June 6, 2008

Anti-Theft Software Catches Criminals

After culprits stole Alison DeLauzon's digital camera at a restaurant in Florida, she didn't expect to see it or the snapshots and videos of her infant son again.

But her camera had been equipped with Eye-Fi, a 2-gigabyte SD memory card with wireless capability. Thus sending all of the photos from her camera to her PC, including those taken by the people who stole her equipment bag.

"I opened up the Eye-Fi manager on the computer and, lo and behold, there are the guys that stole our cameras," said DeLauzon, a native of New York's Long Island suburb. "Not only is it the guy who stole our camera ... but the guy took a picture of (his accomplice) holding our other camera."

Luckily, the culprits passed by an unsecured network, whose factory-installed setting matched that of DeLauzon's home system, and the Eye-Fi automatically shipped the photos: first baby pictures, then the snap-happy scoundrels.

Cameras are perhaps the most common home-phoning gadget used to thwart criminals, though there are other similar cases of informant devices.

In Japan, a man set up a hidden camera in his kitchen to determine why his food was disappearing. Later on, the images of an unknown woman who was living secretly in his closet were sent to his mobile phone.

A few years ago, there was a well-publicized case of a Sidekick mobile phone that was first lost in a New York taxi, then found by a 16-year-old who used it to take pictures and send instant messages.

But the device's mobile service provider automatically backed up such data on remote computers, allowing the owner's friend, Evan Guttman, to uncover a trail -- and launch an online shaming campaign against the 16-year-old, who was eventually arrested.

A group called GadgetTrak, of Beaverton, Oregon, has developed software that can be used on any mobile device such as laptops, BlackBerrys or iPods. The software is able to take information from the culprit's SIM data card and e-mail it to the original owner.

Also, if the stolen device is a Mac computer, the software instructs the built-in camera to take video of the thief and sends to the owner, along with information about nearby wireless networks.

Some 20,000 GadgetTrack licenses have been purchased in about one year -- including 10,000 from storage company Seagate.

"The reason we have been so successful is that people are not expecting this kind of software to be installed," said Ken Westin, the company's founder. "No security solution is 100 percent -- there are always going to be work-arounds. But your average thief is not going to be a computer expert."

DeLauzon didn't want to press charges against the people who had her camera: Both were employees at the restaurant where she dined and accidentally left her photo equipment. They were eventually fired, but DeLauzon was more interested in having the pictures of her son back.

"When we finally got it back, my husband and I spent the night just sitting and watching the videos -- stupid videos, like him feeding himself for the first time or him pulling himself up in his crib for the first time. We sat down one night and just relished it."


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