Nov 01 2006

Laptop LoJack

Don't cry if your mobile users occasionally lose their notebooks or even have them stolen. Instead, use this app to help get them back.

What happens if someone hijacks or steals your computer? Wouldn’t it be nice if information technology could wipe all the data off that machine remotely and then help you recover the stolen notebook using a built-in homing beacon? That’s exactly what ComputraceComplete from Absolute Software does.

End-user advantages: Taking up only 8 kilobytes of memory, this techie LoJack will go unnoticed by your road warriors. But they will sleep better knowing that the sensitive data on a notebook PC left at the airport isn’t falling into the wrong hands.

If the notebook is lost or stolen, you can activate the software over the Internet to wipe clean the data selected for removal. Computrace wipes the disk clean by overwriting the data seven times, bit by bit, using an algorithm that meets the NATO deletion standard and exceeds Defense Department standards. The software also helps with regulatory compliance because it allows IT to store purchase and upgrade dates, notebook hardware specifications, location data and end-user history.

Why Computrace works for IT: Simply install a small hard-to-detect persistent software program that communicates with a central server over the Internet. For a number of newer Hewlett-Packard and Gateway notebooks, the software program can be wedged into the BIOS, making it even harder for the bad guys to detect or tamper with. The client calls the monitoring center once a day — every 15 minutes if the notebook has been reported stolen. The application resides in the partition group and can survive normal attempts to clean up the hard drive.

Compatible with any current file-level encryption products, the product will prevent hackers from getting into sensitive data stores. In addition to the built-in remote tracking, you also can call Absolute and have them track the computer and communicate with local authorities to recover the machine.

The small software program plays ball well with antivirus programs such as McAfee VirusScan, Symantec Norton AntiVirus and Trend Micro PC-cillin, although it’s a good idea to disable that software during the installation, and then re-enable it. Logon scripts are supported.

Disadvantages: You must subscribe to this software, which means a hit to that ever-shrinking IT budget each and every year. The data deletion feature, if activated, requires a one-time hit of about $200, but that’s well worth it if the data is important and confidential. If you have older notebooks and can’t use the BIOS version, the tracking and data deletion features lose some of their luster as thieves can simply wipe the operating system. In the case of corporate espionage, the hard drive can simply be moved to another machine or another operating system installed on the top of the original, and the sensitive data may be accessed.

The tracking and data deletion features also only work when and if the notebook is ever online. If the thief doesn’t connect to the Internet, you can’t delete the data because Computrace initiates the Data Deletion service over the Internet.

Although Computrace is available for Apple computers, it’s not as well supported. Installation of the program must be done manually, either at the keyboard or via a remote administration session.

MSRP: $49.99 for a 12-month subscription; $89.99 for 24 months.

Dr. Jeff Sheen is a senior corporate network engineer for Software Architects of Chicago and works in the company’s Columbus, Ohio, office.


CEO takeaway
Most notebook thefts are inside jobs, but the ComputraceComplete subscription service and software provide an added measure of insurance when:

• You have traveling staff with sensitive data on their notebooks.
• You have problems with lost or stolen notebook computers.
• Your business must track technology assets to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act reporting requirements.