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Apple Businesses

Mac Thief Caught Thanks To Applescript & Timbuktu 367

el.cerrito.slasher sent in an amusing bit found on MacSlash. This story is a tale of a stolen iMac that just happened to be running Timbuktu (a remote control program like VNC I believe). Well the stolen box kept getting used, and the owner was able to track it down through a variety of amusing Timbuktu Fu. Funny story.
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Mac Thief Caught Thanks To Applescript & Timbuktu

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  • by athagon ( 410963 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:16AM (#2893448) Homepage
    What a brilliant idea. AppleScript - although simplistic and arcane - obviously has some uses. Forget getting the iTunes song or FTPing files, here comes the Timbuktu/AppleScript remote-disk-erase squad! ^_^
    • simplistic and arcane? do you prefer to speak to your friends in quadratic equations rather than English then? maybe you just speak Klingon
    • by gazbo ( 517111 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @07:09AM (#2893567)
      set AppleScript's text item delimiters to {""}

      Yikes! That is some urglee code. I mean come on, since when has code used a possessive apostrophe? It's just......wrong.

      I'll grant it's wonderfully readable, but in people's experience, is it actually easy to write? I can imagine having difficulty remembering all of the exact 'easy-to-use' identifiers. Also, in some cases it seemed to match good grammar, whereas in other cases parts of verbs, plurals etc. were not used correctly. Is there a set of special cases you have to remember or what?
      • by Alan Partridge ( 516639 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @07:24AM (#2893587) Journal
        AppleScript is UNBELEIVABLY easy to write. If you have any kind of logic in your soul and speak English, you can automate your plastic pal to death. We actually run our business on .as, it's just great to have a script that runs when you drop a video capure file on a folder, runs Cleaner to compress it, BBEdit to knock up some HTML, DeBabelizer to cobble together some GIF thumbnails, Fetch to upload it and IE to spring open to look at the site. All while preparing coffee or beating the crap out of some guards in Oni.
        • by smagoun ( 546733 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @09:50AM (#2893890) Homepage
          Not only is Applescript unbelievably easy to write, it's easy to execute, too - drop an Applescript or three into the "Speakable Items" folder on the Mac, and your Applescripts are suddenly voice commands for your computer. This brings you a long way toward full voice command of your computer, depending on what you need.

          "Computer, update website" (computer executes the 'update website' applescript, which would probably be very similar to the parent post's Applescript"

          Since Applescript is easy, powerful, and voice-activated like this, you can do some amazing stuff on the mac with very little effort. It impresses the hell out of other people, too.

          (FWIW, the PC emulator VirtualPC is Applescriptable - you can have a LOT of fun with that: imagine the above Applescript, but add the part where the script fires up VirtualPC and loads your webpage in IE for Windows to make sure it looks good on that platform too. All this while you're playing Oni)

      • by Morth ( 322218 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @07:25AM (#2893588)
        Yikes! That is some urglee code. I mean come on, since when has code used a possessive apostrophe?

        Since AppleScript was invented, obviously. (90-91?)
        IIRC, set text item delimiters of AppleScript to {":"} works just as well. It's the versatility and its way of knowing where to put parentheses that makes AppleScript easy.

      • Yeah AppleScript can be more basic than BASIC. Of course no self-respecting programmer would ever code in applscript, not even to see what it was like. Why anyone would like to code like this when they can use more cryptic languages like perl or haskall is beyond me.

        The scary thing is I'm not sure if I'm being sarcastic or not at this point.
        • nzhavok wrote:

          > Of course no self-respecting programmer would ever code in
          > applscript, not even to see what it was like. Why anyone would like to
          > code like this when they can use more cryptic languages like perl or
          > haskall is beyond me.
          > The scary thing is I'm not sure if I'm being sarcastic or not at this
          > point.

          Well, in case you are not being sarcastic, and for the benefit of those who seriously believe the above quote: AppleScript is not a programming language for serious applications. It is a macro language, for everybody to use. The thing that AppleScript does (and what computers were designed for) is to automate repetitive tasks. It isn't just for coding either. You can push the old record button, and record your actions as AppleScript. You can then use the recorded script as the start of your own script, customizing it easily, because it is easy to understand. AppleScript is there so graphics professionals, video professionals, scientists, etc. can automate their work and make their jobs easier and more productive.

          Apple has released AppleScript Studio for OS X, which allows one to create real applications with the Aqua GUI in AppleScript. While this is nice for entering data for and controlling your AppleScript, you are still not going to see a lot of software on the store shelves written in AppleScript. AppleScript Studio is to AppleScript what Perl/Tk is to Perl.

          Though it would be nice if we had a Cocoa/Perl wrapper thingie to let us write Perl apps for Aqua.

          OS X: the Apple of Mothra's Aqua eye.
      • by melatonin ( 443194 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @11:43AM (#2894470)
        Yikes! That is some urglee code. I mean come on, since when has code used a possessive apostrophe? It's just......wrong.

        Uh, no, it just makes sense. Possessive apostrophes are awesome for programming languages.


        foo's bar()
        bar() of foo

        It's a hell of a lot easier to type.



        It's not wrong, it makes sense. Just try typing those lines of code there. I wish more programming languages used it.

        And ya, it's very easy to write. That is, once you understand that it is a programming language which has its own way of forming meaningful statements, so that something that makes sense in English doesn't necessarily mean it will make sense to AppleScript :)

        AS is best for making objects from different programs work together. It's a solution to the interoperability problem. Each program can describe itself with verbs and nouns, and AppleScript's syntax is very good at mashing those things from different programs together.

