Computrace helps agencies mind laptops
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Apr 02, 2001
A Canadian firm that makes software to track stolen laptop computers is
setting up operations in the United States through a deal with Lockheed
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,
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.