[unisog] Computer Tracking Products

Colin Curtin alpine at umail.ucsb.edu
Thu Mar 6 20:36:42 GMT 2003

Quoth Jim Bryce <bryce at mcmaster.ca>:

> Does anyone have experience with software solutions to track the whereabouts
> of
> laptops or desktops?  There are dozens of products in the marketplace that
> purport to be able to aid in the recovery of stolen computers by sending a
> stealth email message to a specified address whenever the machine connects
> to
> the internet.  The message would reveal the IP address in use to aid in
> location
> and recovery of the computer.

This troubles me because of the way it might be checking internet connectivity. 
If it's trying to reach one of the manufacturer's hosts, you have to think 
about computer life vs. manufacturer life. If suddenly the manufacturer goes 
out of business, you've just lost any protection you had on the computer. Not 
to mention, trying to "call home" could be a lost cause if the kidnapper never 
connects the computer to the internet.

> Our Risk Management and Campus Security Department are interested in any
> product
> that would help recover stolen computer equipment.  Risk Management might go
> so
> far as to require the use of such a product on any university-owned machine
> covered under the university's insurance policy.

If they're willing, there are products that make use of GPS for tracking. Of 
course, I can't even find them on a Google search, though I did find one at 
Comdex a few years back. Computrace Plus 
(http://www.computrace.com/public/products/computraceplus/default.asp) looks 
like a good alternative to something that sits at the Windows layer. It's 
pretty low-level (MBR I think) and makes sure nothing is different upon boot-
up. They have some whitepapers and hide behind buzzwords, but it looks like a 
solid product. 

> Our investigation of one such product has raised some concerns:
> a) the ability of the product to be undetected on the machine
> b) privacy considerations for an individual using the machine
> c) the integrity of the manufacturer (since the version of software that we
> looked at seemed to be performing a connect to the company's server every
> ten
> minutes - this did not seem to be consistent with their description of the
> operation of the product)

You definately need to check out the manufacturer, and make sure they aren't 
going anywhere. Even if they do, they need a guarantee that your service will 
still work. Calling home every 10 minutes isn't very good. It should just hide 
in the background, and do a check every time it starts up and senses a network 

Just some thoughts, anyway.

Colin Curtin
alpine at umail.ucsb.edu

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