Safeguarding Your Mac with Undercover

Your Mac can be the center of your life, with all of your pictures, music, movies, and more stored inside. What would happen if you Mac was stolen? Would it even be possible to get it back?

This is where Undercover from Orbicule steps in. This application hides deep inside your Mac and waits until your the computer gets listed as stolen. If the Mac goes back online, it will tell Orbicule’s headquarters it’s IP address, which can be used to find the computer’s location.

This review will take an in-depth look at Undercover, explain how tracking works, and also outline a few other solutions available.

Setup

Setting up Undercover is easy. Simply download the software from Orbicule’s website, install and reboot. To make sure the thieves don’t catch on, I would recommend that you remove all traces of Undercover from your system.

That’s it! Your Mac is now “lojacked” should it ever become lost or stolen.

Undercover Installer

Undercover Installer

Tracking Your Mac

If your Mac disappears you need to fill out a theft form on their website, with your Undercover ID code, to let them know to listen out for any communication from your computer.

Theft Report

Theft Report

By using both Skyhook Wireless triangulation and the IP address of your machine, Orbicule can find out where your Mac is. Orbicule also handles the police business, so you don’t have to mediate between the government and Undercover’s headquarters. Undercover is also able to take screenshots to help find out more information about the suspect, and use the built in iSight camera to snap a picture of nasty thief in question.

iSight Capture

iSight Capture

Plan B

In some cases everything won’t go to plan, your Mac may not show up online. In that case, after a predetermined timeframe, Undercover will begin to simulate a hardware failure, causing the screen to get darker and darker.

This may cause the person who stole your Mac to take it to an Apple Store or other repair shop, like a Best Buy. If the Mac shows up in such a location, it will begin to scream “This is a stolen computer!” displaying contact information clearly on the screen.

Extra Security

To help prevent the person who now has your Mac from wiping the drive and deleting the Undercover software, you should enable the EFI Firmware password. This will require a password to boot your Mac into an external hard disk or DVD disc.

For Undercover to work to it’s fullest potential, you need to setup a “dummy account” on your computer so the thief can access the Internet. To do this, go into System Preferences > Accounts and add an Account. By leaving a dummy account that doesn’t require a password to log onto, you can keep your data safe.

Dummy Account

Dummy Account

For extra security, you can enable FileVault encryption for your personal account. You can do this by going to System Preferences > Security > FileVault. This will encrypt all of the data in your Home folder with AES 128 Bit encryption.

While this is all well and good, FileVault can cause system wide slow-downs and has been known to have its hiccups; causing loss of data and other major problems. Also, if you forget your password, there is no way to recover your files.

Undercover for iPhone/iPod Touch

While your Mac is generally not something you will just leave in a coffee shop, your iPhone is at a higher risk of being lost or pick-pocketed. For that reason, Orbicule developed an iPhone version of their Undercover software. Disguising itself as a game, it is able to produce GPS or WiFi triangulation coordinates that are uploaded to their site: retrievemyiphone.com.

Undercover Game

Undercover Game

They also provide a free Found application which also sends the phone’s location to the website. This is useful if the person who finds your phone is a slightly more decent citizen, and less of a crook.

Retrieve my iPhone

Retrieve my iPhone

Again, should your phone be lost or stolen, Orbicule will handle all of the police business once a report is filed with them.

However, because the app is part of Apple’s App Store, it must adhere to certain guidelines. The main limitation is that it cannot run in the background and requires the thief to actually open the application for it’s location to be updated.

Other Options

There are a few other options for tracking a stolen Mac. Computrace LoJack for Laptops offers a similar tracking service but does not offer some of the cooler features of Undercover (such as iSight support and Skyhook Wireless location system).

They do offer a Premium Edition that includes the option to remotely delete sensitive data, along with a service guarantee of up to $1000. However they only offer US, Canada, UK and Australia as “Recovery Territories” while Undercover does not have such restrictions. Also, while LoJack is $39/$59 (premium) it is only a one year term. Undercover’s license is for life, with unlimited upgrades and transfers between computers.

GadgetTrak’s MacTrack also offers a similar tracking service. It utilizes Skyhook Wifi triangulation and iSight capturing. They also have relationships with law enforcement, several successful recovery stories and a free iPhone app. GadgetTrak even have a private investigator license and forensic certifications!

Conclusion

Orbicule’s service is a great solution, providing advanced features such as iSight capturing, WiFi triangulation and network positioning, to find and arrest that pesky thief. They also offer a team of recovery personnel to help work with officials around the world. Orbicule is a one time fee of $49, $39 for students and even cheaper for schools and businesses who need to purchase bulk licenses. Their iPhone version is $5.99.

Undercover has made it possible for them to recover 96% of all of the laptops stolen. In the rare case your Mac isn’t recovered, they have a money back guarantee where they will refund the cost of the software.

Orbicule seems like a great option to track your Mac and iPhone. What do you guys use to keep your computer safe? Feel free to let me know in the comments!


  • http://www.csszink.com CssZink

    Amazing, I’ll try this app soon :D

  • http://www.d2k.se/ Peter

    I got both and I’m very pleased. Thank god I haven’t had a need to use them yet though. But it’s like using a seatbelt. You can get by your ordinary life without it but once you crash you’ll be glad you’d use it.

  • http://www.danharper.me Dan Harper

    Looks like this will be a must-buy when I get my MBP in a few weeks :)

    I’ve heard a few stories of people having their MacBook’s stolen, and used ‘Back to my Mac’ to pictures using the webcam. The police then used the pictures to track down the thief!

