In September 2006, a laptop disappeared from the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building on North Campus.
In most instances, that laptop would have been gone forever. According to FBI figures, 97 percent of all stolen computers are never recovered.
But in this case, the owner of the computer had purchased recovery software.
With the help of the new user’s Internet Service Provider, police tracked the thief all the way to Grand Rapids Community College. Police found the thief and charged them with possession of stolen property, unauthorized computer access and larceny in a building, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said.
The computer was returned to its owner.
Most computer recovery software programs report the stolen computer’s location to the company’s monitoring system via Internet connection, unbeknownst to the thief.
Brown said the recovery software could be useful for students, often the victims of computer theft.
She estimated that DPS receives one report of a stolen laptop per week. The real number of stolen computers could be much higher.
The last two incoming freshman classes were shown a DPS video during orientation showing how easy it can be to steal a laptop, Brown said.
Brown said many laptops are stolen because students grow too accustomed to carrying them around.
“As people have these in their possession for so many years, it’s easy to become lax and forget it’s a high-tech item,” Brown said.
Paul Howell, the University’s chief information technology security officer, said the University recommends that students purchase recovery software for their computers.
The software, which usually costs between $50 to $70 a year, can be downloaded directly from a company’s website, purchased with a new laptop or bought in stores that carry computer merchandise.
LoJack, one company that offers computer recovery software, also offers tracers used to recover stolen cars.
Howell said the cost of the software might discourage many users.
“Unfortunately, the software really isn’t a preventative technique,” Howell said. “It’s not as if there is a sticker on the laptop that says ‘protected by LoJack.’ These commercial packages can be relatively expensive compared to other security measures.”
Brown said students should write down their computer’s serial number and avoid leaving laptops unattended.
Howell said students should store sensitive information like bank accounts and social security numbers onto encrypted flash drives so information will be unreadable if stolen or lost.
Howell said other protective measures, like antivirus software and a firewall, are more important than purchasing recovery software.
Some students said they’d consider buying the software for their laptops, saying it would give them extra comfort in the long run.
LSA freshman Kennedy Carter said she’d consider purchasing the software if it meant preventing theft.
“It’s not that expensive compared to buying a whole new laptop,” said Carter, who added that she usually brings her laptop with her if she leaves her study area.
LSA sophomore Daniel Goldfaden said he saw no real point to buying the software.
“I just think it is a waste of money,” he said. “I’ve never had a problem with someone trying to take it.”