While there’s still a space for laptops in many organisations and homes, it’d be daft to consider the desktop the primary way that we compute these days. That role must belong to notebooks, which have in recent years gained the lion’s share of the computing market. They’re under some pressure from the tablet market, but both laptops and tablets share a key feature point — portability — that’s also a distinct liability.
Do you know what your laptop’s doing right now? Chances are high that it’s right where you left it, but in some cases that can be left behind on a train, in an airport, or just within reach of someone with distinctly sticky fingers.
There’s two real problems with a lost or stolen laptop. Firstly, there’s the issue of the hardware itself. Insurance may cover it depending on the circumstances, but there’s still going to be a gap between losing the laptop and having it replaced, not to mention the cost and inconvenience. More troublesome is the data issue. For individuals that can be photos, documents and lots of private data depending on what you store on your laptop. For businesses that can be confidential information — some of it potentially not your own. There are ways to protect data on laptops with encrypted partitions and specifically locked down software, but a good rule of thumb is that if somebody’s got physical access to your hardware, they’ve got access to your data.
There are solutions at hand that deal with both the loss of laptop and loss of data issues.As an example, one of the features of Intel’s new Ultrabook lines — thin and light laptops with portability in mind — is security hardware built in at the silicon level. Once activated, it’ll periodically check in with Intel’s servers; if you realise the laptop’s gone you can send it a “poison pill” that locks the hardware down completely. Whoever’s got the laptop can’t reformat it, reflash the BIOS or do anything but stare at a user-defined message. If you’re then lucky enough to recover the laptop it’s possible to unlock it, but if you’ve pinched it, it’s no good to you at all. Intel’s solution is a paid service; Dick Smith will be the first retailer to offer the subscription service, which will at first be a free offering, but shortly $49.95 for a two year subscription thereafter.
Intel’s solution isn’t the only security game in town, and is primarily aimed at locking down data rather than laptop recovery. Many software services will track your laptop based on IP address and record data about the usage pattern of the machine, but it’s a fine line to tread. Recently in the United States a woman who innocently bought a laptop not realising it was stolen was rather mortified when some rather private (and intimate) chats she had on the laptop with her boyfriend were recorded by security software. Most software shouldn’t do that kind of thing — and it’s worth noting that the woman involved was successful in her suit against the software company.
With more of us using (and often only using) laptops every day, it’s not only worth keeping in mind where your laptop is, but also what you’d do if it was to go missing.