LoJack for Laptops (the Free Version)

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPhoto from the University of Washington.

 

If you’re reading this post on a laptop computer, rest easy. Your computer may have just become far less appealing to thieves.

The University of Washington has released a free program that will track your laptop if it’s stolen. If the program is installed on a computer with a built-in camera, it will even send you a photo of the thief at the keyboard.

It’s called Adeona, after the Roman goddess of safe returns, and it’s a lot like LoJack — the silent alarm and recovery system for cars — for laptops.

We’ve blogged before about Levitt and Ian Ayres‘s paper on how Lojack drives down overall car theft because thieves can’t be sure which car is protected and which one is not.

The officially licensed LoJack for Laptops software has been available for purchase since 2006. But with a free version now also in the mix, far more laptops will be protected by anti-theft tracking tools that could lead police right to a thief’s door.

What would crime look like if every car and computer came with a free tracking device — or every bicycle, bulldozer, and boat?


Paul K

I can tell you from a former victim that the average laptop thief just hands them in to a fence. The buyer chooses to either contact the victim to sell it back (claiming they bought it not knowing it was stolen, but "discovered it was") or just erases the hard disk and loads a clean OS so they can sell.
It is not the thief who has to be smart (any smarter than smash and grab or other simple techniques) and the buyers/fences make themselves known easily.
As to BIOS locks and the like (e.g. @22), they do not work because the tools to overcome them are available to IT departments (legitimately) and so available to fences (not legitimately). Any concept like that has to have a back door because the average user loses fobs and forgets passwords.

Paul

But what happens if the thief just re-formats the hard drive?

Seems like that's the first thing a thief would do -- re-format the drive and re-install the programs.

