Computrace helps agencies mind laptops

A Canadian firm that makes software to track stolen laptop computers is

setting up operations in the United States through a deal with Lockheed

Martin Corp.

Under the agreement with Absolute Software Corp., Lockheed Martin will

create a monitoring center at its Lockheed Martin Mission Systems secure

facility in Gaithersburg, Md., making it the first facility in the United

States for users of the Canadian software-maker's Computrace product. Computrace

allows information technology administrators to track laptops in the field

and recover them if they are lost or stolen.

The software was created in response to the growing problem of laptops

being stolen or lost while employees are traveling or working in the field.

The State Department received attention last spring when a laptop was stolen

from inside its Washington, D.C., headquarters. The Energy Department reported

two hard drives missing from Los Alamos National Laboratory that were later

found inside the lab.

Lockheed Martin and Absolute announced a licensing agreement in September

under which Lockheed Martin would resell Computrace in the United States.

Existing users of the Computrace system are monitored by a facility at Absolute

Software's Vancouver, British Columbia, headquarters. Lockheed Martin expects

the U.S.-based facility to attract business from the government, which may

be hesitant to use a foreign-based service, said Jon Watada, Lockheed Martin

program manager for computer security products and services.

Being monitored from outside the United States has not been an issue

for the New Hampshire Office of Emergency Management, which has used Computrace

for two years, said Bill Shurbert, a technical support specialist for the

New Hampshire office.

When the agency lost one laptop a few years ago, it decided to choose

a method of prevention, Shurbert said. Buying insurance for its 30 laptops

was too expensive, so it bought the Computrace service, he said.

"For very little money, we could put this tracking software on the computers

and constantly keep track of them through a [local-area network] or a dial-up

connection," Shurbert said.

When Shurbert was configuring two laptops, he accidentally assigned

them both the same identification number. Within minutes, he received a

call from the Computrace monitoring center checking on the abnormal activity,

he said.

Lockheed Martin will market the system as a fee-based service for $50

a year per unit with quantity discounts for government buyers and will add

new features in the future, Watada said.

After Computrace is installed on a laptop or remote PC's hard drive,

the software-tracking agent will silently transmit computer asset data over

a phone line or LAN to the Lockheed Martin monitoring center on a scheduled

basis. Lockheed Martin's center will start operating by July, Watada said.

System status information — including the Internet service provider,

user name, e-mail address, operating system, hard drive size, processor

type and speed, and the originating phone number (even if it is an unlisted

or blocked number) — is stored in a secure, online database that users can

view via Web-based reports. If a computer is reported missing, it is flagged

in the database.

The next time the computer makes an Internet or phone connection, operators

at the monitoring center report its location and may work with law enforcement

to recover the missing laptop. The software is difficult to detect, and

the speaker and lights are deactivated when it dials out, Watada said. In

addition, if someone tries to repartition the hard drive, the software will

stay behind, he said.

The software also serves as an asset-management tool that helps IT administrators

keep track of how many computers are used remotely and when they are returned.

When the General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service

in Atlanta, Ga., started buying laptops a few years ago, it didn't waste

any time trying to find a way to keep track of them, said Karen Greenhow,

regional systems chief for the GSA office, which covers eight states in

the southeastern United States.

The Public Buildings Service has been using Computrace for about two

years and has 400 copies now in use, she said. About half of the service's

workers are in the field and half in regional offices; many of them travel

frequently and/or telecommute.

Since Computrace was installed on the machines, a few laptops have been

stolen and all were recovered, Greenhow said.

The Public Buildings Service installs Computrace on every laptop and

has found it is a good asset- management tool, Greenhow said. "The software

also tells us whether workers are using the laptops," she said.

Lockheed Martin plans to add several new capabilities to Computrace,

including secure electronic envelopes that allow the sender and receiver

to verify each other's identity, virtual private network services, biometric

security features and products that can be programmed to destroy data on

a laptop once it has been reported stolen, Watada said.

"We do see ourselves as being able to roll out a suite of complete products

and services for the mobile workforce," Watada said.


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