by Laurianne McLaughlin

Do You Need LoJack for Laptops?

Feb 23, 20074 mins
Data Center

Maybe you’ve seen this disappearing act. If you’re an enterprise that leases notebook PCs, about 15 percent of your machines may “drift” away over the course of two years, never to be returned to IT. Did that make you wrinkle your brow? It should have. A certain number of mobile assets have always been lost, yet it’s been a loss that many enterprises chose to eat. That is, before data breach laws put a whole new spin on this equation. Now notebook drift can equal serious legal and financial pain when the data on those machines also vanishes. As Absolute Software CEO John Livingston puts it “Only because of the data breach laws has anyone started to care.”

What’s the right answer to notebook drift for your enterprise? That’s a question you should be asking now, if you haven’t already.

His company compares its Computrace notebook-locating services to “LoJack for Laptops.” Absolute has struck deals with the major notebook vendors (Dell, Lenovo, Gateway, HP and others) to embed its firmware in each machine’s BIOS. In other words, the capability sits there in many notebooks today, ready to be turned on, if an enterprise customer activates the service (via their notebook vendor, for $125 for 3 years before volume discounting.)  

How does the technology work? After a customer calls to report a missing notebook, the company’s servers wait for the lost machine to go online. When it does, the company uses IP addresses to locate the lost notebook. It contacts ISPs to get billing addresses for the corresponding IP addresses, gets subpoenas if necessary, and works with local law enforcement to physically recover the machines. That’s not a foolproof method, since many consumer IP addresses are variable every time someone goes online. Also, people can use Internet cafes or wireless connections. Still, Livingston says they have about a 75% success rate physically recovering the machines. (The company’s service is active on more than one million notebooks today, about 43% of which belong to corporate customers. The company also sells to the consumer, education and government markets.)

For most CIOs, though, the key worry is not getting the machine back. It’s proving the data on the machine didn’t go anywhere.

Thus, a second component of the service lets an enterprise customer remotely trigger a wipe of the lost machine’s hard drive, when the machine goes online. The customer does this using an RSA security token: He also gets a snapshot of the machine’s file system and an audit trail as to whether the machine’s sensitive files were accessed, before doing a wipe. (According to Computrace, it’s a Department of Defense grade wipe.)

This brings us to the question I always ask when government agency or corporate notebooks disappear, then make the news: Why aren’t more of these machines encrypted in the first place? To date, some enterprises have viewed encryption as too much of a management hassle, though I suspect with every high-profile data loss, that view becomes more outdated. (For more on how your peers are making mobile encryption manageable, see “How to Protect Your Mobile Data” in our sister publication, CSO.)

If you do encrypt, do you still need some remote wipe capability? When you encrypt, some problems remain. An employee who has just left, or is about to leave, the company may need to have his hard drive wiped, pronto.

So, what are you doing new this year to protect and track your enterprise’s notebooks? How many of your notebooks “drift” away? Let’s talk about what’s working for you and your peers — before you have to talk with your CEO, or your city’s newspaper.