Laptop recovery systems have been around for a while, but they’re mostly aimed at businesses who buy blanket coverage for a fleet of laptops. Absolute Software’s Lojack for Laptops is a consumer-ready tracking system that can locate a stolen notebook, report its thief to the police, and optionally recover or erase your data. Pricing starts at $24.99 for a year’s coverage.
Product manager Geoff Glave told me that Absolute licensed the Lojack name from the stolen-auto-recovery company, after customer studies found that the most common aha-moment feedback from consumers trying to understand the product was, “Oh, it’s like Lojack for laptops.”
Lojack for automobiles works via a two-way radio hidden in the car. Lojack for Laptops works through a small piece of software installed at a low level inside the computer. It periodically, secretly connects to an Absolute Web server — for geeks, that’s port 80, where firewalls aren’t a problem — to see if all is OK or not.
There are several ways the Lojack software can decide there’s trouble. It can be told outright that it’s now on a stolen laptop. Or it can decide that not being able to connect and check-in for a certain period of time — say four days — means it’s probably lost or stolen.
Customers can configure Lojack to take different actions. It can download forensic software that tracks the thief’s actions and reports them back to Absolute. “We can often figure out from the guy’s Facebook activity who he is,” Glave said. “We’ll get his profile photo and city. A specialist then works with the police in that area to provide the evidence they need to get a warrant and go knock on his door.”
The software can also glean information from its local network that can be tied, in some cases, to a specific home DSL or cable account of the guy who took it, or the sucker he sold it to.
Alternately, the Lojack software can be ordered to erase all personal data from the laptop. It does a thorough job of scrubbing the data and reformatting the relevant parts of the computer’s disk drive so that even an expert can’t recover it.
Intel’s newest line of notebook chipsets for 2010 have an extra security feature: They can be ordered remotely to lock up at a below-the-operating-system level, so the laptop will only boot a notice that it’s not available. It can optionally display, say, the owner’s name and email, in case it’s brought into a pawn shop. To turn it back on, it needs an extra-special password that only the user, an IT worker, or Absolute can provide.
What’s surprising is that Absolute claims almost all stolen laptops eventually resurface online, usually in use by the thief. People don’t steal laptops because they’re smart. “The sole exception is Africa,” Glave told me during a phone call. “There, laptops disappear from the Internet and become music or DVD players. But even in Romania and Bulgaria, we usually find them.”