        It's not so great for coding intense algorithms, as it tends to be verbose.

        set foo to 5
        foo = 5

        When you do have to make programs talk to each other, AS makes wonderful glue. AS is intended to exploit logic in other code, so rather than running awk/sed to munge my text, or use the language's text manipulation expressions (as you would in Perl), I'll get BBEdit to open the text file, and use all it's insanely powerful multi-file regex features. Apps in OS X are supposed to support opening files and doing operations on them without presenting a user interface specifically for this purpose.

        No need for CORBA to solve those problems :P

        • Thanks for your response, it was enlightening (for those of you who got the wrong idea, I really was looking for comments about writeability, and not just starting a flamewar)

          In fact, although it seems a little 'ungodly' I can see the appeal of the apostrophe to refer to a member variable. Of course, this would likely not work in C++ as the -> and . operator mean different things, so could not just be replaced. I can see how it would work nicely in Java however (*slap* Java uses . not -> there is no need for a pointer dereferencing operator in Java because of its pointer model)

          Not too sure about using it to reference array elements though, it loses some of its English semantics, and there is a lot to be said for having one operator to do one thing.

          I guess the most enlightening part of the response was about using it for interoperability. I guess you're right, it makes perfect sense for that; after spending the last week doing efficiency hacking, I was looking at the code from the wrong viewpoint ;) On a second look, I particularly like the line:
          tell application "Finder"
          Nice way to bring apps into context.

          Anyway, enough rambling, but thanks for the info.
          NB. I'll stick with bash for now...
          • Not too sure about using it to reference array elements though, it loses some of its English semantics, and there is a lot to be said for having one operator to do one thing.

            Actually, that example was from WebSiphon, not AppleScript. I was trying to show its use in another language.

            In AppleScript, you'd use 'item 3 of myArray', which again, is verbose. "myArray's item 3' would probably work as well, which isn't as bad. I actually find it easier to type English words than to hit odd keys on the keyboard. It wasn't always that way, and I remember back then I'd type English very slowly :P

            It'd be great if programmers had their own keyboards with their own key layout :)

      • I'll grant it's wonderfully readable, but in people's experience, is it actually easy to write?

        It takes some getting used to, but AppleScript is extremely powerful. Scriptable applications written by competent authors/companies include a dictionary of all the scriptable terms/objects/etc so you have a ready reference.

        I few months ago I wrote an AppleScript CGI that duplicated the functionality of Outlook Web Access, but pulled the mail from the copy of Microsoft Entourage [] (not the OS X version) on my Mac at home.

        I did this mostly just because I was bored one day at work. It worked very well during testing with a copy of Entourage with only a few dummy messages scattered around, but unfortunately any decent amount of mail (like that contained on my Mac at home) would bring timeouts galore because it took too long to parse the mail folders and generate the pages. I dropped the project, but kept the code because it had a lot of useful functions I might need again someday. It was also pretty portable-- in less than two hours, I made two more versions of the CGI that worked with Claris Emailer and Outlook Express to see if things would work better, but they didn't.

  • by bildstorm ( 129924 ) <peter@buchy.shh@fi> on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:33AM (#2893483) Homepage Journal

    Personally, I'm slightly security paranoid, but I don't believe that anyone who steals my machine is going to care what's on it, but more likely swap drives. Ok, that's what I'd do, at least.

    But, looking at this, I'd love to have something like this running. Are they any current security programs that do things like this? I would need it for Windows and Linux.

    Now if only I could have it run in the BIOS. Imagine if on the bios level, without a proper key or password or whatever, if the hard drive was removed and replaced, it would then call a panic number whenever connected. That'd be neat.

    • by MaxH01 ( 415822 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:47AM (#2893515)
      Isn't that what Windows XP does - except it phones Bill Gates?
    • My Compaq persario 800 (dual Ppro) does just this anytime it is rebooted. In the lovely bios that they put on 4 boot floppies which means it takes forever to do anything.
    • A better idea; if the bios password entered was wrong, let the user in but have a tiny program chilling in the bios that would wait for a network connection and send out some data from there.

      A few problems with this? Firewalls could easily stop it, although sending out the data on a common port like 80 would probably solve that. Also, just like a modem, a network card can be unplugged.

      Ugh, this is starting to sound like an Outlook virus ;)

      • by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @08:07AM (#2893647)
        Don't bother with BIOS Passwords - that would require a bios hack, to say the least.

        The boot sector is replaced with a BSD style boot selector, set to boot from the "stolen" partition by default (ie if you are using the machine yourself, you select BSD or Windows - thief has 5 secs to figure out what is wrong, and cant, so gets default behaviour.

        After the initial boot sector process, control passes to a next stage, "Stolen" ... This displays a message "Unable to start Windows ... perhaps modem cable is not connected to the phone? ... Please connect cable to phone, and press return"

        The average thief will understand this, and connect the phone cable. The real owner would press CTL-ALT-DEL.

        When the thief connects the cable and presses "enter" the phone dials the owner, his mates, his mobile, his dog, cat, ma, pa, and the 911, 999 (in case its in Europe), FPI's private number, SWAT, the US Marines, Bin Laden, the Mafia hit-man hot line, and that number the Gas Company reserves for reporting leaking gas mains.

