TL;DR

Prey is a great cross-platform anti-theft, anti-loss service that users can install on up to three devices for free. It’s reliable and easily navigable for beginners and advanced users alike. It’s a great additional layer of protection above passwords and encryption, but don’t rely on it wholly to recover your beloved MacBook from the jaws of crime. It may help a lot in your attempts though, and it will definitely make you feel a lot safer.

Name: Prey Anti-Theft
Version: Varies between platforms
Developer: Prey Inc.
Platform: Android 1.6 and higher, Windows 32-bit and 64-bit, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS
Type: Security
Price: Free (Paid plans begin at US$5)
Download size: Between 3.4MB and 10MB

Andy Walker
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