New laptop theft tracking device debuts

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The program, called Adeona, tracks where stolen laptops log onto the Internet.

The name Adeona once belonged only to the Roman goddess of safe returns.

on the web

To learn more and download the new program, go to http://adeona.cs.washington.edu/.

Today, a new laptop recovery program shares the name – and the goal.

Adeona , a free, open-source computer program originating from a group at the University of Washington and University of California, promises to assist people in finding lost and stolen laptops, an issue the University has had to tackle in the past.

The program allows a user to identify the Internet networks the stolen laptop logs onto, allowing them to track the computer’s location through Internet addresses and routers.

“It can update about its current location,” University of California – San Diego graduate student Thomas Ristenpart , who helped develop the program, said. “This could be crucial evidence toward trying to recover the laptop.”

The three-week-old beta program, which is being reviewed at a national computer security conference held this week, had about 12,000 downloads in its first three days up, Ristenpart said.

Because the program needs to be constantly collecting Internet log-in data, Ristenpart said a user’s privacy was a concern for the group.

“We realized that it was a fairly deep question to try and understand how we could build a system that simultaneously tracks a device but at the same time preserves the owner’s location privacy,” he said.

The solution was simple – password-protect the data, allowing only the owner to access it by logging on to their account from another computer.

‘It’s honestly not something I worry about’

Sitting in the University’s computer science building, some students said although they protect their laptops religiously, they rarely worry about theft.

Denny Vien , a sophomore computer science student, said he carries his laptop with him whenever he needs to go somewhere.

“I always carry my stuff with me,” he said. “I don’t want someone to steal it. Laptops aren’t cheap.”

Vien said a program like Adeona would add to his peace of mind.

“It would be great,” he said. “It makes me feel even more comfortable.”

Gaurav Dubey , a computer science graduate student, said he also is careful about keeping his laptop safe, but wouldn’t use a program like Adeona until it was “well-recommended” by the industry.

“It’s honestly not something I worry about,” he said of thefts. “It’s not something I’d use right now.”

Ken Hanna , director of Office of Information Technology security and assurance, said a program like Adeona wouldn’t be something the University as an institution would use on a large scale.

“Our major problem is the information on the laptop and not the laptop quite so much,” he said. “The information on the laptops can be very expensive for us to deal with, protect, and in the worse case, notify people about.”

In the past, the University has lost a variety of laptops with student information on them.

In September 2006, the University announced it had lost two laptops, both containing student information, including personal and even social security data.

Again in 2007, a laptop containing grading information was stolen from a faculty member’s car in California.

Back in the 2005-06 academic year, 79 laptops were stolen on campus, including 59 from unlocked University offices, according to UMPD statistics. The total cost of the stolen laptops was estimated to be more than $160,000.

“Encryption software that encrypts the whole hard drive, all the information on it, is for our purposes maybe a better investment,” Hanna said. “If you’re trying to get your laptop back after it’s stolen, these products are something to look into.”

Ristenpart said Adeona can compliment encryption technology.

“Tracking systems are an extra level of insurance,” he said. “Eventually, one would want to use both. You get the best of both worlds.”