        Not only that, the boot sequence will auto-hack so this is the ONLY boot option, and disable CTL-ALT-DEL. The dialling sequence will repeat till the battery runs out.

        Someone will be pissed enough to find out who owns the unlisted number and send the boys with big sticks round for a visit.

        • That sounds like an ok idea. I think if I did that to any of my machines I'd have to go bail my wife out of jail every night.
        • Hmm. If you have a voice modem it wouldn't be too hard to just call 911 and play an audio file "This computer was stolen, blah blah blah" through the modem. Don't forget the AT command to turn off the speaker first.
    • by athmanb ( 100367 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @07:20AM (#2893577)
      Rule Nr. 1 in criminology: 95% of criminals are idiots. If they weren't, they would risk a year long jail term e.g. by robbing a liquor store for 100$.

      You would be smart enough to swap hard drives to evade detection, but you'd also be smart enough to not steal a computer...
      • "Rule Nr. 1 in criminology: 95% of criminals are idiots. If they weren't, they would risk a year long jail term e.g. by robbing a liquor store for 100$."

        Except for the basic problem that punishment doesn't work as a deterrant if it's not consistent.

        Take speeding for example - which we can all relate to. You do ten miles an hour over and get a ticket for $75 one time in a thousand. You're still going to speed.

        If you got a $1000 fine for speeding one time in a thousand, you'd still do it because you'll never be that unlucky. If you do get caught, you'll just complain about how unfair it was that the other 999 guys get away and why should you be punished so disproportionately.

        With most 'criminal' actions, the belief is that you won't get caught. You need to up the frequency of the consequences, not the amount. The down side of that is that's a near impossible thing to do.

        • by Courageous ( 228506 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @03:03PM (#2896031)
          With most 'criminal' actions, the belief is that you won't get caught.

          An apt insight. If you were to take a look at the mind of a developing criminal, you will often find someone who, after one or two several nervous crimes, discovers that getting caught is actually indeed quite rare. After this discovery, they become increasingly brazen, disregarding basic precaution. This is how most criminals actually get caught.

    • but I don't believe that anyone who steals my machine is going to care what's on it

      Well I'm sure plenty of people would want my massive pr0n collection ;-)

      Are they any current security programs that do things like this?

      Well I looked into this last year when I was flatting with 5 new people. It's not that I didn't trust my roommates but when flatting with so many people they're bound to at least have a couple of pretty dodgy friends amoung them.
      Linux is pretty straightforward, I mean if your using a dial out you can just use pppup to launch a script to mail you when they're online or whatever.
      Problem is most theives aren't likely to be able to pring up ppp on my box, oh well.
      For windows I don't know. But it shouldn't be too hard to set something up like this, even modify back-oriface 2k or something to give you the functionality you need.
      In the end I decided the best way to do this was to get a prepaid cellphone with GPS (charged by the 5v line with a regulator), have it send an SMS message every day or so. The benefit is it doesn't matter if the machine is dial up/lan, or even if it's not used by the theives. Of course the problem with this system is a GPS cell phone isn't cheap.
    • by Graff ( 532189 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @11:31AM (#2894399)
      Now if only I could have it run in the BIOS. Imagine if on the bios level, without a proper key or password or whatever, if the hard drive was removed and replaced, it would then call a panic number whenever connected. That'd be neat.

      Actually you can most likely do that on a Mac. All of the Macs in the past 5 - 8 years use a BIOS-like system called called Open Firmware. Open Firmware basically sets up the machine to load up the operating system and it does other initialization tasks. It is also used by some other computer manufacturers as it is an open standard.

      The neat thing about Open Firmware is that it is programmable. It is written in Forth and you can write additions to it and install them. These additions are persistent across power-downs and can be password protected. So it is possible that you can write some sort of network notification into Open Firmware, I do know that it is aware of TCP and such because you can remotely operate the machine if it crashes in open firmware and you can also use Open Firmware to network boot the machine.

      The other cool thing about Open Firmware is that you can set it to require a password at boot. If the password is not entered then the machine will not load ANY drive. This password is much harder to disable than an operating system password or hard drive password lock, although there are a few obscure and involved ways of bypassing it if you are extremely familiar with the system.

      This page [] has some good links on Open Firmware. This site [] is hosted by Sun and has a ton of very specific and detailed information on Open Firmware. And lastly, Open Firmware is the only firmware standard in existence to have its own song []!

    • You would swap drives, yes. But you aren't a thief.

      But your average guy who stole the computer to make a quick buck won't.. and neither will the schmuck who bought it from him.

      Several companies sell packages for the PC that are theft-detection packages. Very low-level virus-like things that are internet aware, etc.
    • While there's really no way of embedding this in the BIOS, you could wipe the BIOS if the user selects the wrong boot-manager selection... You'd need a new one if you ever got it back, but I suppose you could simply claim that they broke it and add it to the damages. :)

      But there are a lot of ways to catch someone like this if you can simply upload and execute scripts. Many FTP servers allow this even (with the right account and directory location...)

      Some ideas on catching the crook...

      If you know the telco test #s in your area you could have the stolen computer call you, hook-flash, dial that number, and hook-flash back, three-way calling you with the "Your # is ..." line.

      Or it could call you, then call an operator. You (pretending to be the calling party) say "Excuse me, I'm working on a junction box here with ten lines, can you please tell me which # I'm calling from." Identify yourself as telco staff if necessary.

