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Security software that gives laptop thieves an earful

It seems everyday a story makes the news about a stolen laptop containing loads of valuable information. Today, for example, a thief absconded with seven Dell laptops from the Maidstone Borough electoral registration office in Kent, U.K. (Fortunately, officials reported that there was no sensitive info stored on the stolen computers.) Teachers in Steamboat Springs, Colo., were not as lucky. A burglar (or burglars) earlier this week lifted a laptop from the Steamboat Springs School District office containing 10 years worth of Social Security numbers for 1,300 past and present employees, the Steamboat Pilot & Today reports.

One Colorado software maker believes that the best way to thwart such heists is to give laptops a voice of their own—literally. Front Door Software Corp.'s $30 Retriever software tries to shame thieves into returning purloined computers by verbally bashing them when they attempt to use them. If a burglar is unlucky enough to swipe a laptop loaded with Retriever, when he or switches it on, it will play either a canned message—"Help, this laptop is reported lost or stolen. If you are not my owner, please report me now"—over the machine's speakers or a personal one recorded by the owner, the Washington Post reports.

"We thought it would be fun to be able to say what you think," when your laptop is stolen, Front Door CEO Carrie Hafeman says of Retriever's new "talk" feature, which has been available since the beginning of the month for PCs running Windows XP or Vista. (A Mac version is set to be released by May, and a Linux version is also being developed.)

The talk feature is a new approach to laptop security. There are already software programs that allow the owners of stolen or lost computers to remotely initiate a kill switch that locks down or erases data or initiates a Global Positioning System (GPS) beacon to help police locate them. But Front Door's software is novel in that it can do these things  as well as humiliate a laptop thief immediately and very publicly, especially if the perp tries to check out his or her loot at the local Starbucks or some other Internet café.

Front Door has a long to-do list when it comes to Retriever, Hafeman says, including developing a version that runs on Blackberrys and other mobile phones.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Pali Rao

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