How to Use Dropbox to Track and Locate Your Stolen Laptop
I recently had my iPhone stolen at public park and did everything I could to locate it, but with Find My iPhone disabled (I know, what an idiot) and no exact address to give to the police, I had about a .00000001 percent chance of getting it back.
Maybe if it was an Android phone that got stolen, I could have recovered it using Dropbox. Yep, you heard me. Having a hidden Dropbox app on your Android device can actually help you recover it later, if you're lucky.
But what about a laptop?
There are literally hundreds of iOS and Android apps that can help track our devices, but when it comes to bigger and more expensive laptops, the mobile security options shrink dramatically. Perhaps it's because laptops are more difficult to steal, but we all know that a thief can and will steal anything.
But thankfully, there is a small chance that Dropbox can you help you recover your lost or stolen laptop computer.
When you have Dropbox installed on your computer, it automatically turns on at startup and runs in the background (unless you disabled that option). That means if your computer thief turns on your laptop, you might be able to snag his/her IP address.
Just log in to your Dropbox account online and click on your name to open up the drop-down menu options. Select Settings and click on the Security tab. There you can see the devices linked to your account. Find the stolen laptop (if it's still there) and hover your mouse over the blue info icon next to Most Recent Activity.
How easy is that!
Well, it's not exactly as simple as the video makes it out to be. Anyone that has dealt with IP addresses knows that you cannot get an exact location unless you work for the CIA or guest star on "Homeland".
But now that you're equipped with the current IP address of that thieving ass, you do have a few more options in recovering your computer.
Once you have the IP address in hand, you're going to need to locate the IP signal ASAP. Thieves are like ninjas, they move very quickly and most likely won't be in one spot for too long. There are sites like GeoBytes or Live IP Map that can help give an approximate location using the IP address you obtained from Dropbox.
If you are good with maps, most of these sites give the longitude and latitude of the signal, making it a little more accurate. Keep in mind that a smart thief could spoof his or her IP address using a bunch of free hide my IP services.
I used my IP address at work with the GeoBytes site and got a pretty accurate location (about 2 miles off), as well as a bunch of other information.
While the map doesn't give an exact location like Find My iPhone does, this is a huge help for those of us that do not have any security apps on our laptops.
Armed with the useful information like the city where your laptop is and the longitude and latitude of the signal location, you are going to need some help.
Calling the police and giving them this information could make it much easier for them to find the thief. They in turn can call the internet service provider, but this would require a warrant, which would take some time. Unless the IP address the thief used is from his or her house, it would be useless within a few hours.
And remember, the police have much bigger things to deal with than locating a lost computer and can and most likely will blow you off. But if they do not, the information you provide can go a long way in helping them snag the punk that stole your computer.
If the 5-0 doesn't want to help you out, you can try and contact the ISP directly. Many of the IP locators mentioned above will give you the name of ISP, like Time Warner or Verizon.
You might want to brush up on your social engineering skills first, because you would need to be very very slick to get one of the service agents to give you an exact location of the IP address. But hey, stranger things have happened. Maybe a little smooth talk and flattering, or crying and explaining how you were robbed at gun point could sway them to help you out. But don't, hold your breath.
Yes, I know what you are thinking. You would have to be the dumbest, most idiotic thief in the world to do this. Yes, you would. But like I said, anything can happen.
If the culprit doesn't understand how Dropbox is linked to a user account (yours), they could possibly upload their own information to the service by accident.
Nevertheless, if they do upload documents or files, those items could reveal some information that could help you find them. A document with a first and last name, bank account information, utility bills, photos, you name it. So cross your fingers, because if this does happen, you are probably the luckiest person on earth.
If you have a Windows computer, it might be a good idea to install something like Microsoft SyncToy, which will actually sync folders with Dropbox that remain outside of the main Dropbox folder. That way, they wouldn't even know they were uploading their files to the cloud! If you have a Mac, something like ChronoSync could work.
If you know of anyone that actually recovered their device using Dropbox or a similar service, let us know in the comments section!