      And if you need to get the house searched, do the same thing with 911... Call the offenders earlier that day in the guise of doing a survey and find out a bit about them. (Almost anyone will stay on for a survey if you offer rewards.) Then call 911 and say "I'm (son/roommate), my (father/roommate/lover) has a gun and is threatening to shoot me because I (...)" and they'll send a few cops over to kick the door in and potentially see illegal stuff going on.

      If you don't want this traced back to you, have the script call either a disposable cell phone or a pay-phone at a predetermined time. (Be sure to check that their system time is correct, maybe with AtomTime or something...)

      But once you get the computer back, continue torturing these people, finally a target who deserves anything you can do to them.
  • by Tony.Tang ( 164961 ) <slashdot AT sleek DOT hn DOT org> on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:34AM (#2893486) Homepage Journal
    For those of you who got a real kick out of this thing, you may want to read Cuckoo's Egg []. Cuckoo's Egg is a little older (he talks about using the teletype), and follows a real life story of an admin who went and tracked a bad hacker (or thief? -- sorry it's been a while). It has the same sort of "you out-think me, i'll out-think you!" back and forth flavour to it. Give it a read, you won't be disappointed.
  • Neat! But . . . (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:39AM (#2893497)
    All it would take to permanently disable this sort of thing would be to format the hard drive and reinstall the OS. And that would be very likely to happen on a Linux box. I mean seriously, how many thieves are going to be willing to sit and work at a Linux box till they come up with a valid Username/Password combo?

    With a Windows box, on the other hand, you could easily write a program to verify the computer's IP address at boot time, and if it doesn't match, send an email to you reporting the unusual IP address and any other useful info you can think of. At each boot thereafter (common with Windows, of course) it checks a particular file on a particular server for instructions on what else to do, such as activating auto-destruct. That way you never auto-destruct your own computer by accident, since it requires permission first.

    If you were particularly ambitious, you could have it activate a keystroke logger and email the recorded info to you each time it boots.
    • Re:Neat! But . . . (Score:3, Interesting)

      by alexburke ( 119254 )
      Problem solved:
      LILO boot: linux -s

      To be precise, that should be whatever the name of the image is, followed by '-s'. You can hit TAB to view a list of images.

      Now, if whoever installed Linux locked down lilo as well (with the restricted keyword in /etc/lilo.conf), then this won't work without a password. But a lot of Linux installs I've sat in front of are open to this...
    • Now if G.Bush could just get a certain Saudi to steal his computer...
    • Re:Neat! But . . . (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Triv ( 181010 )
      no offense mate, but I think you're reading into this a little too deeply. A parable for you - how many car theifs take their newly acquired goods around town for a spin? Not many - if they do, they're idiots. No, the first thing they do is get it to a chop shop as soon as humanly possible to be sold for parts. The parts themselves are worth much more than the car as a whole. Some guy who steals your computer doesn't care what you're running or what your password is - he cares how large (and popular) your HD is and if the cd-rom's a dvd too. It's not about the machine, it's about the total income derived from selling all the parts. You could be running Basic for all he cares; if it spins or hums or whatever he can sell it. Triv
  • by nizo ( 81281 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:39AM (#2893498) Homepage Journal
    Now if only there was a way to remotely electrocute the current machine's user when they touched the keyboard (this feature might be useful in a day to day network environment as well).
  • by wildcard023 ( 184139 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:42AM (#2893507) Homepage
    I had flashbacks to reading "The Cuckoo's Egg" while reading this transcription. Does anyone else remember reading the commands listed in the book and quickly running over to a unix box to play?

    Honestly, I'm not -too- surprised that this happened. My machine runs:

    /bin/date | mail
    /sbin/ifconfig -a | mail

    (Running dyndns would be interesting also.)

    on bootup. I originally did this so that I could keep track of my box and identify when it went down and what the current IP was so I could ssh in and look around more comprehensively, although it has crossed my mind that if my machine were to get stolen it might report back to me where it was. I'd happy to see that it's worked out at least once for someone.

    Most ISPS keep logs of usernames and passwords on certain ips (especially if they're static/near static as in a cable modem or dsl connection). From there, it's fairly easy for the ISP for connect that back to a real name.

    I'd be very intrested to see if this is enough information to get a search warrent.
    • My machine runs:
      /bin/date | mail
      /sbin/ifconfig -a | mail has crossed my mind that if my machine were to get stolen it might report back to me where it was. I'd happy to see that it's worked out at least once for someone.
      Except that they'd switch it off when thay saw the Linux boot sequence, reformat it, and put Windoze on it. Not many computer thieves are L1nux h4x0rz, I guess.
  • by rleyton ( 14248 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:45AM (#2893510) Homepage
    The article doesn't say the thief was caught. To quote the guy himself: "So the conclusion to the story is: iMac and Lexmark printer recovered, one female pled out to possession of stolen property and got a year's probation.".

    Possession of stolen property is very different to theft. She claims to have bought the imac from "some guy". Ok, she might be complicit, but we won't ever know.
    • Sounds like the police must've come up with some good info linking her to the actual theft if she "pled out" to possession of stolen property, especially considering they initially wouldn't even pursue the possession charge. For such a fairly small crime, it wouldn't be uncommon for the actual thief to strike a deal for lesser charges.
  • From the "Have you ever flashy-thinged me? Kay? I ain't playin'. Have you ever flashy-thinged me?" department:

    In related news, the FBI has announced that its stealthy "Magic Lantern" program is officially being launched under the name "fbiJack."

