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3/30/2007
01:25 PM
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Get Back Your Gear

A burglar broke into a Florida office of accounting firm Grant Thornton one holiday and stole three laptops. The thieves laid low for a couple of months until they thought it was safe to fence the stolen machines through a store in a nearby mall.

As soon as the thief fired up a laptop and went online, embedded tracking software called in to the service vendor's office, where staffers contacted local police and told them where they could find the machine. Grant Thornton had the PCs back within 60 days.

Most laptops sold today come with the module needed to do this tracking embedded in the BIOS, but most companies don't sign up, and security analysts say most people don't know it's an option. Grant Thornton used the Computrace service from Absolute Software, whose products include LoJack For Laptops. "Some people will tell you the data is more valuable than the machine," says Dave Johnson, director of IT operations at Grant Thornton. "That's true, but how nice is it to get your property back?"

Grant Thornton leases laptops from Dell, returning them after two years and paying for any that are stolen or lost. Most companies with leases, he says, lose about 8% of their laptops. Thanks to the tracking software, which provides monthly reports on machines' whereabouts, Grant Thornton loses less than 1%. That saves about $220,000 compared with typical loss rates, while the tracking contract costs $132,000 for two years. "Dell executives flew out to see how we're doing this," Johnson says.

Absolute says it recovered more than 1,000 computers for about 500 companies in 2006 and predicts it will recover more than 2,500 this year.

Return to main story, Laptop Lockdown Checklist: Four Authentication Areas To Watch

Illustration by Randy Lyhus

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