Laptop protection progam begins after spate of thefts


November 15, 2012

These days, Georgetown students’ laptops are disappearing quicker than Liam Neeson’s loved ones in a French brothel.

With eight laptops reported stolen so far this semester, DPS launched a laptop theft prevention initiative in late October, in which students can sign up with LoJack for Laptops, a tracking software, for a reduced rate.

Last Friday, Chief Technology Officer of the McDonough School of Business John Carpenter cautioned students about the second laptop theft in the MSB this month. “Every single one of these thefts occurred because somebody left their computer unattended in a public space,” he said. “Even worse were the incidents where laptops were taken from students’ dorm rooms, but even then, their rooms were unlocked.” These thefts appear to be simple crimes of opportunity.

Until students take more care with their belongings, however, these thefts will almost inevitably continue. Considering the two most recent thefts targeted new top-of-the-line MacBook Pros, retailing for as much as $3,500, the thieves’ motivation is clear.

Carpenter says not falling victim to theft is rather easy.

“Don’t leave it in a public space. You might think that a conference room or a breakout room is not a public space, but it is,” he said. “They don’t have locked doors and anyone can walk by, see your computer, and wander out with it.”

Should your laptop disappear, new tracking software like Apple’s “Find My Mac” app and LoJack for Laptops can, if already enabled, help track down your computer, send threatening messages to its captors, and, as a last resort, erase its entire hard drive, protecting your personal information.

Jay Gruber, Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety, endorsed the software wholeheartedly. “They’re extremely effective,” he said. “One of the great things about LoJack for Laptops is that we work with the company who liaisons with law enforcement agencies. If somebody’s laptop is stolen from Georgetown and turns up in Philadelphia, they facilitate working with the Philadelphia police department and getting it back.”

Usually priced at $39.99 per year, LoJack and Georgetown have partnered to offer the software to students for $13.95 per year. However, few students seem to have purchased and installed any type of tracking software on their computers.

Carpenter also stressed the importance of internal laptop security. “The biggest mistake you can make is having your computer remember your passwords,” he said. “If it gets taken, that person could have access to all your personal or financial information on the computer.”

On Tuesday, Sam Smith (COL ’16) returned from his chemistry lab to a breakout room in Regents Hall to find his backpack, books, and laptop gone. “I’d left it out there a few times before and nothing had ever happened to it,” he said. “I didn’t think people went trooping through Regents looking for free loot, but I guess I was wrong.”

“We’re trying to emphasize to students that there are ways that they can protect their laptop[s],” Gruber said. “We want people to be able to use cable locks, we want people to carry their laptop into the bathroom with them, we want people to register their laptops with LoJack for laptops. In the end we really want to serve the students.”

Alex Miller (MSB ’13) recounted her experience from three years ago. “My laptop, my iPod, my roommate’s laptop, and her DSLR camera were stolen from our room in McCarthy,” she said. “It was Halloween and the kids got into the building by telling the security guard that they were trick-or-treating around campus. If no one answered, they tried the door. My roommate went to the bathroom and didn’t lock it. When I got back, she was sobbing and saying we had been robbed. Other than collect a report from us, DPS did nothing.”

When given the chance, Miller tried to take the law into her own hands. “About a week later, a girl I had never seen before walked quickly past me, head down, with two laptops under her arms,” she said. “I called after her and she sprinted to the staircase and started running down. I was pretty sure they were the same people, so I chased after her. By the time we got to the lobby, DPS already had a group of other kids rounded up and in handcuffs with a pile of like 15 laptops stacked up on the guard desk.”

While security both in dormitories and around campus has increased substantially as part of the initiative, DPS still has not caught any of the thieves responsible for this semester’s incidents.

“We’ve used a lot of different law enforcement techniques to try to locate these people but the campus is very open in a lot of places where students use laptops,”  Gruber said. “What worries me is losing all the information that a student has on a laptop: all your work, all your contacts, all your photos, and not a lot of students back that up. If students would just close their laptops and take them along when they go somewhere, we would cut our laptop theft down by maybe 90 percent.”

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