    "This guy got lucky, but how 'bout you, Slick?" taunted Special Agent Kay. "Wouldn't you feel better knowing that fbiJack is running on your machine? You can pick up an installer disk at any U.S. Post Office or download it from"

  • Mac Thief (Score:3, Funny)

    by flumps ( 240328 ) <matt.corby@gmai l . com> on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:54AM (#2893529) Homepage
    I thought that his name was Hamburgler, not Mac Thief...

    Oh THAT kind of Mac.

  • Very nice... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Eythian ( 552130 )
    This is quite a bit fancier than putting "logout" in someones .login when they leave their terminal unguarded.

    The problem with doing something like this under a system requiring user accounts is that once the person discovers that they can't just turn it on and get a point-and-drool interface, they'll erase it and start from scratch. Perhaps if you wanted something like this (and had a bit of technical skill) you could have it boot from a small partition (I mean, how many users know much about that?) that checks to see if what its booting into is what it should be (ie has windows been installed where linux should be), and if so alters something on that OS to make it phone home (obviously, something different for every OS that may be installed would have to be done, but this is hypothetical), and then proceeds to boot the new OS normally.

    In the case of many Linux machines on dialups with a dedicated phone line, they are told to dialup on boot anyway, so that would give you some oppertunity to trace it, by checking the number that it is calling from. However, that is assuming that someone sets everything up, including the modem cable, before turning it on the first time.

    On another note, how come erasing everything didn't remove Timbuktu? Does it live in the System Folder only?
  • ...why Windows XP is frequently calling "home" :-)
  • praise osx (Score:4, Interesting)

    by banky ( 9941 ) <> on Thursday January 24, 2002 @06:55AM (#2893533) Homepage Journal
    Now instead of all that freaky AppleScript, the payload of the script is a simple
    sudo rm -rf /

    Applescript is my least favorite part of Macs. (shudder). it's nice to be able to integrate shell scripts as AppleScript now; just wrap the entire shell script in a single line of Applescript.
  • lamers (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @07:20AM (#2893578)

    If you were really serious about inflicting pain, how about:

    setting up one of those $125 per call phone lines in the bahamas and then having the imac call it every 2 minutes...

    repeatedly call 911 and play recorded message: "help! I've fallen and I can't get up!" over and over again

    install a keylogger so you can post their most intimate conversations on your website.

    those are just a few ideas that have popped in my head.. Hell, you could do that with VB email virii and make a mint with the first one...
    • Re:lamers (Score:5, Funny)

      by buckrogers ( 136562 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @07:44AM (#2893610) Homepage
      I like your idea of having the iMac call the 900 number for cash. If it called enough times you could buy a brand new computer.

      I'm thinking that you need to turn off the speakers, turn off the modem sound and if there has been no activity for a few hours, at 4am have the system call that $125 number about 20 times in just a few hours.

      With this scheme you could sell reconditioned iMacs setup with this software out of the back of a van for about $100 apeice and just sit back and rake in the cash. The people who bought what they thought was stollen property will never say a word as long as you only ripped them off for a couple of thousand dollars.

      So, people, if you buy computers from the back of a van, don't complain when you get ripped off. :) You were warned!
    • Re:lamers (Score:5, Funny)

      by petej ( 36394 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @10:11AM (#2893949)
      "Hello, Miss Cleo? My name is Eliza."
    • Re:lamers (Score:3, Funny)

      by shotfeel ( 235240 )
      Nah, if you really want to be cruel, add a few lines to the script to have it fire up iTunes and play through your music library repeatedly with visual effects on at full screen. Anyone with a lower than average IQ will be mesmerized, entering a catatonic state, and eventually starve to death.
    • It would be interesting to test the legal ramifications of something like this. If I set up MY computer to call a 1-900 number that I own, and set it to do so automatically unless I manually disable it, that is perfectly legal.

      If someone steals my computer and runs up their phone bill as a result, is this really my problem?
      In one case, its an attempt to preemptively defraud someone who defrauded you, but on the other hand, its someone illegally using your property in such a way that happens to benefit you.

      Its certainly an interesting twist on an insurance policy. If stolen, the thief will automatically reimburse you for the computer. :)

      And set it so the effect is negligible, say $15-20 a month, and you could probably milk it for a LONG time.

      Now, selling computers with the implication they're stolen with intent to defraud in this manner would NOT be legal, so I don't recommend it.

  • Record 'em! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @07:31AM (#2893596) Homepage
    Recovering the iMac at all is very cool. Every PC and Mac should have some "phone home" program installed; I bet most stolen computers aren't wiped. Anyone buying a Mac/PC on the super-cheap, is unlikely to buy or dig up a copy of the OS to start fresh.

    The lack of a prosecution for the theft is disappointing. (As someone who has had their place robbed twice in the past two years, I find the low capture/prosecution rates depressing; it just doesn't seem to be a priority with law enforcement. Sigh. Oh well, if anyone tries to hit me again, they'll be on candid camera :-)

    What might also have been cool, would be to use AppleScript to flip on the microphone, record the sound in the room, and send the recordings now and then, when connected. (Or use AppleScript to download a program that does the same; I don't know AppleScript.) That would potentially allow more "evidence" to be collected. If the lady didn't steal it, there's a chance you'd record something that would be useful. (Her thanking her brother-in-law for the Mac, or the like.) Having the Mac copy you on all incoming and outgoing mail may also be useful. (Not sure if the Mac could do it; Outlook almost does this by itself, with all the viruses it accepts :-)

    Probably not admissible in court, I guess. Although using a stolen device for surveillance really *should* be a legal means of admissible evidence, in a perfect world :-)

    • Re:Record 'em! (Score:4, Informative)

      by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @01:14PM (#2895168)
      " ... Probably not admissible in court, I guess. Although using a stolen device for surveillance really *should* be a legal means of admissible evidence, in a perfect world :-) ..."

