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Wipe or Kill Your Laptop, On or Off, if Stolen

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 50 comments

Laptops and small computing devices get stolen on a daily basis. People traveling through airport terminals on a frequent basis know this very well. Your data is at risk when you're mobile.

Suffice to say, losing your laptop is the least of your worries. Sure, if you've plunked a couple of grand into a laptop, it hurts to find out that it's lost or stolen. But the worst part of the situation is the lost of your data. Businesses value their employees data more so than the hardware. Even on a personal scale, losing your laptop could mean losing very precious information and data that you have accumulated over a long period of time.

Not to worry. Fujitsu today announced that it has developed an always-on security chip for laptops that can lock down the data on a laptop's hard drive remotely, even if the unit is turned off. Not only this, the lost or stolen laptop can even be completely disabled, preventing it from being turned on in severe instances.

Using technology from Willcom Inc., Fujitsu plans to roll out the new security feature starting in Q3'09. The technology will roll out in Japan first, using Willcom's PHS network, which can accept remote commands.

The technology works by utilizing an active chip that handles strong encryption to the hard drive. The encryption key is stored on the chip itself. A user that has lost their laptop can remotely issue a wipe command, for example from a cell phone, and the chip will instantly delete the key. This, Fujitsu says, will render the hard drive completely useless. The user can even lock the PC remotely, preventing it from being turned on.

According to Fujitsu:

The communications module remains in standby mode even when the PC is switched off, allowing for lock and delete commands to be executed regardless of whether the PC is on or off. This is the first such technology in the world. Because the module communicates over the inherently low-power PHS network, battery drain is minimal, so it can remain in standby mode for long periods of time. Customers can view command results in detail on a control server.

Update: We received word from Fujitsu that removing the battery immediately after stealing the enabled laptop will not prevent it from being signaled to lock. Once the signal has been sent, the PHS network constantly sends out a lock down signal, so that if the laptop ever is powered on again, it would be immediately disabled--unless the lock signal is turned off from the owner. Removing the hard drive to prevent lock down doesn't help because it's already encrypted using the key, which exists in the chip, within the laptop itself.

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Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    jhansonxi , May 7, 2009 10:50 PM
    I hope the remote commands are strongly authenticated else there will be lots of hacker fun with remote wiping of your drive while the laptop is still in your possession.
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    kyeana , May 7, 2009 10:47 PM
    That is good news indeed.
  • 20 Hide
    jhansonxi , May 7, 2009 10:50 PM
    I hope the remote commands are strongly authenticated else there will be lots of hacker fun with remote wiping of your drive while the laptop is still in your possession.
  • 2 Hide
    haricotvert , May 7, 2009 11:02 PM
    I assume Toshiba would also find a way to reverse the process. For the times a stolen/lost laptop is recovered/found, you'd probably want a working system with all your data back.

    Giving customers the tools to remotely brick their mobile system is just asking for costly and proprietary methods of undoing said bricking. I am sure Toshiba has not overlooked the profitability of this, especially if they are the *only* one who can provide the service.
  • -8 Hide
    my_name_is_earl , May 7, 2009 11:17 PM
    People should have a really long cord attach to them and a laptop (problem solved). Have ya heard of a smartphone?
  • 2 Hide
    4Tun3c00k13 , May 7, 2009 11:18 PM
    This old key and lock approach is a definitely a step up from traditional "careful" approach. However, assuming key, cell phone or whatever the remote device, is portable, if key is stolen it could easily turn into hostage situation quickly at ease.

    it's a double edge sword.
  • 2 Hide
    jab416171 , May 7, 2009 11:18 PM
    what if you get jumped and lose your phone too? :p 
  • 1 Hide
    eklipz330 , May 7, 2009 11:19 PM
    what if someone steals the laptop that can turn off other laptops? 0_0
  • -3 Hide
    akoegle , May 7, 2009 11:24 PM
    If you're the thief bypassing this would be as simple as immediately removing the battery or hard drive from the laptop.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , May 7, 2009 11:46 PM
    @akoegle That's not bypassing it from a security standpoint. You couldn't rip the data due to the encryption on the drive. and as soon as you DID plug it in, the kill command would be received. Not much of a way around that.
  • 5 Hide
    1raflo , May 7, 2009 11:52 PM
    i was hopping for a self-destruct button, you press it and BOOM!!! and you literally destroy your data.
  • 6 Hide
    the_one111 , May 8, 2009 12:15 AM
    ....Where's the embedded c4 located...?
  • -1 Hide
    xantech22 , May 8, 2009 12:24 AM
    since the encryption keys is stored on the chip it self it may render the hardrive useless, no matter what you can do, someone looking for personal data can always take the hd out put it on an enclosure and voila! they have acces to your drive.

    This unless the owner "wipes" it from a cellphone? But what if they don't in hopes of retrieving the laptop back with "precious" data? It's a risk, besides who's smart enough to always back-up every important info? only then wiping the drive makes more sense.
  • 4 Hide
    orizvi , May 8, 2009 12:41 AM
    I don't believe that this technology wipes the drive by writing 0's or something along those lines. I'd imagine its more along the lines of since everything is encrypted, once the key is erased - none of the data can be decrypted. In the case that the portable device is recovered, the key could be reprogrammed into the chip and viola! You'd have instant access to your data. So if they used a simple method such as plugging in a flash drive with the key after the laptop is recovered to restore the key to the laptop's chip, I don't think anyone would have any reluctance at all to immediately locking down their laptop the moment its stolen.
  • 2 Hide
    Vettedude , May 8, 2009 1:01 AM
    This is great!

    I have noticed that the first comment is always from the author and has the first line of the story now. Why does it do this, because it is annoying the heck out of me.
  • 6 Hide
    jsloan , May 8, 2009 1:03 AM
    the question is whether the user will have access to the information when the user is in an area where the signal does not reach.

    what if the laptop is turned on in an environment outside the range of the signal. so when you steal it you remove the battery, then you disable the antenna or place the laptop in a place where the signal is not in reach and then you turn on the laptop.
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , May 8, 2009 1:08 AM
    I like this! I just wish they made this standard.
  • 3 Hide
    tuannguyen , May 8, 2009 1:09 AM
    vettedudeThis is great! I have noticed that the first comment is always from the author and has the first line of the story now. Why does it do this, because it is annoying the heck out of me.

    Yeah, it's an annoying bug that popped up.
    We're fixing it, so the auto posting of the first post should disappear soon.

    / Tuan
  • 0 Hide
    Regulas , May 8, 2009 1:18 AM
    I hope microsoft does not get in on this. Your activation key is wrong, shut down their computer. All your base belong to us.
  • 5 Hide
    christop , May 8, 2009 1:35 AM
    I think a self destruct would be the shit.. The thief steals you laptop and you send a signal and cause it to burst into flames and burn the thief to death... Ok went to far but it would be cool.... I bet it would cut down on laptop crooks...
  • 1 Hide
    kamkal , May 8, 2009 1:44 AM

    "This laptop will self destruct in 5 seconds..."

    *cue Mission Impossible music*

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