The dangers of laptop theft are all over the news. High-profile laptop losses involving Neiman-Marcus, CardSystems Solutions Inc., the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and even the FBI itself illustrate the need for companies to be vigilant in protecting company laptops -- and the sensitive company data housed within.
According to the FBI, a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds, and 97 percent of them are never recovered. And, according to Symantec, the computer security software giant, the average laptop -- perhaps only a $1,000 machine -- contains at least $800,000 worth of data. If that data is classified or proprietary, its worth could increase exponentially.
Common sense has become increasingly important -- don’t let your laptop out of your sight while commuting or traveling, beware of two-person theft scams in public places, and don’t leave it in plain view while not at your desk. But new technologies for securing and tracking laptops are giving companies a wide range of other security options. And many of them have versions that small- and medium-sized businesses can afford.
Here are some of the latest offerings for protecting your company’s laptops:
Taken mainstream by Wal-Mart as an inventory-tracking method, radio-frequency identification (RFID) has had applications as a shoplifting/theft deterrent for some time. And as RFID tags continue to fall in price -- with tags themselves costing between 50 cents and $10 each -- they can now be used as a way to track laptops. Dallas-based Axcess International’s ActiveTag uses a small, long-acting battery to power the durable tag. The tag can trigger alarms or generate text messages and e-mails to alert businesses to a theft. However, the user must remember to activate and deactivate the tag.
Tracking and asset recovery tools
Computer Security Products’ XTool software suite includes a tracking feature that transmits a signal whenever the laptop connects to the Internet, allowing its location to be tracked if stolen. A one-year subscription for small businesses with less than 50 laptops, which includes encryption capabilities, is $70. Absolute’sLoJack for computers also offers tracking capabilities, along with additional asset recovery services that will work with local law enforcement to get a stolen laptop back. Using an optional data-delete feature, LoJack can delete the contents of a laptop so they don’t fall into the wrong hands. LoJack is available to smaller businesses for about $100 per laptop for a three-year contract, according to Les Jickling, Absolute’s director of corporate marketing.
Although the Microsoft Vista operating system includes encryption technology, a number of vendors offer it as a separate product. The technology makes data virtually indecipherable to all but those with access. These include XTool, Pointsec, and PGP Corp. PGP’s offerings for small- to medium-sized businesses range from a yearly subscription at about $59 per laptop for a company with 500 laptops to a $119-per-laptop perpetual license, according to PGP’s Albert Fong.
Many new laptops are equipped with bioscanners -- fingerprint readers that only let the user open documents. Experts recommend using these scanners -- preferably with one’s thumbprint -- along with a password to ensure optimal safety.
While these technologies represent exciting possibilities, experts warn that there is no one solution to keeping laptops safe. “There’s no silver bullet,” notes Jimmy Alderson, co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based Intelguardians, an IT security firm. “Users can’t just use one methodology.”
Alderson recommends using strong biopasswords and RFID with an alarm system, but suggests some low-tech precautions, too. Specifically, Alderson recommends:
- Registering laptops with the manufacturer upon purchase, so they can assist if they’re stolen;
- Physically etching a company name on the laptop, to aid in recovery; and
- Insuring the laptop -- and its contents. Companies such as Safeware will ensure your hardware, while Aon’s Wired for Growth offer liability coverage for lost data.
“All of these will help keep your laptop safe,” advises Alderson. “Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”