      I'm not so sure it wouldn't be admissable in court. Unauthorized taps are illegal in some, but not all jurisdictions. Also, illegaly obtained evidence is admissible under some conditions; in particular when the illegal evidence is obtained by someone who is NOT a police officer, etc.

      Finally, consider this: if you use the phone or use the bathroom, this is an illegal tap. Phones are not recorders and bathrooms are not cameras, there is an expectation of privacy. But a computer can be and is an audio and video recording device, as well as a network data collector. Many computers have built-in microphones and network devices; no reasonable person should assume they don't work. In other words, there is no expectation of privacy; especially if the lawful owner has configured it to act as a remote device.

      I'm sure the laywers will eventually hash this out, but I can assure you the evidence would be admissible in my jursdiction; legal or not, because I am not a cop.
    • record the sound in the room, and send the recordings now and then

      Make sure and start recording as your suicide script runs, so you can entertain yourself and your other BOFH friends again and again by listening to the thief's exclamations of surprise, disbelief, and outrage, as file start disappearing...

      The script could also monitor files in the pr0n collection and to record while any are opened. You can then post these recordings on the internet: "Thief wanks to stolen pr0n on my stolen Mac!" I'd suggest that you use a webcam, too, if available, but the chances are better that you'd wish you hadn't recorded video.

    • If the computer is legally yours, and it is even if it is stolen, then any evidence you collect with it in or out of your possession does not make that evidence illegal. If I have a camcorder set up in my house and it records someone breaking in, I can take that tape to the police and it is legal evidence. If the thief steals that camcorder, uses it, and later that camcorder is recovered, the tape can STILL be used as evidence.

      I currently have winamp broadcasting from the mic on my computer at 24kbps to an icecast server on a fixed ip. Granted, this is intentional, and its also rather obvious, but if something like this was more covert, it would probably run safely in the background and nobody using the computer would ever know. The upstream would be a bit slow if they're on a modem, but I don't see any other downsides. I can easily record the stream at the server side and have a 24/7 (as long as the computer is on) audio stream of whats going on there.

      Now if only I can get them to steal the webcam too... hmmmmmm

  • This reminds me.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sawilson ( 317999 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @08:48AM (#2893694) Homepage
    Of an admin legend I heard once about an overzealous equipment cage guy that spent years doing tcpdumps scanning for the mac addresses that belonged to a shipment of missing ethernet cards, and eventually caught the guy that did it. Anybody ever heard that one?
  • by b1t r0t ( 216468 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @09:36AM (#2893837)
    Back in the late '80s, a friend of mine had one of the first Apple HD-20 hard drives. At a user group meeting someone stole the computer and hard drive. But not the boot disk. See, this wierd hard drive hooked up to the floppy port, and until the 512e/Mac Plus ROM, you had to have a special boot disk which contained a replacement floppy driver to use it.

    So he called up all the places in town that sold Macs (all two or three of them) and waited. Sure enough the idiot kid shows up at a store asking about an HD-20 boot disk. Snagged!

    The difference now is that the internet is everywhere, and it's now possible to have the computer "phone home".

  • I once had an older Mac Powerbook (520c) that I kinda left, uncased, on the top of my car and drove around for hours before I figured out what happened. Naturally I expected it to be, if found, completely trashed from falling off my car but searching for it returned no results.

    So I placed a Lost and Found ad with a Reward, and sure enough a couple days later this kind person calls me to say they found the laptop.

    The people who found it said they watched it fall off my car on the highway and stopped to pick it up. The amazing thing was that the only damage to the Powerbook was the floppy drive and a scuffed case (battle scars.)

    Unfortunately, the people who rescued my mac weren't mac users. Actually I don't think they were computer users at all as it seemed the only thing they were capable of was changing the names of all the files on the desktop to variations of :aaasjkdfl;jjj, including the hard disk:fhhdks;jasdfjjh. And that's what really would've been nice, a form of nag-ware that ran when powered up saying: to whom it belonged, and how a reward for return would be paid, etc. And maybe an applescript to auto-dial the modem to my home phone. Then at least I'd have a chance of caller-id picking up!


  • Windows-based mailer (Score:4, Informative)

    by pilsen ( 551725 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @11:27AM (#2894361)
    What I did on my Windows machine to record the IP address was use a *very* simple set of tools.
    1. I wrote a one-line .bat file, which runs and ends very quickly at startup:
    ipconfig > c:\windows\system32\ip_ADDR_resolv.sys
    to make it look like a system file. All it is really is an output of my local IP address.
    2. I used the free StealthMailer program at: to mail my .sys file to my hotmail account. And it does so periodically.
    3. For added cool, you can use low-level key-logging software [] and mail out everything that use types and mail it to yourself. Cost is about $79/license.
    You can't beat that for peace of mind.
  • Very Sad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smack_attack ( 171144 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @12:12PM (#2894669) Homepage
    This just exacerbates the problems with the current police system. Cops would much rather sit by the side of the freeway eating a donut, drinking some coffee and pointing a fucking radar gun at your car. God forbid they actually help people out in recovering stolen property, that has to be done by the individual these days.

