Lose a Laptop Recently?

I happened to stumble across some new support options form Dell that may come in handy if you (or an employee) is prone to losing a laptop.  Of course, anyone with a laptop is capable of losing it or having it stolen, but as we know, some people are just a little more forgetful than others.  I have no idea what sort of pricing Dell is putting on these services, but you may want to investigate and see if the cost helps mitigate the risk…or at least gives you a warm fuzzy feeling that makes it easier to sleep at night when the forgetful executive is on the road.  Here are the two main options of interest.

Laptop Tracking & Recovery.  Definitely the more interesting of the two, with this service Dell has built some additional software into the BIOS to “phone home” whenever the computer hooks up to the internet.  It will report as much location information as possible, which, unless you have GPS capabilities on the laptop (which was mentioned in the details) is probably just an IP address which can be traced to an owner.  If the thief is smart about it, this IP information will be fairly useless so I would recommend going with a model that includes the GPS capabilities if this feature is really important to you.

Of course, we also have to think about the risk mitigation this provides.  The major risk of losing a laptop is losing the data on the laptop, correct?  I mean, lets face it, replacing a laptop really isn’t that expensive, but losing sensitive information can be detrimental to your business.  So, does this really protect against that?  Well, I would argue it depends on the thief.  If the thief stole the laptop with intent of harvesting corporate information, this plan is probably going to be useless.  Probably the first thing the thief will do is dump the entire drive off to a copy.  Depending on what is found on the computer, it’s quite likely it will never even get connected to the network if the thief is smart.  However, if someone just swipes the laptop for the sake of swiping a laptop, this could be very useful.  That sort of thief will likely not be as smart and is stealing the laptop to be able to use (or sell) a laptop.  So it is very likely the laptop will get re-connected to the internet at sometime and the data may never leave the laptop.  And of course there’s the lost laptop.  If you think you are fairly likely to lose the laptop and aren’t as worried about targeted theft, this plan may make sense for you…that is, of course, assuming someone does find the laptop, boots it up, and gets it connected to the internet so it can phone home.

Remote Data Delete.  The second option I found interesting was the capability for Remote Data Delete.  Using this option, if the laptop was stolen, you can launch a remote delete command which will use the same software as before.  Again, this will only work when the laptop is connected to the internet.  So using the same analysis as above, this would really only be useful in the second case mentioned.  So in the case that someone actually wanted the data…this probably isn’t going to help you for several reasons.  First, as I mentioned above, the thief is likely going to take a copy of the hard drive (or physically remove the hard drive) before ever connecting the device to the internet.  Secondly, you have to initiate this delete.  This means, the theft/loss has to be reported.  Who knows how much time will exist between when the laptop is actually lost or stolen and when you are notified.  Then you have to notify Dell and launch this command.  So there’s likely quite a bit of a window in there for the thief.

So, in my opinion, I don’t think these options will really do that much to protect you.  The main fault of these plans is that they rely on the laptop getting connected to the internet.  I’m not real sure if a remote data deletion will really ever be that useful since a thief that wants the data will very likely already have the data by the time you know the laptop is stolen.  If the thief isn’t after the data, they’ll probably never notice it anyway.  You’re much better of using encryption technologies to encrypt the data on the drive.  As for the tracking and recovery, I think this is a great idea, but I’m not sure if it’s really to a point that it’s all that useful yet.  Again, I think about the only case it will be useful in is if someone steals the laptop (either from the employee or from the location the laptop was lost) for the sake of using/selling the laptop.  Some sort of RFID or satellite solution that did not depend on the device getting connected to the internet would be much more useful…though probably also more expensive.

So there you go.  If you or your employees are prone to losing laptops, you may want to consider these options, but remember my suggestions when you’re considering it to ensure you understand exactly what you’re getting and how much protection it’s really giving you.

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One Response to Lose a Laptop Recently?

  1. itatsmallbiz says:

    FYI…there’s a good post over on Schneier on Security about how many laptops are lost at airports. Very interesting statistics.

    http://schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/07/hundreds_of_tho.html

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