Ken Westin will help you find your stolen BlackBerry — and give you an opportunity to mess with the thief who pinched it. His company, GadgetTrak, a Portland, Ore.-based computer security firm, develops software that gives you remote access to a missing gadget.
His GadgetTrak Mobile Security software ($24.95 US per device), lets you order a swiped smart phone to call any number you choose, as well as locate it on a Google map. You can lock the phone down, recover data and wipe any sensitive information. You can secretly turn on the microphone and spy on the crook. Or you can blast an ear-busting siren that can only be stopped by prying out the battery. "You can do just about anything but shock the thief," says Westin.
Firms like GadgetTrak are developing systems like this to help quash the rising rate of electronics robberies in the U.S. The small size, sleekness and mobility that make today's electronics convenient also make them great targets for thieves. These high-tech, mobile devices dominate Forbes' list of most stolen electronics.
According to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, the number of reported laptop thefts increased almost 48 per cent over the last two years, from 73,700 to almost 109,000. The number of reported phone robberies jumped 33 per cent over the same period, from 60,100 to nearly 80,300. In the past three years, theft of Apple iPods and other digital music players surged 91 per cent from 8,900 to more than 17,000. The data include all reported incidents from pick-pocketing to commercial heists.
It's so bad that a 2007 study showed iPod robberies bumped up overall crime rates in some major U.S. cities. According to a study by policy group the Urban Institute, felonies increased 18.3 per cent in New York subways in 2005 — but minus iPod thefts, the amount of subway crime would have actually decreased by 3 per cent for the year. The same study said that stolen iPods accounted for 4 per cent of all robberies in Washington, D.C., in 2007.
It's an inconvenience if you lose your favorite music player, but when corporations lose an electronic gadget, the stakes can be high. Often the information contained in the device is worth much more than the hardware itself.
"It's funny how it's switched," says Dr. Larry Ponemon, founder of the Ponemon Institute, a Michigan-based information management organization. "Criminals realized that it's better to get the data than to get the equipment."
12,000 laptops lost or snatched in U.S. airports weekly
The costs can be staggering. The Computer Security Institute's 2008 Computer Crime & Security Survey found that information breaches cost companies an average of nearly $300,000 a year. According to the study, which surveyed 69 major corporations, 42 per cent of those surveyed experienced laptop theft. The Ponemon Institute estimates that every week, 12,000 laptops are lost or stolen in U.S. airports alone.
The Institute also estimated that robberies cost the average major corporation 640 laptops, 1,985 USB memory sticks, 1,075 smart phones and 1,324 other data devices per year. The institute estimates that each year up to 800,000 memory devices (laptops, smart phones, memory sticks) are lost or stolen. Because of the potential high cost of data theft, companies such as Dell offer services that not only track and locate stolen or missing computers, but can erase an entire hard drive before the criminals can access sensitive information. A three-year subscription to the Dell ProSupport service costs $99 per computer.
GadgetTrak's Search & Destroy program offers similar services at a cost of $69.95 per three-year contract. For about $15 a year, the company licenses location software for external USB devices like iPods, digital cameras, memory sticks and flash drives. Once plugged into a computer, the device sends out a signal pinpointing its location and the thief's IP address.
These types of tracking software are effective. The Ponemon Institute estimates that only 18 per cent of unprotected laptops are recovered. Westin says that computers with tracking programs are found more than 90 per cent of the time.
Westin's GadgetTrak gets creative when locating Mac laptops: The company's MacTrak program uses the computer's built-in camera to secretly snap pictures of the thief every 30 minutes.
The pictures are sent to your personal e-mail or online photo-storage account. The image then can be forwarded to police, hung up around town or added to social networks like Facebook. With GadgetTrak's sneaky defenses, it almost makes you wish your BlackBerry or MacBook gets snatched.