23 January, 2012

Lose a laptop, keep the data

I've been looking closely at various laptop tracking products, intended as theft recovery services.  Some that look interesting are:

  • Computrace/Absolute software, offering 3 versions:
    1. LoJack for Laptops- the consumer version
    2. Computrace Plus- the next step up for corporate/enterprise devices
    3. Computrace Complete- the total package, with asset management, remote wipe, makes toast...
  • PCPhoneHome/MacPhoneHome
  • Orbicule Undercover (Mac Specific)
  • FrontDoor Software
The high-end systems track your laptop for you when it is lost, and when a recovery guarantee is offered, I say take it.  The Computrace service engages law enforcement for you, once you have a police report.  If they cannot find it, you'll get a refund of the cost of your device; some solace for the seasoned road-warrior, but not if your data is gone.

The lower end services will activate a pre-installed agent upon notification that the device is stolen or lost, and the vendor communicates with the customer where the tracked location of the device can be, assuming it is on a network somewhere (the eventual destination of stolen laptops).

Therein lies the Achilles Heel of laptop theft recovery software: if the computer never comes back to a network, it never "calls home" and no recovery is possible.  Additionally, the lower end products won't help much if the eventual thief (or person who buys it online from the thief) puts in a new hard drive or re-installs a new OS.  

I found Orbicule interesting in its many recovery options- notably about taking photos of the thief (presumed) using the stolen Mac.  The customer must refrain from playing "cops" and visiting where the  location of the device is reported.  Call your local police.

Overall, the largest cost to any user who suffers a lost laptop is the lost work- data - that is on the device.  I suggest two approaches to leverage this risk:  online backup services and cloud data management.   If your work product is online, you have less chance of losing it in a device theft.  The concept behind the Google Chrome Book is for the device to be cheap, efficient, and the valued data, to be online.  Follow that approach, and laptop recovery software is less of a value proposition.

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