Undercover Goes Under

Just got an email from Orbicule that Undercover is being terminated.

Undercover was a program that ran on your Mac and tracked it. When you booted your Mac and it joined a network, it would contact Orbicule and see if it was registered as stolen. If it was, it would alert you, tell you where your Mac was located, and allow you to brick up your Mac, or send an alarm sound. I used it to track my son’s Mac when it was stolen at a camp, and we found the culprit who had stolen dozens of Macs and iPhones from the campers.

Here’s their explanation of what happened:

Why are we halting Undercover development

The main reason is that over the past 6 years, Apple has significantly increased security on macOS. While that’s a good thing in general, it makes it increasingly more difficult to reliably run hidden software like Undercover.

Another key point is that FileVault has become mainstream. This means that a thief won’t be able to access your files without your password - again a good thing. However, this also means that Undercover won’t be able to function properly, as third party developers don’t have access to the recovery partition that is being used when a thief boots your Mac without knowing your password. Only Apple has access to this recovery partition, where it can run FindMyMac.

Undercover (or any other third party application) can’t run on this recovery partition and will be useless if FileVault has been enabled.

A third reason is that with macOS Catalina, Apple is refreshing its FindMyMac app (now called FindMy) and will leverage its large installed base of Macs and iPhones to track stolen devices, even if they never connect to the internet. They do so by using Bluetooth connections of nearby devices that are connected to the internet. Again a great idea from Apple, but Undercover or any other third party application, do not have access to this functionality.

When launched in January 2006, Undercover was groundbreaking software. The fact that Apple has replicated Undercover-like functionality and embedded it deep into iOS and macOS shows the value of the theft-recovery genre that Undercover has pioneered. At this point, however, we feel that we can no longer deliver reliable software due to security restrictions, while having a hard time carving out a successful business model competing with free Apple software that is installed by default on every Mac and has access to system features that we can only dream of.