Absolute Software is working with a handful of sites to bring awareness to the issue of mobile device theft. According to their statistics, a mobile device is literally stolen every second. That equates to 3,600 devices an hour, 86,400 device a day, or a whopping 2.6 MILLION devices a month! Although I enjoyed going #DigitallyDark last week, I didn't have the stress of wondering where my data was. While the device itself is valuable, the banking information, credentials, and contacts stored on it are worth far more. So how do you protect yourself? Although there are several options, Absolute Software wants you to consider their LoJack for mobile devices tool so we took a look at the offering.
Getting the application onto your mobile device is extremely simple. I installed the Absolute LoJack software onto my Motorola Xoom tablet (yes, I still have one!) directly from the Google Play store. There's a rather large EULA that you have to read through before completing the installation.
After the installation completed, I had to create an account and then install a second piece of software, Comutrace. This tool was installed automatically from the LoJack software. There were a few error messages that came up on the screen, but everything seemed to work fine so I continued on.
After the installation, you'll be forced to lock your device with either a PIN or a password; the unlock pattern is blocked out for security purposes. You'll then be presented with a menu that confirms the software's check-in date, where it's sending information to, and other mundane information. There's no actual software interface since it's simply a tool to keep tabs on your mobile device.
In order to really "use" Absolute LoJack, you need to login to the portal page. From there, you'll see the four main topics: Locate, Lock, Delete, and Recover.
By default, the geolocation feature is disabled. This seems like something that should've been automated in the installation, but alas you have to manually enable it after the fact. Unfortunately, it's not very intuitive on how to enable geolocation and it took some exploration to figure it out. Instead of having an "activate" button in the locate tab, you have to expand your options with the "more" button on the right, and then a button to "Enable Locate" is displayed along with licensing, billing, and an uninstall button.
After clicking the button to enable geolocation, you're given another smaller EULA to read before the feature is turned on. Once done, this feature shows your location on a map. Unfortunately the level of detail seemed lacking. I could tell what city the tablet was in, but I couldn't find a way to zoom in on the map; using the scroll wheel on my mouse simply scrolled the whole page up and down, and there were no controls displayed anywhere. The IP address that the tablet was connected to was also displayed.
As the name implies, the lock feature is used to send a remote-lock to your device to stop the bad guys from using it. The process is simple: Go to the lock tab, type in a message to send the bad guy, enter in the PIN code you created during registration, and click the lock button.
When I tested this feature, the tablet locked itself within a minute of sending the lock command. The only way to unlock it was to enter the eight digit code that was displayed on the website. This should be a good way to thwart the bad guys from doing anything on your device, although it obviously doesn't stop them from attempting to access the contents of your memory cards.
Delete works similarly to the lock function, but lets you select, on a granular level, what you want to wipe from the mobile device. You can be relatively non-disruptive and delete only your list of contacts or your phone logs, or you can go full thermo-nuclear and factory reset the device.
The process kicks off almost immediately. I tested by deleting my contacts and watched as the contacts on my tablet were wiped in batches. The entire process was complete in a few minutes.
If you're on an Android device, keep in mind that the phone has a constant connection with Google. When I tested wiping the contacts, I was able to go into the app and resync all of the contact information. In the real world you'd obviously be doing a combination of a system lock with the remote wipe, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind.
The recover feature is only available on select Samsung products, starting with the Galaxy S4. Absolute Software teamed up with Samsung and installed their code directly into the firmware of various Samsung mobile devices, allowing the company to track your device even if it's been factory reset.
While this is great for the Samsung line of devices, it means that you get limited protection on any other device. You can run the Absolute LoJack software on your device and have the remote wipe and locking functionality, but if the bad guy flashes the device, you'll be out of luck.
There are many other options for device locking and wiping available on the market, many of which are free and offer similar functionality. Google offers Android Device Manager that lets you locate your mobile device and lock/wipe it remotely, as well as make it ring so that you can find it if you misplaced it in your house. So why would you want to choose Absolute Software's LoJack?
The biggest reason is obviously if you own a Samsung device that supports persistence. This will not only let you lock/wipe the device no matter what or where the bad guy is, but will also make you eligible for money back if Absolute can't find your stolen device. While the company makes a big deal about their recovery abilities, they only offer a financial guarantee if you have their premium offering on a supported device. I understand the reasoning: With a phone stolen every second, and the ease at which the bad guy can wipe the device, recovery is difficult without the persistence built into the firmware.
A one-year standard subscription costs $30/year, while the premium subscription costs $40/year. If you have a supported Samsung device, then the value proposition for this software is very high: They guarantee you'll get your device back within 60 days, or they'll give you money back to cover the loss. Many people pay a monthly insurance premium on their device and could probably cancel that recurring charge and buy the Absolute LoJack software instead, making it a no-brainer.
If you don't have one of the devices that supports persistence, then things get a little murkier. While the software does work well and has a few extra features (like selected wipe) over some other offerings, we're not sure it's worth the annual cost.
That said, the application works the way it's supposed to and is easy to use, so we can highly recommend it. Keep your eyes open as we'll be giving away a few copies of the tool early this week!