How to Track Stolen Laptops With a MAC or IP Address

By Carla Boulianne

Computrace LoJack for Laptops states that more than 600,000 personal computers are stolen each year. When a laptop disappears at an airport or coffee shop, the greatest chance of recovery results from pre-planning. Installation of anti-theft software offers more protection than trying to track stolen laptops with a MAC or IP address. Protect expensive equipment, personal information and confidential data by practicing prevention.

Step 1

Notify your network administrator of the theft. Locating a stolen laptop using a MAC address isn't possible unless the thief gets on the same LAN. This makes recovery unlikely, with the exception of a computer used on a corporate or college network. In such a case, let the network administrator know of the theft. Supply the MAC address of the laptop and the network administrator can watch for the laptop to log on to the network.

Step 2

Forget about tracking a stolen laptop over the Internet using a MAC address -- it's not possible. This second-level information is not passed through the router to the third-level ISP (Internet Service Provider).

Step 3

Increase your chances of recovery by preinstalling anti-theft software that "phones home" to a service provider.

Step 1

Contact your ISP to see if the thief has accessed the Internet using your service. The ISP issues a location-specific IP address when a computer accesses the Internet. If the owner of a stolen laptop discovers an IP address assigned to her computer since the theft, then the police can track its location.

Step 2

Investigate whether programs such as Yahoo Messenger or email software that automatically logs on at boot-up are still being accessed. Contact the service provider with appropriate police report documentation and a subpoena to obtain a recent IP address for a stolen laptop.

Step 3

Use preinstalled anti-theft clients to obtain a recent IP address for the stolen laptop. Supply the IP information to law enforcement.

Step 1

Contract with a third party for anti-theft protection. Computrace LoJack for Laptops offers a three-year anti-theft guarantee for its software. Buyers subscribe to a service that uses installed BIOS firmware to track a stolen computer and supply recovery information to the police. Computrace LoJack claims to recover three out of four stolen laptops using its service.

Step 2

Download and install an open source anti-theft client. There is no charge to install the software, which monitors and stores location data.

Step 3

Check manufacturer service plans for theft protection details or call customer support. Some computer manufacturers, such as Dell, offer tracking, recovery and data deletion for stolen laptops.

Tips & Warnings

  • Install tracking software on all laptops, as .mac addresses are rarely useful in recovery, and gaining a subpoena for an IP address is challenging.
  • Third parties may access the tracking information recorded by services such as Computrace LoJack to moniter a laptop owner's movements.

References & Resources