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Stolen laptop sparks anti-theft technology

(IDG) -- A car alarm blared, glass shattered and a laptop full of information was gone.

That's what happened to Ravi Hariprasad in Philadelphia one day last September while seeing patients during his third year of medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. Although he lost his computer, the theft sparked talk early into the next morning between Hariprasad and his friend Ravi Ghanta about developing a business to protect laptops.

That day, Hariprasad found out about the university's annual business plan competition through the Wharton School of Business. He got to work, typing away on a proposal to develop CyberTrak Systems Inc., a company focused on combating laptop theft. Hariprasad won the first round of the competition in the information technology category and at the end of this month, he and Ghanta will take the hypothetical CyberTrak plan to market.

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"There's car security," said Hariprasad, 24, CyberTrak's chief executive officer. "There's home security. But really nothing has been done with computer security....There has never been an elegant, easy-to-use solution."

The less-than-year-old Boston-based company's answer is CyberTrak SecurePC.

The CyberTrak software can be downloaded from the company's Web site in about a second, and allows a stolen computer to be tracked when it is connected to an Internet connection, either through a corporate network or a phone. A theft victim can call a toll-free number or send an e-mail or fax and report the laptop stolen to CyberTrak, activating the company's system to track the computer.

The stolen computer will hold a file embedded in the hard drive. Once connected to the Internet, the stolen computer will be able to provide information to CyberTrak's Recovery Center on computer's IP (Internet Protocol) address and ISP (Internet Service Provider) address. It also possesses an instant call back feature that will notify CyberTrak of the phone number where the computer is being used.

In turn, that will provide information on who logged on and the phone number where the logon occurred. The information can be gathered within about 15 minutes and police are notified via fax of the computer's location.

"It's stealthy," said Ghanta, 25, the company's chief technical officer. "It's hard to find. It's easy to use. It installs in a snap and it works."

CyberTrak SecurePC also is virtually resistant to being dumped from a computer when someone clears a hard drive, Hariprasad said.

The program, which is being beta tested at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Yale University, will be upgraded in its second version due at the end of 2000, he said. That version will provide a compressed data-retrieval option, allowing a user to decide whether data is retrieved, encrypted or deleted, so that a user still has some measure of control over data after a computer with CyberTrak is stolen.

Hariprasad said CyberTrak SecurePC will be marketed heavily toward a market he and his partner know -- students and academics. He said the company already has a commitment from the University of Pennsylvania to make CyberTrak SecurePC a recommendation for all students to have on their computers. Talks also are ongoing with 20 other academic institutions, Hariprasad said.

Pricing for CyberTrak SecurePC is still under discussion and will not be released until just before the Aug. 31 launch date, Hariprasad said.

More than 319,000 laptops were stolen during 1999, according to Safeware Inc. statistics, Hariprasad said. And just this week, the U.S. State Department offered $25,000 for a missing laptop holding sensitive government information.

"It will be a mainstream product that will be a no-brainer," Hariprasad said of CyberTrak's SecurePC.

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