  • Rickey

    This sounds like a solid app! Great review, thanks Appstorm!

  • http://www.iynque.com iynque

    I am going to try this out, but right now I think I want to buy it. I don’t know what I would do if I lost my laptop. I mean, all my data is backed up, but I still need a computer every day. If my laptop was lost or stolen, a $40 piece of software that could potentially get my laptop back is financially MUCH easier than the cost of a new computer.

    • Quintin

      I felt the same thing. Kicked myself when I didn’t have it installed when my first MBP was stolen!

  • http://www.iynque.com iynque

    ….oh, but the aqua Hal 9000 badge freaks me out a little. What if the computer decides to scream that it’s stolen while I’m using it? What if it turns off life support systems!? WHAT IF!?

    • dave

      You have to report your mac stolen before that happens. The serial # is then put into the stolen list and that is one way they do this. I have used this for a few years now and it the first thing that goes on every new mac I get & I’m getting another shiny new MBP tomorrow so I get to do it again.

      Once you install and register the app put the confirmation # somewhere safe… aka not on your computer!!!! and delete the email securely. I upload mine to a remote server.

      Another thing the article didn’t mention is that you can get a family pack of 5 for not much more.

  • Greg Martinez

    I don’t like that a third party in Europe has access to my computer especially my camera. If you Google “Orbicule Security Issues” some scary stuff comes up. Image etc are also uploaded to their servers, I don’t like that.

    • Quintin

      Its all a balance between safety and privacy. The more security you get, the more people are involved and the higher the risk you data isn’t as private as you once thought. You could always save all your sensitive files inside a password protected disk image. Or put a nice piece of duct tape over the camera lens. :)

    • peter

      My very first thought as well. Hmmm… it’s worth pondering. While $40 is a small price to pay for insurance, $2000 is an even smaller price to pay to keep some privacy (the little that is left, that is…)

  • jhkjh

    well now if I happens to steal a mac, i just replace the harddrive with my own, or format the drive. This is not safe enough for 50 bucks if the thief just can delete it…

    • Quintin

      Using Apple’s free Firmware password, they can’t delete your data by mounting an external hard drive or CD and wiping it. They would actually have to rip the computer open and remove the hard drive. Again with physical access, all bets are off… yet a 96% recovery rate sounds great to me!

    • http://ryanroberts.co.uk Ryan Roberts

      As stated above you can secure the Mac so the hard drive can’t be formatted or replaced.

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  • http://ryanroberts.co.uk Ryan Roberts

    I recently purchased this and I feel a little safer now about my Macbook I use for work stuff. I just hope I never have to use the software :)

  • http://www.macstories.net/ MacStories

    Great app, tried both Mac and iPhone version and I must admit that they are very well done. Besides, Orbicule support is just amazing.

    I’ll be giving away 3 copies of Undercover in the next weeks. This week, you can win 5 copies of Flux here.

  • http://fluong.blogspot.com françois luong

    Orbicule’s Undercover was installed on my MacBook. My MacBook was stolen in March during a burglary, along with other personal goods (my girlfriend’s computer). Firmware password was enabled. As of June 17th 2009, my laptop has yet to be recovered.

    • Chris Chua

      Can you tell more about your experience?
      We really wish to know more about how it actually ‘works’ in your case studies.

      • http://fluong.blogspot.com françois luong

        My Mac was stolen on a Saturday. I sent an email to Orbicule as soon as I could get to a computer. They only replied to me the following Monday, asking me to give them the police case number and the contact information of the investigator. Then nothing. For months. As of today (August 11th), still nothing.

      • http://fluong.blogspot.com françois luong

        Not to mention that the Orbicule team does not seem to be working on weekends (i.e., their response time to my emails).

      • http://fluong.blogspot.com/2009/06/undercover-by-orbicule-does-not-work.html françois luong

        Got tired of waiting for the (unlikely) return of my computer and got myself a new MacBook Pro.

  • Mat

    I’m just gonna throw this out there, but the way I look at it is that, if the thief knows/cares enough to reformat or change the hard drive, then there’s pretty much not much chance of stopping them or getting the laptop back… However, I’m more worried about someone seeing it at a coffee shop or the likes… Those types of thieves are the ones you’re likely to catch with stuff like this.

  • http://www.foxyturkey.com Yigit Ozdamar

    Amazing app! I’m gonna buy this!

  • peter

    iPhone version seems OK, but I’m yet to be convinced about the MBP version…

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  • Denuar Cruz

    UNDERCOVER 101
    does anybody knows if this works worldwide!? i live in central america!!!

    • http://jden.me Jden Redden

      Yes, worldwide.

  • http://wolfiezero.com/ Neil Sweeney

    Looks good; one of those apps that you hope the $40 is a waste of money, but once it’s stolen then it seems *very* cheap.

    But regards to more cost effective solutions, Prey Project might be worth looking at.

    http://control.preyproject.com/

    I use that currently and not had any issues while testing it. Fortunately, not had to use it yet.

  • http://www.class-hotel.ro Hotel Bucuresti

    Great app, tried both Mac and iPhone version and I must admit that they are very well done. Besides, Orbicule support is just amazing.

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  • Marc

    As the article states, I thought I’d paid a one off fee for a lifetime licence. However I’ve just received an invitation to upgrade to Undercover 5 which states:

    “Since you purchased an Undercover household license, you are eligible for a discounted upgrade to Undercover 5. You’ll only pay $19 to upgrade your license.”

    How exactly does this fit with a lifetime of unlimited upgrades??! Very poor.

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