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Stolen Laptop Tracking Systems Explained

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/18/2011

Are you thinking about a laptop tracking device? This article provides everything you need to know about them, including how they work, how much they cost, their limitations and companies which sell them.

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    Where is your Laptop?

    Normally, you'd be able to answer that question instantly. But what if your laptop was stolen, or if you misplaced it in a public area? If this happened, you probably wouldn't have much luck finding your laptop. Not only would you be out the cost of your laptop, you'd also lose all of the information on your laptop. You'd even have to comprehensively change all of your passwords because of the chance that someone might retrieve that information from your laptop.

    Unless you have a laptop tracking device, that is. A laptop tracking device has the capability to track the movements of your laptop if it leaves your possession. Stolen and lost laptops can easily be found. This article will help you get up to speed on how laptop tracking devices work and what services are offered.

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    How Do Laptop Tracking Devices Work?

    Laptop Tracking Device A laptop tracking device, such as LoJack for Laptops or zTrace, works by installing a piece of software on a laptop which periodically - normally once a day - checks in with a central server. It reports to the server the current location of the laptop and other important information like I.P. address. If you like, you can check to make sure the information is accurate on the service's website.

    If you report your laptop stolen, however, the laptop tracking device swings into action. Updates become more frequent - Computrace LoJack of Laptop states that updates occur every fifteen minutes - in order to provide regular updates on a laptop's location. The location information obtained by the laptop tracking device can then be handed over to law enforcement in order to bust the crooks. Depending on the laptop tracking device service you choose, the company may well called local law enforcement for you, and work with them until the laptop is recovered.

    Laptop tracking device services usually supplement the laptop tracking capability - usually through an offered "premium" addition - with the ability to remotely delete information from your stolen laptop. This is an important security feature, as the data taken from a laptop which has been stolen is often much more valuable than the laptop itself. Both personal and corporate users can appreciate and fear the damage which could be done by someone who had access to your email, to your bank accounts, etc.

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    How Much Do Laptop Tracking Devices Cost?

    With most laptops you will not actually have to purchase a "device" in order to enable laptop tracking. Laptops generally already have the hardware required to enable laptop tracking once a service has been purchased. The cost of the service can vary greatly.

    For personal use, prices for one year of service usually range between $40 and $75 dollars. The lower end of the price spectrum represents basic services which provide laptop tracking but little else, while the more expensive options include the ability to delete data from the stolen laptop, among other things.

    Corporate users are also big customers of laptop tracking devices, and the companies recognize this. Of course, the corporate versions of laptop tracking devices are expensive, but are usually available with a volume discount of some type.

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    The Limitations of Laptop Tracking Devices

    Lojack for Laptops Purchasing a laptop tracking service can significantly increase the chance that you will find your laptop in the event that it is lost or stolen, but it isn't guaranteed. While there is a hardware element to a laptop tracking device, it ultimately will not function without the software as well. If your laptop is stolen and has been put into the hands of a very technically knowledgeable thief, it is extremely likely that the laptop tracking device will be compromised and deactivated. While laptop tracking devices operate silently and, in the best examples of the breed, function on a BIOS level, there is no getting around the fact that a determined thief will be able to deactivate the tracking device given time.

    The second problem with laptop tracking devices is the fact that they require an Internet connection of some type in order to update their location. If there is no Internet connection, there is no way for the laptop to update itself. A laptop thief could, of course, simply never connect to the Internet. This is harder than you may think - some laptops connect to hotspots automatically and there are open hotspots all over major urban areas - but it is a simple counter-measure which a thief could take.

    Of course, while these limitations exist, laptop tracking devices are still effective. The fact is that most thieves are not that savvy. Those who steal personal laptops usually do so either because they simply want a free laptop or they want to re-sell the laptop to someone else. These thieves usually aren't the most technically inclined and may not even be aware that laptop tracking devices exist. Those who target corporate laptops - such as employees who steal laptops from a business for their own personal use - are also unlikely to be able to disable a laptop tracking device.

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    Available Laptop Tracking Services

    There are many laptop tracking device services, but a few of them stand out from the crowd.

    One is Computrace LoJack for Laptops. Computrace is one of the most sophisticated services available. They use a BIOS level software which is capable of updating a laptop's location every fifteen minutes. Computrace LoJack for Laptops backs up their service with a $1000 guarantee that your laptop will be found if it is stolen.

    Another popular laptop tracking service is zTrace. zTrace offers a wide range of services including not only laptop tracking but also several laptop data protection services, such as zPass, which acts as a supplemental password security system and prevents a thief from entering the operating system of a stolen computer.