Wi-Fi finders let thieves track down hidden laptops

The good news is that there's a relatively simple solution

Stuffing your company laptop into the car trunk or even a locker, without turning off its Wi-Fi radio, can be an open invitation to thieves, according to Credant Technologies.

Theives with increasingly sophisticated, directional Wi-Fi detectors can home in on the laptop's radio, tracking it down even when the PC is hidden away.

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A statement by the mobile security software vendor highlighted a recent warning from a security specialist at University of Technology, in Jamaica. He said that it appeared crooks running a lottery scam on the island were using stolen laptops to do so. They tracked down the often out-of-sight computers using Wi-Fi radio detectors.

The detectors, sometimes called "Wi-Fi finders," are readily and inexpensively available. But many of them simply register the presence and strength of Wi-Fi signals, such as those from public hotspots. USBFever, for example, offers for $14 a ballpoint pen with a built-in radio detector for 802.11b/g radios. ThinkGeek.com offers the "Digital Wi-Fi Detector", which can scan signals over a 200-foot distance, priced at $50.

Depending on the features, the detector may not be very helpful in finding a precise location, for example, an active laptop radio in an automobile parked with a lot of others.But Hawking Technologies' Hi-Gain WiFi Locator Professional Edition includes a high-gain antenna that can more precisely locate a Wi-Fi radio. It is priced at $50.

Sean Glynn, Credant's vice president of marketing, said in a press release that some number of users close the cover of the laptop without realizing there may be a delay of 30 minutes before it shifts into sleep mode. The Wi-Fi radio remains on, detectable by a scanner.

The solution is simple, he says: make sure you shut off the radio.

Follo John Cox on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

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