Services Find Lost, Stolen Laptops

By Features FOXBusiness

Losing a laptop or mobile device can be devastating to a small business, especially when the entire business is stored on the five-pound machine. From ID tags to embedded software, a host of companies offer technology to help in the recovery when the unthinkable happens.

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More than 800,000 laptops are lost each year by users passing through airports in the US and Europe, according to a 2008 study conducted by the Ponemon Institute for Dell. Half of the study participants acknowledged they carried unprotected-confidential company data on their PCs. And consider this: some 70% of small businesses that have a major data loss go out of business within a year, according to a report by the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Companies that help in the recovery of laptops and mobile devices can not only track the whereabouts of the devices, but in some cases also can wipe the machine clean to prevent unwanted access to data.

Take Awareness Technologies. For $49.95 a year, the company offers small businesses its Laptop Cop software. If your laptop is stolen, it allows you to see all thief activity, as well as where the computer is, thanks to the Geolocation feature, which allows you to pinpoint the computer’s location within sixty feet.

Let’s say the thief visits FaceBook, orders something on eBay and updates his or her Myspace page. By recording all of the keystrokes and taking screen shots of the Web sites visited, law enforcement can easily get a name, address and often times a photo of the thief, said Tom Bilyeu, chief operating officer of Awareness Technologies. With the software you can also remotely delete all the data on the computer or retrieve files.

“Say your laptop gets stolen today in New York and ends up in London. You’ll still have full functionality – no matter where the thief takes the computer,” said Bilyeu. In order for the software to monitor Web activities the computer will need to be connected to the Internet. 

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If you don’t want to involve law enforcement but you do want your computer back, the software even lets you send a message that would be displayed on the computer. So you could shoot the thief a message like: ‘Print this FedEx label and send the laptop back in 48 hours or you’ll be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.’ Bilyeu noted the recovery rate for customers is in the high 90% range.

While the software is only available for laptops and desktops, Bilyeu said the company is in the process of developing a version for smart phones and laptops.

Absolute Software of Vancouver, Canada also has a theft recovery product, but instead of software its trace agent is embedded at the BIOS level of computers. That means that when you buy a computer the service is already installed and all you have to do is activate it. Go to www.absolute.com/bios to see if your computer has it.

With the trace agent, a snapshot of the computer is taken every 24.5 hours, which includes the location of the device. Once the device is lost or stolen the snapshot is taken every 15 minutes. Absolute Software has a team of theft-recovery experts that use that  data to locate the PC. According to Stephen Midgley, vice president of global marketing, three out of every four devices that call into the Monitoring Center are recovered.

“This isn’t software installed on the hard drive that can be easily removed,” said Midgley. “In the BIOS it’s very difficult for the thief to detect it and remove it without destroying the machine.”

With Absolute’s technology the customer just has to alert Absolute of the stolen laptop and it will do all the investigative work on the behalf of the customer. The service costs $39 a year for consumers and around $35 a year for small businesses, said Midgley. 

Like Awareness Technologies, Absolute Software can also delete the data remotely. For many small businesses getting the device back isn’t as important as making sure the data remains protected. Once the computer is connected to a network, Absolute Software can send a command to delete the data on the hard drive all the way down to the operating system level.

“It’s a department of defense level wipe. There’s no way to reverse the command,” said Midgley. Even if the machine is shutdown, once it’s turned back on and connects to a network the wipe will commence, he noted. To get that ability costs more. According to Midgley small businesses will pay around $59 a year to track the computer and to wipe the data if need be.

Absolute Software also has the ability to track smart phones and Blackberry’s for $13.95 a year. Using GPS technology the device can be tracked, but users won’t be able to delete data remotely.

For business users that don’t need a sophisticated way to protect their computer or mobile device, TrackItBack might be right for them. For $19.95 each, small business users can buy ID tags for laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and luggage that have a 24-hour number to contact if someone finds the lost device. Each ID tag has a unique number and you can even offer a cash reward if someone turns it in. 

TrackItBack takes care of getting the device back to you once its turned in, said  Jason Wagner, president and founder. According to Wagner, the company has over 5 million items tagged and boasts a recovery rate of more than 85%.

“People are finding items all the time but they don’t know what to do with them,” said Wagner. “When the finder sees the TrackItBack ID tag they call and we make all the arrangements to pick it up and bring the item back to the owner anywhere in the world.”

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