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Can you trace a specific computer online like on CSI ?

by Profrad / August 26, 2006 4:04 AM PDT

I love TV detective programs like CSI, Law & Order, etc. and I've always tried to separate fact from fiction so I'll ask the question and place it in context with two scenarios so I can be sure to understand it clearly.

Question :

Can you trace an individual computer (because it puts out a specific ID for each computer) or can you only trace it to the ISP that you're connected to ?

1st Scenario :

Two employees use the same wireless router at work. Employee A posts on an internet forum during the day and Employee B does the same at night. They both use the same login ID on the internet forum. Can someone trace any specific post back to a specific laptop computer or only to the router ?

2nd Scenario :

I'm using a laptop in Texas at the airport's free wireless hotspot. I post on the forum and then board a plane and land in Chicago and post again with another login ID on the same forum in Chicago's free wireless hotspot. Can you determine it was from the same laptop or can you only trace it to the hotspot from where it was used ?

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(NT) (NT) Maybe if the LOJACK is installed?
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / August 26, 2006 4:21 AM PDT
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Great, wiseass comment on this forum too.
by Profrad / August 26, 2006 9:31 AM PDT

When I joined I thought that maybe this forum would be different but I guess you have them everywhere.

Anybody have a real answer please ?

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For you, a little more info.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / August 26, 2006 1:37 PM PDT

There is LOJACK for laptops which could enable such tracking.

You would be wise to know about this.


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Still waiting for someone to help with a complete answer
by Profrad / August 26, 2006 5:53 PM PDT

Sorry, I thought you were joking since I only knew cars had Lojack.

I'm here because I don't know that much about computers and I'm interested.

Could you answer my previous questions ?

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Here is your answer
by PudgyOne / August 26, 2006 9:10 PM PDT
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Re: location of laptop
by Kees Bakker / August 26, 2006 9:21 PM PDT

If you use wireless Internet, the network knows where you are, just as the cell phone network knows where you are as you phone. There's even a good business model for socalled 'location based services', either actively (you ask the system to find you a Starbucks nearby) or passively (a popup to the nearest Starbucks appears spontaneously).

Any law enforcement agency can find out where you are if you phone or WiFi.


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I think you didn't read the first post
by Profrad / August 26, 2006 10:03 PM PDT
In reply to: Re: location of laptop

I don't need a lojack system. Please read my first post. I love to watch TV detective shows and posted some scenarios that might help you understand my question.

Thank you.

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Not selling you a lojack system.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / August 27, 2006 1:25 AM PDT

But it's the only current way to track a wifi connection to it's source and specific machine.

The cell phone explanation is almost passable. But as a former designer on a team that was involved with 2 way messaging in cell phone systems we can id the exact handset (each has an unique ID) and prior to tracfone's we would have the buyer information and what cell they were in. More work was done using signal strengths to track the cell phone to within some number of yards.

Given the current climate in the US I can almost bet that tracking of wifi use is next on the radar.


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Thanks !
by Profrad / August 27, 2006 4:10 AM PDT

I've gotten so many different answers from different forums it's as if computers were still a magic box.

Thank you for your time.

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Lo Jack is a joke
by 510bayarea / August 30, 2006 8:58 AM PDT

What a joke! People actually pay $50 for this? What idiot willing to steal your computer, wouldn't delete the hard drive before using it?

I've purchased used (legit) computers before (from ebay, etc.) and I would always swap the hard drive with one with my personal stuff on it already, or I would purge the drive and personalize it to my own taste, etc. For anyone to believe that LoJack would help in recovering your laptop, it would only work under the assumption that the thief

a) would keep the same hard drive in the laptop
b) not purge/delete/reformat the drive in anyway

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You are giving the thieves too much credit. Maybe...
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / August 30, 2006 9:54 AM PDT
In reply to: Lo Jack is a joke

I'm going to get burned for writing this but look around the forums for people trying to fix machines without restore CDs and more.

What's the chances?


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Just the facts.
by TahoeGeek / August 30, 2006 2:03 AM PDT

Here's a few facts that may open more questions.

Every network connection device (wireless cards to old token ring adapters including all modems) have a unique address called a MAC address. This is transmitted to any device it connects to such as a "Hot Spot" router in an airport. The server is able to log any an all info of what you do while connected to it.

So, there may be a log of:
The MAC address of the laptops network interface card.
The date and time connected.
Where you went on the Internet (The log would be so big I can't believe anyone would log this.)
How long you where connected.

While working for a dial-up ISP years ago I found that, at the request of law enforment, we could provide not only when a customer was connected but also the MAC address and telephone number being used for the connection. This was used when a customer sent child porn and claimed it wasn't him. We where able to prove it came from not only his phone number but, with a MAC address, his computer.

I hope that this helps a little.

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And a google about SMAC SPOOFING
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / August 30, 2006 2:09 AM PDT
In reply to: Just the facts.
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Thank you too.
by Profrad / August 30, 2006 5:34 AM PDT

Even though I don't have a need to be changing anything in my computer or to hide from anyone, I appreciate the info as it clears up even more my original question. Thanks.

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by Profrad / August 30, 2006 5:30 AM PDT
In reply to: Just the facts.

Thanks, I finally get an straight answer. All I wanted to know was if those CSI and Law & Order programs were full of it or it was true. Thanks again.

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