Laptop Cops

By , |  Networking

Listen to the column "Laptop Cops" or visit our podcast center to hear more by James Gaskin.

Lost laptops too often mean critical data escapes your control and reappears in newspaper headlines. Rock-solid disk encryption can stop the data loss, and I wrote about WinMagic's SecureDoc enterprise encryption product two years ago here and their new consumer version for Network World here. But what if you want your laptop hardware back? Enter and their AbsoluteTrace and CompuTrace products. They also have a consumer version called LoJack for Laptops, which tells you exactly how it works.

When a wandering laptop is reported stolen to local police and, Lyle Singular, Absolute's Director of Recovery Services, goes to work. He manages a department of former law enforcement officers (Singular himself spent over 20 years on the job). This group coordinates with local police to recover your laptop. The lost laptops "phone home" thanks to Absolute's tracking utility, and Singular provides local police ready-made verbiage for subpoenas and search warrants. This type of support encourages local police to follow through and recover the lost equipment.

Here's the tricky part: the majority of recoveries involve company employees. Often, the lost laptop is one of many, along with projectors and other small but expensive company items. This is way beyond taking home some pens and legal pads for your kids, and you need a policy on handling this type of mess.

There are two valid approaches to this security problem. For deterrent value, tell employees, and especially all the technical employees who have the most access to laptops, about the tracking procedure. Or, if you prefer to weed out employees looking to steal from you, don't tell them. This method assumes theft-minded employees should be caught, dismissed, and turned over to police rather than hope the threat of capture makes them behave. If you tell them and they don't steal laptops, what else will they steal?

Name brand laptop vendors provide BIOS and motherboard support for and other tracking companies. Prices are reasonable, starting at $50 for the consumer product for one year, especially considering many corporate laptops still cost well over $2000. If you're not tracking your laptops, you may want to start. But before you start, decide how to handle the situation when the crook is a coworker.

Next week: another security note.


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