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11/25/2008
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New Free Texting Feature Locks Down Lost Or Stolen ThinkPads

Protects against "cold boot attack" on Lenovo laptops' encrypted hard drives

If a new ThinkPad Montevina goes missing, its owner will soon be able to send the laptop a text message that automatically disables it.

Lenovo's new Remote Disable feature, which will come with these ThinkPad laptops starting in the first quarter of next year, lets the user create a text message from his mobile phone with a custom kill command -- such as "lockdown PC now" or "PC shut off" -- when the machine is lost or stolen. The GSM standard SMS text message is sent to the ThinkPad via its onboard mobile Internet wireless service.

The feature protects against the so-called "cold boot attack" that leaves encrypted machines at risk after just being shut down or that are in hibernate or screen-lock modes, according to Stacy Cannady, Lenovo's product manager for security.

"If a hard drive is turned on and the OS is loaded, the encryption technology makes all the data on the drive available in clear text to the operating system," Cannady says. "If someone steals my PC off my desk or off the table in Starbucks and I'm logged on and the lid is down in 'suspend' mode, there's a chance [the thief] could get that data -- even though I have military-grade encryption technology turned on."

Cannady says the new Lenovo feature lets you send a kill command directly to the laptop, using a mobile phone. "When the kill command is received, the PC will shut down and refuse to turn on again," he says.

Lenovo's new feature is the latest spin on an emerging trend in remotely controlling an errant laptop. Absolute Software offers a remote file retrieval and deletion service as well as a disable function via a Goby or Ericsson wireless Internet card and service. "We chose to go a different route: We depend on standard GSM for text messages...we don't depend on a specific carrier or WAN card technology," Cannady says.

If the laptop was already turned off with Lenovo's feature, it will disable when it's powered on. That way the data doesn't fall into the wrong hands. And the user can reactive the disabled laptop with a preset passcode.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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