Calling lost laptops: Please phone home

By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2000-12-04

Try as he may to secure telecommuters systems, Gerry Cullen, director of special projects at Detroit Diesel-Allison BC Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia, knows theres only so much he can do to keep corporate secrets from walking away when a company laptop PC is stolen.

Forget hackers. IT managers like Cullen are becoming increasingly concerned about physical security. And with good reason. A survey by the Computer Security Institute and the FBI showed that among 273 companies surveyed, laptop theft resulted in losses totaling $10.4 million last year. As the use of personal digital assistants and cell phones takes off and portable computing becomes prevalent, the theft of these devices will increase, experts say.

Thats why smart IT managers are taking advantage of tools that help them recover laptops. Products such as Network Ice Corp.s BlackIce Defender, for example, try to phone home by connecting to the corporate network when a thief goes online. Computer Sentry Software Inc.s CyberAngel and Absolute Software Corp.s CompuTrace place calls to a laptops manufacturer when it is stolen, updating owners about phone numbers the machine is using.

At Detroit Diesel-Allison, a distributor of Detroit Diesel engines and Allison transmissions, Cullen chose to fight back after the CEOs laptop was stolen two years ago. He had CompuTrace installed on the companys laptops and desktops. The software costs about $60 per user—a small price to pay, considering that it cost more than $4,000 to replace the CEOs laptop, Cullen said.

The investment paid off in February when the CEOs laptop, which contained company financial data, supplier information and company plans, was stolen again. This time, it was the thief who was caught off-guard. Absolute Software reported the laptop stolen, and Dell Computer Corp. noticed when the thief called to order a new power cord. The computer manufacturer worked with Absolute to track the location of the laptop and the thief. The CEOs machine was recovered, along with its files.

But Cullen is not letting his guard down. This second theft prompted him to require the companys telecommuters and office workers to back up files on the corporate network.

"As costly as it is to replace a laptop, its really the data you lose that is critical," he said. "Were not leaving anything to chance."

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