If snitched, Va. notebooks phone home

Every year, computer thieves steal thousands of government-owned notebook PCs and other portable equipment.

To stem the tide of vanishing hardware, Arlington County, Va., is installing ComputracePlus software from Absolute Software Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia, on all portable hardware.

The county began using ComputracePlus on notebook PCs and other portables more than a year ago, said David Jordan, the chief information security and privacy officer. Since then, the county has recovered 100 percent of all stolen equipment, he said.

'Of the 4,000 notebook PCs we've protected with Computrace, we've not lost a single one,' Jordan said. A thief usually sells the stolen goods right away, and 'almost always, they end up being used on the Internet,' he said. 'That's when we can trace them.'

Invoking memories of movie extraterrestrial E.T., Jordan said, "As soon a machine goes on the Internet, the Computrace software phones home. Home, in this case, is our network center.'

Jordan and his team then trace the location, and 'at that point we send in the police. The person with the computer usually tells us who sold the stolen equipment to them,' he said.

The software also functions as a deterrent, Jordan said. 'The fact that people know we have this software on our equipment probably prevents some would-be thieves from stealing."

Written in a combination of C, assembly and Extensible Markup Language, the software takes just a few minutes to download, Jordan said. Absolute president John Livingston said some computers running Computrace are programmed to call the company's monitoring center, and stolen computers have dialed in from Africa, China, Europe and South America.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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