Mar 9, 2009

Open Source Laptop Recovery

Back when I used to work for Websense, there was a lady in the Marketing department (who shall remain nameless) that would go through laptops like you might go through underwear.

She would go to traveling shows, and conferences with her crew and she would often times come back saying that her laptop was stolen, or lost and she needed a new one. We often joked that we needed to start monitoring her eBay account.

In all seriousness though, what we really needed was something like Lo-Jack to track all of these laptops. If they were truly stolen, then we could alert the authorities to get the laptop back. That would be ideal if it weren't so costly. Perhaps that really isn't an issue in the corporate environment when losing a lot of laptops can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, but for the average user, it may not be that practical.

I have found a free solution though. It isn't the best, but it does beat not doing anything...Oh, and its free so why not?

You see, back at Toorcon I sat through a presentation on a free, Open Source tool that you install on your Windows, Linux, or Mac computer, and it periodically sends an encrypted file out the the service giving identifying information about the location of the laptop. All it needs is an active Internet connection. This software is called Adeona. Here is a brief overview from their website:

Adeona is the first Open Source system for tracking the location of your lost or stolen laptop that does not rely on a proprietary, central service. This means that you can install Adeona on your laptop and go — there's no need to rely on a single third party. What's more, Adeona addresses a critical privacy goal different from existing commercial offerings. It is privacy-preserving. This means that no one besides the owner (or an agent of the owner's choosing) can use Adeona to track a laptop. Unlike other systems, users of Adeona can rest assured that no one can abuse the system in order to track where they use their laptop.

Adeona is designed to use the Open Source OpenDHT distributed storage service to store location updates sent by a small software client installed on an owner's laptop. The client continually monitors the current location of the laptop, gathering information (such as IP addresses and local network topology) that can be used to identify its current location. The client then uses strong cryptographic mechanisms to not only encrypt the location data, but also ensure that the ciphertexts stored within OpenDHT are anonymous and unlinkable. At the same time, it is easy for an owner to retrieve location information.

Now the one big drawback (that pretty much everyone at the conference was thinking) was that this product assumes that if a laptop is stolen that the thief will not wipe the drive. The thief would have to be a friggin' idiot not to do that!

However, it did occur to me that most laptop thefts are probably done by "average user" company employees. They know they could take the laptop, and just report it stolen to get another one, and BAM! They now have a free laptop that your company just bought them. Whats more is that they may not be as smart as the thief, and will most likely NOT slick the drive. If that is the case, then this tool could prove useful by both getting your company's laptop back, and also firing shady employees who take expensive office equipment.

In conclusion, I look at this product as a nice to have, free-so-why-not, better than not having type of product. Other than that, if you truly want to get your stuff back at all costs, then you need to go with a more reliable solution like Lo-Jack.

Whats your opinion on this? I want to hear from you in the comments.

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