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25. Install tracking system to foil laptop thieves

By Mark Alberstat

With laptop computers being so small, portable and powerful they have become a prime target for thieves. The FBI reports that only three percent of all stolen laptops are recovered. There have always been chain and lock devices to bolt your computer to the desk it resides on but a pair of bolt cutters and an extra five seconds can make fast work of that deterrent. These devices are also often clumsy for the user and detract from a laptop's main feature, portability. In the last few years, however, a handful of software companies have produced products and services to help retrieve your pilfered PC should it decide to go on a tour with someone other then the owner.

These software programs could be seen as the computer-world's equivalent to LoJack, the stolen car tracking system. LoJack, however, uses a hidden transmitter in the cars while the computer equivalent is a hard-to-detect software program will allow the user and/or software vendor to know when the PC is connected to the internet.

These small program are installed on your laptop like any other program but they cannot be found by cruising the directory structure, looking at the task manager for programs that are running or examining what is running in RAM. These programs are so stealthy that under most situations they cannot be erased from the hard drive with a normal format command, Fdisk command or even drive partitioning.

Once installed these programs are registered with the vendor and a unique ID is assigned to that particular installation. Each time the laptop is connected to the internet the software sends out a small signal to the vendor letting them know that machine is online. In the event of a theft, the user contacts the vendor, gives them the unique ID and when the laptop is next attached to the internet the software contacts the vendor and then the tracing begins with IP Address, dial-up numbers and local police, unknown, of course, to the person using that stolen laptop.

Some vendors even have products now that when the laptop reports in and it is listed as stolen a command will be sent to the laptop to delete specified files or directories. Although for most home users this isn't too critical, for business users, however, confidential data, company plans or strategies are often worth far more than the laptop itself.

One of the leading companies in this field is Vancouver-based Absolute. Their product ComputracePlus has developed over the years to be a computer tracking, inventory and theft prevention product.

At $70.00/year ComputracePlus is not too shabby an investment on that new top-end laptop that you just shelled out $2500 for. The yearly contract includes all recovery services, and also forensic data recovery just in case the evil villains who stole your laptop erased your hard drive.

Caveo produces another option in laptop security. Their products come in the shape of an add-in card for your laptop. These cards that look like typical laptop LAN cards but have a built-in processor that determines if the laptop is being stolen. If it is being stolen the card emits a loud sound, prevents access to the operating system and secures the data.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 4 January 2004


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