This is a true story about sex, computers, the Internet, spying, theft, intrigue, and the police--and it all began this past February when David Krop made the mistake of leaving his two laptop computers inside a locked SUV in a parking garage.
While Krop, 41, attended a brief business meeting in downtown Miami Beach, Florida, a smash-and-grab thief stole the two laptops, a Toshiba and an Apple Macbook. When he returned to his SUV, Krop saw the shattered passenger window and realized that his computers were gone.
"It's just a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach," Krop, a vice president of marketing at Nationwide Diabetic says. He reported the theft to the police, who were not optimistic the laptops would be recovered. Then he drove home, thinking about the personal data stored on his laptops. He had never planned for a catastrophic event like this--in fact, he hadn't even bothered to set up a user password to shield the laptops' contents.
When he got home, though, Krop remembered that he had installed a trial version of remote access software called LogMeIn on his Toshiba laptop. LogMeIn is designed to allow a user to access the desktop of a remote PC; it doesn't have laptop recovery features of the type you'd find on, say, Absolute Software's LoJack for Laptops. Connecting to his stolen laptop might be a long shot, but it was the only shot he had.
First, though, Krop had to recall his LogMeIn username and password, and this hurdle took hours, he recalls. But at last he connected, and to his immense relief he could view the desktop of his stolen Toshiba laptop. Its new owner was surfing porn sites.
Seconds after Krop linked to his desktop remotely, a small red box from the LogMeIn connection appeared on the laptop's screen at the remote user's end. The person at the other end quickly clicked it off, thereby disconnecting Krop. Krop waited for a few minutes and then reconnected, and this time the user ignored the red box.
Let the Spying and Intrigue Begin
Unaware that Krop was spying on his activities, the user of the Toshiba laptop visited porn site after porn site, taking breaks to check e-mail, chat with people via instant messaging software, update his Facebook and MySpace accounts, and place ads to Craigslist.com for what Krop said appeared to be some kind of female modeling business.
"My eyes just lit up," Krop says. "Just the fact he was online at that moment was amazing."
Krop decided to continue his surveillance, collect as much information as he could, and then contact the police to see if they could then get his laptops back.
"It was strange, but it was also an incredible feeling," he says. "It's like, here's someone who breaks into my car and stole my computers and I'm breaking back into my computer."
Krop began capturing screenshots as the person using his laptop perused hundreds of e-mail messages in a Hotmail.com account. Eventually, Krop decided to switch to using his video camera to record what was going on.
"It was unbelievable," Krop recalls. "I was watching this guy for three hours. At this point, this guy's got his Hotmail open, a chat box open, Craigslist open, and he's downloading photos and videos [of nude women] as well."
And just when Krop thought the accumulating mound of evidence couldn't get any more incriminating, it did: The laptop's user initiated a video chat with someone else, and Krop could see the suspect's face.
In less than three hours, Krop knew the individual's name, e-mail addresses, and cell phone number and had a recording of him on video tape. Then Krop paid $10 to an online service that sold him the address linked to the man's cell phone number. "All this information told me [the man] was living on Miami Beach not far from the scene of the crime."