data protection powering Absolute growth
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
March 16-22 2010 issue #1064
High Tech Office column
Remember floppy diskettes?
How about desktop computers? OK, more of us continue to use desktops –
especially in the workplace – than are still using floppy disks, but
portable computers now outsell their desk-bound equivalents. And that’s
good for Vancouver-based Absolute Software, which, since 1994, has been
in the business of helping companies manage hardware and data on the go.
Stephan Midgley, Absolute’s vice-president for global marketing,
recently told me that 12,000 laptops are lost or stolen each week in
U.S. airports. He noted that for many users, “losing your laptop is
like losing your wallet,” as the loss costs money but also means losing
personal identification information along with photos and memories.
In a 2008 Ponemon Institute survey of U.S., Canadian and U.K. business
users, businesses said lost or stolen laptops resulted in data loss 71%
of the time. This can be both embarrassing and expensive – in many
cases, companies are required by law to notify customers and employees
if confidential data has been lost or stolen.
The U.S.-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse identified more than 200
million U.S. residents whose personal information had been compromised
in this way between 2005 and 2007.
Data encryption is a potential tool to preserve the confidentiality of
information travelling on laptops. Encrypted data can only be accessed
after entering a password, making it inaccessible to a thief.
Good news: the Ponemon survey indicated that over half (58%) of the
users surveyed had encryption software installed on their laptops by
their employers. Bad news: 56% of those employees who could be
encrypting their data said they had turned it off. Even worse, 7% of
the employees surveyed said they taped their encryption password onto
the laptop. The result: much of the time, even when encryption has been
installed, companies are unable to prove that it was in use when a
laptop is stolen.
Absolute’s terse summary: “Laptops will be stolen, thefts will cause
data breaches and encryption does not protect organizations from
Absolute’s Computrace software helps companies track laptops and other
mobile devices as they travel beyond the company network. Devices with
Computrace installed “call in” to Absolute’s monitoring centre every 24
hours. If the device is reported stolen, it is reset to call in every
15 minutes, helping track its location. Midgley reports recovery rates
of about 75% on lost or stolen laptops with the company’s software
installed. As an example, he said that one U.S. health-care provider
saw “PC drift” of leased hardware drop to 1% from 15%.
In addition, Absolute’s software can now be used to remotely wipe data
on missing laptops. Even with the data wiped the hardware can still be
recovered. Computrace software can work with Intel’s anti-theft
initiative features in new Intel core processors.
While Computrace was developed for large organizations, individual and
small- business laptop owners can buy Absolute’s LoJack software in two
versions: standard, which has similar tracking features to Computrace,
and premium, which adds data deletion. Same laptop manufacturers are
including LoJack as part of their software bundle.
Both Computrace and LoJack have versions for Windows and Mac users.
As well, increased use of smartphones offers yet another way for
business users to lose critical data. (Going to meet with Midgley, I
found a lost cellphone on the SkyTrain). Absolute is now offering
Computrace Mobile for BlackBerry, Symbion and Windows Mobile users –
but not iPhones.
In February, the company launched Absolute Manage. The product provides
automated management of PCs, Macs and iPhones and offers inventory,
imaging, patch management and software distribution features.
Helping organizations track, recover and wipe data from mobile devices
has enabled Absolute to continue to grow, even through the recent
Midgley noted that the company has continued to add employees – now up
to 330 overall, with 170 in Vancouver – making it the city’s biggest
locally owned software company.