Laptop recovery firm gets A+ from school

Incidents of laptop theft have put many organizations in hot water in recent months, but one Canadian institution is refusing to fall prey to this escalating IT security breach.

Officials at St. Andrew’s College, an all-boys boarding school in Aurora, Ont., recently took steps to ensure that the 600 units in its fleet of laptops issued to teachers and students will end up back to the school.

The school is taking advantage of Computrace, a computer theft recovery, data protection and secure asset tracking technology from Vancouver-based Absolute Software Corp. Computrace enables firms to track their computer assets regardless of their location through an enabling tool that’s embedded on the machine’s BIOS (basic input/output system) and hard drive.

When St. Andrew’s started issuing laptops to its teachers in the school year of 2002-2003, seven of its 70 laptops were stolen. The following school year, it expanded its laptop count to 600 and began issuing the machines to students as well. That year, laptop theft incidents rose to 13, according to the school’s director of IT, Steve Rush. “Having those computers walk out the door really gets everyone concerned and distressed, which is not good for the environment,” said Rush.

St. Andrew’s began testing Absolute’s Computrace technology in the school year 2004-2005; the same year, stolen laptops went down to four, said Rush. The school then decided to purchase ComputraceComplete, Absolute’s full-suite of managed services that include computer tracking, hardware and software asset reporting, and a special feature that can remotely disable a system to render the laptop useless to whoever stole it.

Whenever a Computrace- enabled laptop logs on to the Web, it calls itself in to Absolute’s data centre, which is able to identify a machine and track its location. When a laptop is reported as stolen, the data centre is alerted so that the next time the stolen laptop logs on to the Internet, the tracking technology is able to trace its location. The police are then notified to facilitate its recovery, he explained.

Computrace also enables St. Andrew’s to track its computer assets by getting regular reports on software and hardware inventory. By logging on to Absolute’s corporate user Web site, Rush and his team can easily look up all information about its fleet of notebooks, including software licenses, software compliance reporting and a full list of hardware components on a machine.

For executives at St. Andrew’s, investing in Computrace was not a difficult decision to make, especially if it meant eliminating the problem of laptop theft, which was costing the school between $10,000 and $15,000 every year, according to Rush.

“A lot of it has to do with morale. Whenever there is a theft, everyone gets uncomfortable, wondering who did it, casting suspicions on people,” said Rush, adding that, “if we could let people know that we’re going to find these systems, that it’s not going to be an easy crime…then people aren’t going to do it.”

In the last school year, 2005-2006, laptop theft at St. Andrew’s went down to two. Rush said that since the school started using Computrace, the rate of laptop recovery is at 100 per cent.

One feature of the technology that Rush found very effective was the capability to remotely disable a system.

This feature proved itself worthy when one St. Andrew’s student refused to return the laptop after he left the school.

“We wiped out the Windows system and disabled the computer. Then [the student] tried to reinstall Windows and again, we wiped it out,” said Rush.

A month later, after realizing the stolen computer was useless to him, he returned the laptop.

The tracking system is described in the school’s parent-student handbook, said Rush. A student must pay the school $500 if his laptop is stolen, but the amount is refundable upon recovery of the stolen computer.

A three-year subscription of ComputraceComplete costs US$128.95 per license.

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