    Why is that? Is it because traffic citations are easy and gain them money? Is it because they can bust someone for possession of a "controlled" substance and also get forfeiture of property? Is it because law enforcement is just lazy when it comes to going after real criminals who leave behind real victims because it's not economically viable?

    I'll let you decide.
    • Right (not) (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mikey504 ( 464225 )
      Flushed with a sense of accomplishment from landing a cushy job getting cussed at, spit on, and occasionally having to duck bullets for the princely sum of $18,000/year, these guys really get off on standing in the rain writing tickets.

      More likely it is because ticket revenue makes up a large portion of most department's annual budget, so it's more like, "If you want a new bullet proof vest you better get out there and write daddy some tickets like a good little bitch." It is inconceivable to me that these guys actually have ticket quotas. Does that mean we aren't doing our job as a citizen if we don't occasionally get caught speeding so we can pay our "supplemental taxes"?

      Don't hate the cops-- hate the administration that wastes all your tax money and police resources on the "war on drugs", and forces officers to whore in the streets for money to shore up budget holes that are left behind as a result.

      Hate the "police state" if you want, but try to remember that cops are people too, and a lot of them hate their jobs and bosses as much as you hate yours, only they are hating theirs for less money with a much greater risk of injury or death in most cases.

      My dad was a police officer for a while, and he used to tell me, "Cops are people, just like everyone else. The problem is that for what they are paying, you tend to get two kinds of candidates: starry-eyed idealists naieve enough to think they can "make a difference", and people who couldn't find a job doing anything else." Unfortunately there is a shortage of the first kind. Feel free to sign up if you would like to offer your intelligence and talents to serving the community for little or no compensation.

      When I told him I was thinking about becoming a police officer he told me, "Son, if you have any involvement with law enforcement it better be from the other side. You will make a hell of a lot more money, and people will respect you more. If that doesn't help you make up your mind know that I would rather shoot you myself than hear someone else shot you."

      I think most of what is wrong with police services today comes from the top down more than the bottom up. Even granted that you aren't working with the best and brightest most of the time, if the administration pointed them in the right direction and focused on the right things we would al be happier, officers included.
      • My dad was a cop at one point in his life as well. Funny thing is that it was the only place that would hire him after he came back from Vietnam. He's an ethical man and I'm sure he wasn't some asshole who loved to bust jaywalkers and stoners.

        My beef is not with cops. It's with the mindset of police administrations who think they need to run their district like a corporation. We don't need that kind of mentality. Law enforcement should not be a profitable organization. There shouldn't be little charts everywhere saying how many criminals they busted each year. And they should be preventive. DARE is a good initiative, I don't agree with some of what they teach and I feel they should be much more objective, but it's a step in a good direction.

        Motorcycle cops should be abolished, plain and simple. Their only justification for existence is to make money from tickets and that's just plain wrong. If they really wanted to stop speeding, they would put photo-radar at ever mile marker. The current form of selective enforcement does little more than solidify the belief that they are doing it for the money rather than for my safety.

        I'll stop this rant now because it doesn't solve anything. I'm much better off voting these fuckers out of office and putting some ethical people with common sense in there.
    • recovering stolen po[roperty is very tricky thing to do. It is very hard to get enough evidence for a warrant, you are almost always forced to rely on peoples memory, and there are very easy lies to tell that get you off the hook.
      I call you up and say "somebody robbed me"
      you have to take on face value that
      a)I was robbed
      b)I was robbed of the things I report

      You get caught with stolen material, espcially small thing under 3000 dollars where this is a large "grey" market it become next to impossible to do something, even if you had all the man power to do so.

      Sure, there are a lot of problems with law enforcement administration, but there are other issue as well.
  • by MsGeek ( 162936 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @12:30PM (#2894809) Homepage Journal
    ...the security implications of this "suicide script". I can easily see someone taking this applescript and tweaking it to create a really nasty trojan. Hope all you Mac users are either running a current version of an anti-virus proggie or have applescript disabled...
    • echo "Format c: /y" > "%USERPROFILE%\Start Menu\Programs\Startup\KillEverything.bat"

      Wow, it's a kill-all script for Windows. The only problem, like always, it getting it to the user.

      The good thing about mine is that it won't be caught by a virus scanner. It's stealthed!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 24, 2002 @01:03PM (#2895090)
    First you set the bios password. I know it can be removed, but thieves are idiots afterall and this might take them a good deal of time.

    If they get past that, and boot, they'll be confronted with a password prompt to mount your /home filesystem through the crypto loop back (you *do* mount your /home dir through the crypto loop device in Linux, right???). Obviously, they won't be able to guess this password (hell, my password to do this consists soley of 9 digits).

    So they will have to remove somehow repartition the drive and install another operating system. Can a thief do that too? This causes the thief precious time and effort... more and more the machine becomes a less interesting proposition.

    Between boot and trying to mount your sensitive crap in /home, a sweet little /etc/init.d/ script you made sends your IP address via email to you. Then you can SSH on in do whatever you like.

    BTW, I can't spel.
  • Privacy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by allenw ( 33234 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @01:03PM (#2895098) Homepage Journal
    Interesting story. But there is one part that has me a bit concerned:

    The Timbuktu extension that's installed on it posts a unique identifier to Netopia's IP Locator server ( whenever it connects to the internet.

