A teacher from DeSoto High School in Texas, knowing she would be out of the classroom on school business for the day on Friday, April 17, hid her laptop in her desk drawer. When she returned to school later that afternoon, she went to retrieve the laptop—only to discover that it was missing. But thanks to a PC tracking program from Absolute Software of Vancouver Brtitish Columbia, school officials were able to recover the machine just 20 minutes after it was reported stolen.

As mobile computers become an increasingly standard part of K-12 instruction, schools are looking for ways to protect their technology investments. Absolute claims that its ComputracePlus program is the first software-and-service solution to enable the recovery of lost or stolen PCs almost instantly.

This was the first laptop to disappear since the DeSoto Independent School District, a southern Dallas County district that encompasses 20 square miles and serves 7,100 students, selected ComputracePlus a year and a half ago to safeguard approximately 1,000 laptops. Jim Cockrell, the district’s executive director of technology services, said the decision already is paying off.

“In the first two months of our laptop deployment program … we had about four or five machines go missing, and that was just unacceptable for us,” Cockrell said. “Our leadership team [agreed] that ComputracePlus was the most appropriate approach to protecting our laptops, so we got the funding and moved on it.”

After ComputracePlus is installed on a PC’s hard drive, the software-tracking agent silently calls into Absolute’s monitoring center in Vancouver on a scheduled basis each time a user logs onto the internet. If a Computrace-equipped PC is reported lost or stolen, its location can be traced, and Absolute works with law enforcement officials to recover the asset. The software reportedly survives efforts to delete it—even if the thief were to reformat the hard drive.

The physical location of a stolen PC is discovered using two important technologies: Automatic Number Identification (ANI), which allows the company to identify the phone number and corresponding street address of any call location in North America, even unlisted numbers and those equipped with Caller ID blocking; and Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is a unique fingerprint for every PC at the time of communication. When a stolen PC’s IP address is captured by the Absolute monitoring center, it is traced to the owner of that IP domain. The recovery officer then contacts the domain’s administrator to determine who is using the stolen computer.

To date, approximately 2,000 customers rely on ComputracePlus to track and locate lost or stolen PCs. Absolute says it has recovered 95 percent of the computers reported lost or stolen to its monitoring center.

Having ComputracePlus installed on all DeSoto laptops meant there was some recourse for the teacher whose laptop was stolen. She reported it missing to the school’s resource officers, and on Monday, April 22, Absolute Software was notified. After flagging it in the database as stolen, Absolute’s recovery officers checked the call history on the machine and noticed that the computer already had contacted Absolute’s monitoring center over the weekend.

By capturing ANI information, Absolute was able to identify the phone number and corresponding street address of the call location. Michael Crum, a school resource officer for DeSoto High School, visited the residence and spoke with the student’s father, who told him that his son had brought a laptop home but said he’d purchased it for $300. The student has since been expelled and is being prosecuted for felony theft charges.

“From the time the theft report was made to Absolute, to the time the laptop was recovered, was approximately 20 minutes,” Crum said. “ComputracePlus has certainly made my job easier, and I would recommend it to other school districts. I’m even considering installing it on my own laptop.”

Cockrell added, “I genuinely like to think the best of people, but we have to recognize that there are some folks who will walk away with things [like laptops] that don’t belong to them. When a laptop goes missing, we are not just concerned about the hardware and software costs, we are also concerned about the confidential information that is stored on the hard drive, such as grades and records. ComputracePlus really is an ingenious way to boost the security of our confidential information and our expensive machines.”

ComputracePlus costs $49.95 per license per year, with volume discounts available.

Related links:
DeSoto Independent School District

Absolute Software