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Laptop Theft New Technology Can Help Prevent a Costly Problem

January 14, 2001
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Over319,000 laptop computers were stolen in 1999 alone, reports a study by SafewareInsurance. Those are just the thefts that are reported as claims to insurancecompanies; many stolen notebooks aren't insured.

In the office
    Four out of ten laptop thefts happen at the office. Employees have had theirnotebooks stolen after leaving them unattended on their desks for less than fiveminutes. They run out to the reception area to pay a pizza delivery person onlyto find their computers gone when they return. Sometimes the thieves are evenfellow employees. In one San Francisco PR firm, the IT manager was found guiltyof systematically stealing computers and selling them hot on the street.

    Laptop theft cost businesses a staggering $1.6 million dollars last year,reports Computer Security Institute, which annually surveys 500 to 600companies. Some of the problem is the fact that employees using company-ownednotebooks simply aren't careful enough about keeping them secure.

    "There's a prevailing attitude that, 'If it's stolen, the company will justpay for it,'" says Courtney Celi, computer security channel manager forKryptonite Corporation, a manfacturer of bicycle and computer locks.

Loss-preventiontechnology
    Most employees are not held liable for the cost involved in replacing a laptopif it is stolen, notes Scott Anderson, sales manager for Computer SecurityProducts, a reseller of high-tech anti-theft devices. "When it's your ownmoney involved, you tend to take better care of things than if someone else isfooting the bill."

    What's ironic is that for as little as $40, laptop users can easily protect aninvestment worth thousands. Kryptonite,creator of the famous "U" bike lock, has come out with a line oflaptop security devices at prices starting at $39.99. Styles range from braidedsteel cable locks and motion sensor alarms, which are recommended for travelingprofessionals, to the KryptoVault ,which locks the laptop down to the surface where it's used most.

    However, some employees are lazy about using such physical deterrents - despitethe fact that most can be applied in seconds."The biggest problem of all is getting people to actually use asecurity device, even if they are given one," notes Anderson.

    Once a laptop is stolen, recovering it is virtually impossible unless it isinstalled with a high-tech tracing system.One such solution is Absolute Software's Computrace, which is acombination of software and a monitoring service. Another is Caveo Anti-Theft™,available in early 2001, which features a tiny "micro-machinedtilt-motion" sensor that enables location-awareness in computer hardware.

Howtheywork
    Computrace uses "invisible stealth technology" to recover stolennotebooks. After it is installed, it works like this:

  • Thecomputer automatically logs into a "monitoring station" once aweek.


  • Ifthe laptop is stolen, Computrace can track the physical address of where thecomputer is being kept through either a telephone line or an InternetProtocol address.


  • Atheft recovery officer works with the local police authorities, usingtracking information to get your laptop back.

    Computrace's recovery rate for stolen laptops is "higher than 95percent," claims Anderson, whose firm sells the product. Often, it is theemployee himself who is the culprit. Oneman, not realizing that Computrace had been installed, reported to his boss thathis laptop had been stolen. The computer subsequently "called in" andrevealed its whereabouts - the employee's home.

    One current client is 3Com Corporation, which has been using Computrace forthree years on the company's more than 4000 laptop PCs. "The system is simple, affordable and very reliable. As the personresponsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in PC inventory, I can't affordnot to protect that investment -- and I won't trust anything but the best,"says Brad Minnis, 3Com director of business compliance/worldwide salesoperations.

    The other solution, Caveo Anti-Theft™,can actually distinguish between threatening and non-threatening situations,says Caveo vice president Gail Greenwald.

  • Itis integrated into the computer, operates independently of the operatingsystem, and functions whether the computer is on or off.


  • Theuser sets his or her "work zone," which defines the range ofmotion that Caveo Anti-Theft interprets as "non-threatening."


  • Whenthe armed laptop is carried beyond that zone, the device sounds audiblewarning signals, which increase in intensity.


  • Asit's carried beyond the "theft perimeter" (set beforehand by theuser), the system goes into "alarm state." This includes soundinga louder alarm, shutting down the system, preventing the computer from beingbooted up by the thief, and securing the keys to encrypted information, thusprotecting confidential information stored on the computer.

Protectingyour investment
    A full 57 percent of all companies suffered losses from laptop theft in 1999,reports Computer Security Institute. The loss of expensive computer hardware -as well as any intellectual property and confidential business informationstored on those laptops - can, over time, be devastating to a company's bottomline. These high tech solutions can help.

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