Monday, May 20, 2024

Grant Thornton Tracks Thieves, Secures Laptops

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A sales manager is on the road… as usual. She’s gotten pretty

comfortable living in hotels, so when she goes out to dinner, she leaves

her laptop on the desk in her room. But when she gets back later that

night, it’s gone.

In another city, a CEO arrives at the airport, headed for a big meeting

with a potential partner. He sets his laptop bag and his overnight bag

down beside his chair, and walks over to the coffee stand not more than

15 feet away. When he gets back to his seat four minutes later, he

discovers that while he was getting a cappuccino, someone else was making

off with his laptop… and all the financial and marketing information

that’s on it.

Think these are lost causes?

Think again, says Dave Johnson, director of infrastructure technology at
Grant Thornton, LLP, one of the nation’s top five accounting firms. If

either of these two fictional people worked for Grant Thornton, Johnson

says he would have an excellent shot at getting those stolen laptops


Johnson basically has his company’s 4,400 laptops and 400 desktops hooked

up with a sort of LoJack system. If any of them is stolen, he’ll be able

to trace it as soon as someone uses it to log onto the Internet.

”You’ve got to realize that 85 percent of my professional staff travel

frequently. We are the most mobile workforce that I’ve ever worked for,”

says Johnson, who has to deal with 585 offices in 110 countries around

the world for a company that brought in $728 million in revenue for

fiscal 2005. ”You just can’t eliminate theft but you can minimize the

impact. And that’s really what we’ve done with Absolute.”

Grant Thornton has had Absolute Software, Inc.’s Computrace program on

every one of its laptops for the last four or five years. Computrace is

designed as a theft recovery solution and it comes installed on every

laptop that Grant Thornton leases from Dell.

The software, which runs silently in the background, reports in to

Absolute, registering that it’s running, who logged in on it and the IP

address that it’s using. It checks in on a pre-set schedule. Johnson says

that means that at any given time, he can go to Absolute’s Web site and

check the status of any of his company’s laptops — the last time it

reported it, who was using it and where it was.

However, if Johnson calls Absolute and tells them a notebook has been

stolen, Absolute will change the computer’s reporting schedule, forcing

it to report in every 15 minutes. Since the software runs silently, the

thief doesn’t realize that every time he goes online with the stolen

machine, it’s helping Absolute track his location.

”Companies are getting out of leasing because they have to write the

checks at the end of the lease for what they can’t find,” says Johnson.

”To fix the problem, they get out of leasing. It’s avoiding the problem.

All they’re saying is, ‘Five years from now who’s going to care about

this old notebook?’ But it doesn’t ‘go away’ five years from now. It’s

stolen maybe nine months after you’ve bought it. That’s hiding the

problem as opposed to dealing with it.”

Johnson says they have used Computrace on several occasions to not only

locate stolen computers but to apprehend the thieves, as well.

To Catch a Thief

He says Computrace came in particularly handy once when the IT department

had hired a contractor from a temp agency to fill in for a worker who was

on leave during a time when old laptops were being swapped out for new

ones. This refresh was happening in the office where the temp was


”About two weeks into it, the worker notified the agency that he had a

family medical emergency that would prevent him from working for Grant

Thornton and the agency any more,” says Johnson. ”We thought this was

odd and took inventory and found seven notebooks missing. They were bran’

spanking new. Right out of the show room. They had been part of a big

shipment. Each one was worth a minimum of $1,500.”

Johnson says he contacted Absolute and gave them the serial numbers of

the seven missing laptops. Absolute workers started to watch for those

machines to start checking in… and they did.

The first stolen computer started reporting in from a home in Virginia.

Absolute’s people worked with the Virginia police who went to the home,

confiscated the computer and convinced the ‘owner’ to finger the person

who sold it to them. Then the second computer reports in. The police

recover it and the same person — the temp worker — is finger for

selling it.

The police arrive at the man’s house, where they find two of the other

stolen notebooks. All of the others eventually were recovered as well.

Johnson says the temp worker turned thief received a 10-year sentence

with a minimum of two behind bars. ”A bad guy went to jail and Grant

Thornton got its product back,” says Johnson. ”The notebooks were fine.

We wiped them, reinstalled them and put them back in the field.

”When you think about the benefits… We were able to track our products

and get them back,” he adds. ”But more importantly, we sent a message

to anyone who hears about this. You don’t want to steal Grant Thornton

property. You will go to jail. They will prosecute. It’s just not a smart

thing to do.”

Asset Management

Johnson says using Computrace directly ties into the company’s asset

management program.

”We feel very strongly about managing and maintaining the whereabouts of

our assets,” he adds. ”These machines are 100 percent leased, so at the

end of the lease, I have to produce all of this equipment and present it

to Dell in a timely matter. When you can’t return leased assets, it costs

hundreds and hundreds of dollars to buyout equipment you can’t find.”

Gartner, an industry analyst firm, theorizes that an 8 percent to 10

percent loss rate on leased equipment is considered good asset

management. Johnson reports that Grant Thornton’s loss rate is 1 percent.

Ken van Wyk, principal consultant for KRvW Associates, LLC and a

columnist for eSecurityPlanet, says theft recovery software has

been around for some time now. But the fact that Computrace runs silently

is a benefit.

”It’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s very stealthy in what it dos

and a thief doesn’t know it’s running,” says van Wyk, who had two

laptops stolen out of his car once. ”But if I were a thief and I had

stolen a laptop from someone, I’d load a different operating system onto

it. I wouldn’t try to run any software that the person had on that


Regardless of how smart most criminals are, van Wyk says he’s impressed

with Grant Thornton’s 1 percent loss rate.

And without the tracking software, Johnson says it would be difficult at

best to maintain that kind of rate.

”Without an auditing tool, what do you believe?” he asks. ”When Mary

Smith says, ‘I never had that notebook. I traded it in for a new one and

I don’t know what your people did with it.’ Now I have a record of every

time that machine has reported in and who reported in on it. Now I know

who to believe.”

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