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Stolen laptop recovered with help of software that takes pictures of user [The Oakland Tribune, Calif.]
[June 01, 2011]

Stolen laptop recovered with help of software that takes pictures of user [The Oakland Tribune, Calif.]

(Oakland Tribune (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 01--OAKLAND -- Security software and a computer owner's diligence led to the recovery Tuesday night of a stolen laptop computer and the arrest of the man who had it, police said.

The suspect, Muthanna Aldebashi, 27, a limousine and cabdriver who lives in Alameda, was arrested about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. The laptop was recovered at his home.

Officer Rob Rosin said that after his arrest on suspicion of possessing stolen property, Aldebashi claimed the computer had been given to him as a gift. Aldebashi told police that he thought it may have been stolen and that he should have known better than to take it. He made no attempt to try to find out who the owner was.

The Apple MacBook and some other items were taken during a March 21 burglary at the Mosswood District apartment of Joshua Kaufman, 35, a programmer for ExactTarget. The San Francisco-based company provides email and social media marketing services.

When he discovered his laptop had been stolen, Kaufman activated the security software program called Hidden he had installed. The basic version of the program sells for $15 online. It uses GPS to locate stolen devices and the computer's built-in camera can take pictures of anyone using it, as well as capturing screen shots of users' activity.

The software allowed Kaufman to see Aldebashi sleeping on his sofa, riding in a vehicle and logging into his work email address to access a Facebook account.

That's how police eventually tracked down the laptop weeks after investigators received Kaufman's stolen property report.

Kaufman in the meantime had set up a Tumblr blogging account,, that attracted thousands of followers eager to view images printed off the stolen computer.

Finally on April 25, Kaufman met with investigators and gave them some of the information regarding his computer's movements. Police did not know the name of the person being photographed by the computer's camera, but they were able to identify Aldebashi through his cab and limousine service.

Police arrested Aldebashi in Oakland on Tuesday night after a ruse in which he thought he was picking up a fare.

The laptop was returned to Kaufman on Wednesday morning. He did not respond to numerous attempts to contact him.

He wrote online that he had received advice from a man named Sean Power who said he used a similar product called Prey to track down his stolen laptop May 12 to a bar in New York. He also posted updates on Twitter.

Both products use similar technology but Prey is free, adaptable for Macs and PCs and can be used on smartphones.

Experts said they are beginning to see more use of anti-theft tracking software that helps make up for the lack of police dedicated to investigating property crimes. Oakland police only have three investigators who handle 2,400 theft and burglary reports a month. That is why investigators still didn't follow up immediately after Kaufman met with them in April.

Laptops, jewelry, phones and TVs are attractive to thieves because they are valuable and light, said Jason Sjoberg, a prosecutor in the Alameda County Identity Theft and High Tech Crimes Unit. The unit operates under the umbrella of California's Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, called R.E.A.C.T., which was created to crack down on high-tech crime.

"It's a crime of opportunity," Sjoberg said.

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Copyright (c) 2011, The Oakland Tribune, Calif.

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