New laptop? Make sure to install this free anti-theft tool
I typically buy a new laptop every few years, and even though I work from home 98% of the time, there's one piece of software I always install first thing: LockItTight. If the machine ever gets lost or stolen, it'll give me a much better chance of tracking it down. And although it's been around for years, it's still free. Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.
How big a problem is this? According to a 2018 Kensington report (PDF), 1 in 10 laptops will get lost or stolen from an organization, while Techspective cites a Gartner study indicating that a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds. Even in these days of ubiquitous security cameras, it's still pretty easy for a thief to smash a window and grab a laptop from a home, car or office.
Arguably the only thing worse than a stolen laptop is knowing there's no way to get it back. After all, it's not like it can "phone home" to report its location.
Actually, with the right software installed, it can. Absolute Home & Office (formerly LoJack for Laptops), for example, can track a stolen system, but this enviable capability costs $15-$60 per year depending on which subscription option you choose.
Track your laptop for free
Thankfully, there's a cheaper alternative: LockItTight, a laptop-recovery utility and service you can get for as little as zero dollars. It's a surprisingly capable solution, and although it won't actually deter a thief, it's one of those tools that's definitely worth having.
Like similar recovery solutions, LockItTight runs a small background client that stays more or less dormant until activated remotely. In other words, if you sign into your account from another PC, you can see your lost or stolen laptop's location on a map and get alerted when it goes in and out of designated zones. You can also capture a screenshot, webcam photo (busted, thief!), keystroke log, browser history and so on.
Needless to say, all this is predicated on your laptop being connected to the Internet. If a thief merely fences the system without first turning it on and connecting to Wi-Fi, LockItTight probably won't do you any good. Similarly, if you password-protect your laptop, which you probably should, there's little chance it can connect to Wi-Fi to report its location. But, as I said earlier, it's worth having because without it, your chances of recovery are much closer to zero.
LockItTight offers four different pricing plans, but I suspect most users will be perfectly happy with the surprisingly free one. It allows you to track up to five devices, including laptops, Chromebooks, iPhones ($699 at Amazon) and Android phones -- though the latter two obviously have their own tracking options courtesy of Apple and Google.
Upgrading to Standard, Premium or Ultimate really only nets you an increase in the number of saved reports and how frequently they're produced. If your chief goal is simply tracking, I definitely recommend starting with the free version. You should also check out Prey, a similar service that offers free protection for up to three devices (Mac and Linux laptops among them).
I'm not saying LockItTight, Prey or any other tracking system will guarantee recovery of your stolen laptop. I'm saying one of them is worth having because they work as advertised and cost nothing. Your thoughts?
Note: Originally published earlier. Updated to reflect various changes.