Dell Crafts Security Services for Laptops

The new security and recovery services are targeted at Dell laptop users who take their notebooks on the road and the IT managers charged with protecting data.

Dell is looking to give business travelers and IT managers a better way to protect laptops.

Starting June 30, Dell will begin offering a group of services for its business laptops that will not only track stolen or missing notebooks but also offer a range of security features that can remotely erase company data from a hard disk drive.

To help bolster its case for the new services - Dell ProSupport Mobility Services - Dell sponsored a study by the Ponemon Institute, which showed that about 12,000 laptops are lost in U.S. airports each week. Of those missing laptops, only about a third of notebooks delivered to lost-and-found sites are ever recovered. In addition, about 50 percent of laptops contain critical company data, but 65 percent of business travelers do not take any steps to secure that data.

While more and more business users turn to laptops as their primary PC, the risk of losing data that had been downloaded to the HDD (hard disk drive) has greatly increased as well as the possibility of having the HDD damaged while traveling through an airport. While computer habits have changed, the Ponemon study found that human behavior has not adjusted to this new reality.

"One of the problems that we found is that there is a fatalistic attitude with the business traveler that if the [laptop] is lost, I'm never going to find it anyway," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of Ponemon. "For many, it's like dropping a penny in the middle of the ocean. The flip side is that most airports have more than one of these lost-and-found areas and people have to go to 20 or 30 of these areas to try to find their laptop. It's not that easy for the average traveler to recover their lost property."

At the same time, Ponemon said that many travelers do not back up their data or use encryption to protect what has been downloaded to the laptop. This places an additional burden on the IT department to not only secure a fleet of notebooks that are constantly moving around but also to explore ways to recover or purge lost data.

To counter what the Ponemon research found, Dell is offering this new set of services that can help find a lost laptop or try to recover or remove any lost data.

One service is designed to specifically track and recover a notebook. In this case, certain Dell laptops are enabled with a GPS device to help guide a user or police to a missing or stolen laptop. Another feature allows Dell to track the IP address of a missing laptop once the notebook is turned on and connected to the Internet.

If the laptop cannot be recovered, Dell offers a service dubbed Remote Data Delete Service, which provides a remote "poison pill" that can wipe an HDD clean. Once a user has an account, they can either call Dell or use the company's services Web site to request that all or some of the data be erased. Since the security feature is embedded in the BIOS, once the laptop is turned on, the process starts and the data is wiped, said Chris Ratcliffe, Dell's director of Global Services.

Other services in this package include hard disk drive repair services and a program that will erase and then dispose of HDD that ensures that all data is removed. The different services can be bought as a complete suite or an IT department can select which different service they want. For example, the tracking services by themselves cost $99 for three years.

Dell is not the only PC vendor to offer different services aimed at the laptop.

For several years, Lenovo has offered ThinkVantage, a collection of PC software tools that include protection, recovery and security applications, for its ThinkPad laptops.

Other companies offer their own sets of tools and services, such as Intel's vPro, a group of security and management features built into the processor itself, or Phoenix Technologies building virtualization capabilities into the BIOS. Hewlett-Packard is offering thin-client notebooks, which eliminates the HDD, which ensure that no data can be downloaded on the laptop at all.

By offering services and letting users select which ones they want, Dell is not only targeting enterprises, but SMBs (small and midsized businesses) that do not have the IT staff or budget to provide the security features offered by many enterprises for their laptops.

While Dell, Lenovo and other PC vendors are exploring ways to make laptops more secure, Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said many users and IT department do not take the possibility of losing data seriously enough.

"I still worry that IT organizations are not taking this seriously enough," said Enderle, adding that many times security features such as the Trusted Platform Module are not used. "If you think about the fact that there is a TPM in virtually every business notebook sold today, and yet less than 10 percent of them are turned on. It falls into a belief that whatever is happening will not happen to me."