Indian American in team to track laptop thieves

September 26th, 2008 - 2:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 26 (IANS) Thieves are lifting hundreds of thousands of gleaming new laptops from college campuses, libraries, cafeterias and airports every year. Now a new tool created by researchers - including an Indian American - from universities of Washington and California (San Diego) will play spoilsport for such thieves.The developers are Thomas Ristenpart, a doctoral student at University of California (UC) San Diego; Gabriel Maganis, University of Washington (UW) undergraduate; Tadayoshi Kohno, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering and Arvind Krishnamurthy, a UW research assistant professor.

The software not only becomes a virtual watchdog for your precious machine - reporting the laptop’s location when it connects to the Internet - but does so without letting anybody but you monitor your whereabouts.

The tool is named Adeona, after the Roman goddess of safe returns. It works by using the Internet as a homing beacon. Once Adeona is installed, the machine will occasionally send its Internet protocol address and related information to OpenDHT, a free online storage network. This information can be used to establish the computer’s general location.

Since Adeona’s public release, more than 50,000 people have downloaded the free software under the open source licence. The current version works on desktop and laptop machines running Windows, Macintosh or Linux, according to a UW statement.

The researchers said they have already received numerous requests for an iPhone version. On a Macintosh computer, Adeona also uses the computer’s internal camera to take a photo that it sends to the same server.

Adeona was initially released for free under an open source licence in June, and further work will be presented at the ToorCon computer security conference in San Diego Sunday.

Unlike commercial systems, in which users surrender their location information to a company, Adeona scrambles the information so it must be deciphered using a password known only by the person who set up the account.

If the laptop is stolen, only the original owner can access the location data (and, for Macintosh users, a photo). The owner can then bring this information to the police to aid in tracking down the stolen machine. Even if the free OpenDHT storage network was hacked, the information would remain private.

“Adeona is free and easy to install, so anyone who owns a laptop, or even a small company, can use it to track their assets,” Maganis said. “We’re really hoping laptop users all over the world will install it on their machines.”

The tool resulted from an experiment in privacy protection that began two years ago.

For more information on Adeona, go to

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