    What about the privacy aspects of this? Sure, in this instance it worked out to be a good thing, but do you really want someone else to know where you are using their license? How is this different than Windows XP phone home? What -other- information is being transmitted to Netopia?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I went through this same drama last year when our company kept having our laptops stolen at night. Our instant messenger software quickly gave us the IP of the stolen laptops as soon as they were brought online. I called the police, Earthlink, AOL, and Netzero with exact call times and IP hoping for help. Didn't get ANY... police were very impatient, saying unless I could prove (via fingerprints, door busted open, etc) who stole them, they wouldn't do ANYTHING. ISPs said they wouldn't act without a subpoena.

    Moral of the story: Have it call home to a CallerID box- having just the IP won't get you anywhere.
  • Erase the HD... (Score:4, Informative)

    by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @01:42PM (#2895369)
    Some people have suggested a "real" thief would just erase the HD and start over. And, some might.
    But most thieves are dumb, or at least cheap; do you think they are going to erase PhotoShop, etc and go out and buy a copy, and then do that 20 or 50 more times? It isn't much use without apps.

    If you don't leave your SW about in an obvious place, they won't have an OS install CD (to boot an iMac or any Mac made since about 1996. A boot floppy is useless; most won't boot with System 7.1, which did fit on a floppy. And if your floppy collection is anything like most people's, there won't be a decent label on it anyway. x86 is, of course, different; boot floppies are pretty easy to come by and they work).

    Auto-dial 911 is A Bad Idea; they have enough trouble with users who can't figure out why the cellphone called 911 from a football game cuz the guy sat on it and it auto-dialed with "quick 911" enabled.

    A periodic eMail to your own account sounds good; there is plenty of evidence there and, properly done, it doesn't compromise your own security (or risk your own life w/electric keyboards... YIKES! -I don't trust any computer that far).
    • Re:Erase the HD... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by stud9920 ( 236753 )
      But most thieves are dumb, or at least cheap; do you think they are going to erase PhotoShop, etc and go out and buy a copy
      Of course, a mere little burglar only willing to break into your house, will NEVER dare to make an illegal copy of Photoshop, which is a capital offense.
  • by Restil ( 31903 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @02:53PM (#2895956) Homepage
    IANAL, but I have previous experience with issues like this as I used to sell used computers, and I didn't always purchase my stock from the most reputable sources.

    If you buy from a store, or from an auction, you're probably safe. But if you buy from an individual, especially from someone you don't know, you might want to do some sanity checks. First, check for serial numbers. If there aren't any, DON'T BUY IT. This can be tough if the computer was self assembled as some clone cases don't have serial numbers on them, but practically all OEM computers will.

    After purchasing it, WIPE IT. Reinstall the operating system from scratch at the very least. If you're a good samaritan, you might want do back up the system, especially if there seems to be any personal information on it. But you want the system itself to be clean.

    Take the serial number on the computer and any other equipment you bought, and report it to the police. Pawn shops do this all the time. First of all, if any equipment you report comes back stolen, you can't be prosecuted for possession of stolen property, even if you had a pretty good idea it was stolen. Secondly, I'm not sure about every state, but in Texas even if it IS reported stolen, you're still the rightful owner of it and its the responsibility of the original owner to prove in court that they are the rightful owner before being able to reclaim it. Pawn shops usually get around this by offering to return the equipment for the price they paid for it (which is generally a small fraction of what the equipment is really worth). In many cases the equipment is insured and the original owner would easier collect on the insurance rather than spend a couple years in court trying to get a computer back that by the time they finally get it would need to be replaced anyways.

    As for the lady in the article, it was probably one of those "look the other way" things. I'll get a good deal on a computer and I just won't pay attention to how I got it. If there was even the slight bit of legitimacy to her purchase she wouldn't have been so eagar to take a plea agreement.

  • by debiansierra ( 550297 ) on Thursday January 24, 2002 @03:49PM (#2896323) Homepage
    At our local geek store [], on the wall, is this running gag. This guy took an old case and filled it with cement (harder than you might think). Then he sets the 250lb beast on his front porch. He keeps a running log of movement and/or spottings of people trying to steal it. One time someone did steal it only to leave it in a ditch not 20 feet away. Later, he made a 350lb version of a working computer! He has detailed plans for doing this :). Personally, after driving by the place to see for myself, I can't imagine walking all the way across his yard, picking a computer off the porch, and walking back, in plain daylight with neighbors and all! But, no, the logs plainly show that people try this all the time. he should design a camera triggered by the case's movement to get the look on their faces when they try to pick it up >:).
  • I was thinking about this yesterday, actually.

    When I turn my Thinkpad on, it gives me a nice big IBM logo. What if one could replace that logo with a bitmap of some sort, that was password protected like BIOS passwords are? It could say "property of, gimme the thing back, etc etc" and would be completely impenetrable.

    The whole phone-home thing seems logical, but for those of us who use OS's that can't be accessed without a password (ie XP/WinNT/Win2k, assuming it's set up properly) the machine is going to NEED a reformat/reinstall before it's been swiped anyways. By the time someone got into my OS (so that a dialer could work) they would need my user pwd, which hopefully they wouldn't have.

    It would also be nice to see a machine *properly* support secure smartcards so that the machine would be useless (except for parts, no way around that) without it.

    Of course, I like the mini-tower-case-on-the-porch-stuffed-with-C4-and-a -remote-detonator as well.


To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus