LoJack for Laptops

When I saw yesterday’s LoJack for Laptops announcement from laptop security vendor Absolute Software my first thought was "how cool is this?"

LoJack is a service used to track down stolen automobiles. Using the same radio technology, I imagined that special transmitters would be embedded in laptops to allow tracking the exact location of the stolen computer so that the device could be rapidly located and recovered by police in real time - perhaps before the thief even had time to search the disk. Anyone who's ever had a laptop or other valuable personal property stolen has experienced that feeling of being violated, and that craving for justice. With LoJack for Laptops revenge would be yours: The cops would move in, guns drawn. Or perhaps if you work for the government you could even send a sidewinder missile after the purloined laptop containing those dreaded launch codes.

Dream on. That's not the way this system works. Police will not be monitoring stolen Laptops in their cruisers over the LoJack network, as they do for stolen automobiles. No special transmitters will be used. Even if the police wanted to track laptops, which they don't, the radio transmitter for LoJack's service is larger than a deck of cards. That's way too big to embed in a laptop computer.

Absolute Software has simply purchased rights to use the LoJack brand name when selling its Computrace Personal services. That service, which sells for $49 per year, requires a stolen laptop to be turned on and connected to the Internet before it can be identified. Once that occurs, the system offers up the unit’s IP address or dial-up phone number. Absolute can then attempt to locate it and can trigger a self-destruct feature that wipes the disk clean.

Absolute's Chairman and CEO John Livingston claims that the IP address is often enough to locate the laptop. Because his software operates in stealth mode (and is embedded into the BIOS of some IBM/Levono Thinkpad laptops) the thief is unlikely to defeat it by using a spoofed IP address. Overall, Livingston claims that 90% of the laptops his customers report lost or stolen are either recovered or the data on them is destroyed using remote commands. But the only way to know for sure that the data is truly gone - the only way you'll truly have peace of mind - is if you can lay your hands on the laptop.

In the future, tracking services may be possible using cellular or WiMax technology, says Livingston. At this point, however, LoJack for Laptops is strictly a branding exercise; its location services limited to what you can do with an IP address if and when the culprit connects to the Internet.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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