Absolute Software, creators of the LoJack for Laptops anti-theft system, is now adding firmware-level anti-theft technology to a raft of new and upcoming Android devices. The first partner: Lenovo, courtesy of its new ThinkPad Tablet.
Yesterday, at an otherwise NDAed Lenovo industry event in New York City, Absolute Software's senior product manager Geoff Glave demonstrated and explained Computrace, their "persistence module" technology for Android (and other platforms as well).
A theft-recovery and device-tracking agent was embedded into the copy of Android running on the tablet. Devices not only can be physically located but remotely wiped, frozen, or have data selectively retrieved. The real advantage: the agent is also present in the device's recovery firmware. If a thief steals the device and reinstalls the OS or even swaps out the hard drive, the firmware will reinstall the tracking agent software so the device can still be recovered.
All-software solutions such as Prey suffer from the disadvantage of being, well, all software: a factory reset will remove the tracking application. Because Computrace is part of the firmware shipped with the device, it remains consistently present even after a factory reset. The software also provides IT managers with the means to comprehensively track, overview, and manage all devices in their fleet that have Computrace.
What about rooting the device, via a custom firmware such as Cyanogenmod? There, unfortunately, all bets are off: a rooted device could in theory have its firmware erased and replaced, and render Computrace ineffective. That said, Glave noted the ThinkPad tablet he was using for the demo had not yet been rooted, due to the DRM and other security measures in place (for NetFlix, among other things).
Device loss or theft aren't the only useful applications for Computrace. Another scenario is what Glave called "pre-loss" or "pre-theft": employees who deliberately walk out the door with their devices if they're fired, along with the data on it. Glave claimed they recover some 100 to 200 devices a week: "Better than 50% of them are internal thefts."
Not all such internal thefts are corporate malfeasance, either. Some of them involves scenarios where an employee lifts a device, "accidentally" loses it, wipes it, and then gives it to a relative.
Absolute Software has theft-recovery code in the firmware for many other name-brand PCs as well: Dell, HP, Acer, Fujitsu, Asus, Panasonic, and Samsung, among others. Lenovo was the first company it had partnered with to add its anti-theft code to Android tablets. Glave said the company would be announcing shortly a partnership with another major PC manufacturer that is adding Android-powered tablets to its lineup. Android phones, especially mid- to high-end models such as the Samsung Galaxy line, are another possible future target.
Home users who want to reap some of the same benefits, sans the firmware-level persistency, can use Lojack for Laptops on their Windows-powered devices. One year of protection starts at $29.99. The standard edition includes the ability to track, lock, erase, and recover a stolen device; the premium edition of the service includes a $1,000 guarantee that the device can be recovered or remotely erased if stolen.