But maybe there is something I'm not getting.

~~~

Someone please email me when they invent lojack for teenagers. I'd just like to know where mine are some of the time and for them to come home once in a while.

Laptop

Wish I'd read this article before Friday, when I had two laptops stolen out my bags by someone in the airline that flew me from Shanghai to Charlotte... =(

Mike

I noticed a couple of commenters mentioned data theft vs hardware theft (which, in all likelihood, is the real concern for most). I work with Authentec, they (and Upek) supply a good portion of the fingerprint sensors that laptop makers and mobile phone manufacturers are adding to their devices. IMO, this is a security feature that we'll see move beyond corporate data protection and increasingly into the real of consumers.

doug

The computer is just a tool. The hardware has almost no value compared to the information. As long as I have my information backed up and stored, you can have the near-worthless hardware.

Arieanna

Even if you knew exactly where your computer was after it was stolen, this information is absolutely useless in the hands of the average person. Stolen computers are often found in the hands of some extremely bad people. Very few people would entertain the idea of canvassing an apartment building asking people if they have seen their stolen computer. So that's why you need the actual LoJack for Laptops from Absolute Software that has a Theft Recovery team who have experience working with local police, assisting them in investigations and getting laptops back. On average the team gets back 60 laptops a week. It's rather unlikely for a private citizen to be able to work with police to get them the information they need to obtain search warrants and subpoenas.

And the LoJack for Laptops software is extremely difficult to circumvent, especially if it's embedded in the computer firmware – requiring sophisticated skills that are very, very rare among computer thieves. We've found that the vast majority of thefts are committed by opportunistic criminals looking for an easily-stolen, high-value target.

If you do have more questions about LoJack, we'd be happy to answer them! :)

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Neil (SM)

I'm not sure about adeona, but I know other laptop anti-theft devices are built into the bios -- a simple reformat would not overcome that.

Loren

Commenter Doug,

Please buy me a new laptop. Thanks.

Helena Handbasket

It will look like London. CCTV.

T. Crane

It sounds like a great idea, but I wonder about how the criminal will be pursued. Who is going to confront the thief? You gonna go up to who you think stole it and demand your laptop back? Will the police get involved? Would they really stop arresting skateboarders to go rescue a laptop? I can see it working on something expensive like a car, but petty thievery doesn't seem to be the sort of crime police would really care to investigate.

Thoughts?

Malique

There have been problems with Open DHT servers of the the past few months, they are not reliable and have been up only 80% of the time. This is a great research project but not something I would trust in the real world for my laptop.

Eric

What is really interesting is that the press covered this story, but nobody actually tested it out. The software does not work, there have been numerous complaints in the user forums that hte software was not working, from people who have had their laptops stolen, only to discover the software does not function. There is a problem with the OpenDHT servers that makes it so you cannot retrieve data.

Worse is that they continue to allow people to download it telling them that it works and will track their devices down if stolen. It is a big lie. Try it and you will see.

So why is it that the press don't look this sort of thing up? The user groups are full of people telling how it does not work and the Adeona team even admit that the software is not working...yet the press keep writing about it like it does. Can we get a reporter who is tech savvy enough to cover this?

krebiz

as far as bios locks, thats what flashing the bios is for. just download and older bios version from the motherboard manufacture and install it using a floppy or usb drive. no more lojack resident in the bios.

hp9720us

when a common thief steals a comp, do u actually think about flashing the bios?

Just Me

Turn off the wireless and bluetooth radios, don't connect to the internet, reformat the hard drive, update or reinstall the BIOS. Install an O.S., drivers and other software. No college degree or high-tech training but I know for a fact it works!! Good luck out there.

J man

Any one ever "flash" a bios...its all gone. Flash the bios, reinstall OS your all set. Now a hardware device separate from the functionality of the PC that simply draws on the battery or electricity would not require a thief to turn on the Lappy...only have a charged battery or have it plugged into the wall and you can track it. Even if they flash the bios, and reinstall the laptop the device is viable.

As for criminals not being smart, history shows us that as we increase the technology used to prevent crime criminals increase the tech they use to commit them. Its all a cycle.

tommyd

people act like every thief that rips your laptop out of a parked car is a computer geek.. yeah right...

the first thing the rip off artist will do is either sell it right away or look on it to see if there is info that can be converted to cash....
The market penetration of LowJack is probably pretty slim... It is most likely not that prevalent and I doubt most rip off artist worry that much about it.

They will go on line and see if they can score a bunch of stuff from ebay or amazon before they ditch it or sell it to a buddy...

But someone will turn it on and get on the internet and that someone can lead back to someone,
Like how many pawn shops want to have the cops bustin their chops repeatedly for selling hot merchandise?? answer none...

Oh yeah, so you wanna flash the bios? well where the hell do you think the thief will get the bios download from?? Think He has a stockpile of 10,000 different laptop bios sittin in his desk drawer?
Some of these wanna be gurus here need to get out of their momma's basement more often...

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Alex

Adeona website specifically says that "If the device is lost or stolen, but maintains Internet connectivity and unmodified software, the tracking system can keep tabs on the current whereabouts of the device." That sounds like a hard drive reformat would kill the system. And, even if it didn't, the only way someone would use the system without reinstalling the OS, would be if they could log in without a password. So, it sounds like this security solution requires you to let thiefs access and use your data at will!

I believe LoJack is more useful, since it can reinstall itself from the BIOS after a hard disk reformat or replacement (or, so it promises). A couple of Internet sources (all possibly biased, however), claim that more than 10% of laptops get stolen in their first 3 years (I've had two stolen myself). Let's say you're looking at a $1,000 laptop, and assume it's going to maintain the same value over 3 years (even as the hardware depreciates, the machine gains value with customization and gathering data both of which take time to replace). CompuTrace claims a 90% recovery rate; if that's true, then LoJack has a value of $1000*0.10*0.90 = $90. That doesn't take into account the risk premium (or "peace of mind", as insurance companies call it), which surely adds 10-20% for an average person.

HP offers LoJack for $49 for 4 years on new laptops I was just researching. Sounds like a good investment (for that laptop).

One small issue I see is that it's always working and transmitting, which could have an impact on battery life. Another is that, if you are one of those few people that wants to flash a custom BIOS at some point, you should expect to lose this system.

Someone mentioned data transmission security, but it sounds like LoJack basically transmits the user's account LoJack account # and IP info to Absolute Software. I don't know what a hacker would do with that info (a stalker or a government agent searching for you might, but only if they manage to intercept it at the LoJack side). It looks like it has one small potential security issue that Lookout for Android does – if someone finds out your password, they can always know your location just by logging on to the software's website.

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Mike Bonser

I want to say that most thieves are drug addicts looking for thier next fix and would probably not even try to boot up the computer before they sell it to a drug dealer for drugs