A stolen notebook can be a real threat to a business's security, but a new BIOS-level application offers protection and control over the use of a stolen machine.
The application, called TheftGuard, is supplied as part of a new chip from Phoenix Technologies, a leading manufacturer of BIOS products.
When a TheftGuard-equipped system is stolen, the owner provides instructions through the TheftGuard web site. The next time the lost computer connects to the Internet, TheftGuard is activated and either disables the machine, wipes its hard drive, or transmits information on the physical location where the signal originates.
TheftGuard is not something a user can add; it could enter the consumer channel if a laptop manufacturer offers the security system as an option.
"Over the last ten years laptops are starting to look the same," said Phoenix spokesperson David Tractenberg. "Something like TheftGuard can help to differentiate one product from another."
Phoenix is aiming the service at large corporations that must protect their data and equipment. Its cost will depend on the hardware vendor. In quantity purchase situations the cost will be negligible, according to Phoenix.
"The loss of a machine is bad enough, but in many cases the data is the most important thing," says Timothy D. Eades, a Phoenix senior vice president. "By wiping the disk clean we protect this."
Eades hopes the TheftGuard logo--which could be presented in a visible place on the laptop--would itself deter thieves. By installing protection at the BIOS level, the standard process of reformatting or replacing hard drives won't work. The machine, then, is virtually useless to any thirds party (unless, of course, they can stay off of the Internet).
Also, changing a hard-wired BIOS is a task that is well out of the reach of the average thief. "Not many people can do this," Eades adds. "Most of those who can are already working for us."
Other Options to Come
TheftGuard is the latest of several new BIOS-based value-added custom functions Phoenix is developing. The company also offers Recover Pro, a built-in backup utility that sends data to a completely secure portion of the disk. This won't save the data if the machine is actually destroyed, but allows recovery in a majority of data disasters, the company says.
Both new functions are part of a new Phoenix platform called cME, which increases BIOS configurability options in a number of areas. TheftGuard was developed in conjunction with system software firm Softex.
"We have built the protection into the heart of the machine," Eades says. "This is part of a greater level of customization that we are offering to our customers, to help them differentiate their products from their competitors."
Eades said that new BIOS features do not add any complexity to the machines themselves. "The end users don't need to be so smart to use these features," he said. "We have made this simple to use and easy to maintain."
Australian availability details were unavailable.