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    Mobile data protection powering Absolute growth

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver 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 employee carelessness.”

    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 slowdown.

    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. Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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