Switch Off Laptop Wi-Fi To Prevent Theft, Warns Credant

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Security specialist Credant has warned users to turn off their laptop’s Wi-Fi signals, as thieves can easily locate the devices thanks to the increasing availability of cheap Wi-Fi detectors

Security specialist Credant Technologies has warned that users should switch off the Wi-Fi signals on their laptops when they stow them away, as the proliferation of Wi-Fi detectors means they can now be easily found by thieves, even when the laptops are hidden from plain sight.

Credant said that if users simply shut the laptop lid and rely on the system shutting down, it can often take up to 30 minutes before the laptop goes into sleep mode and turns its Wi-Fi off. Users who think that they can simply hide laptop in the boot of their car, or in the office cupboard or desk drawer, don’t realise how easy it is to get hold of cheap Wi-Fi detection kit nowadays.

“BT Openzone recently announced it had passed the million Wi-Fi access point mark in the UK  and cellular carriers are also boosting their Wi-Fi coverage areas to take the load off their hard-pressed 3G networks, which all adds up to something of a Wi-Fi explosion in the UK,” said Sean Glynn, Credant’s VP Marketing.

“This in turn has triggered the widespread availability of low-cost keyfob Wi-Fi detectors for under a fiver (such as this one on Amazon), and quite sophisticated directional detectors for around the 30 pounds mark, both of which can be used by thieves to detect the presence of an out-of-sight laptop,” he added.

Over in Jamaica, the Director of Safety and Security at the University of Technology, Bobby Smith, warned that a large number of laptops are being stolen in that country using Wi-Fi detection techniques, which are then used in other criminal acts.

Glynn believes that with auction sites now selling Wi-Fi detection kit for pocket money prices, it is only a matter of time before this type of laptop theft technique finds its way to the UK.

Of course, laptops are increasingly regarded as cheap and easily replaceable items nowadays, but  Glynn warns that theives are not just viewing laptops as a quick source of ready cash, as stolen laptops also raise significant identity theft concerns.

Glynn said that Credant’s observations “suggest that the real focus of identity thieves is the company laptop, which, as well as being a saleable item in its own right, can also contain valuable company data that can potentially be sold to the highest bidder online.”

Certainly the ability to locate a hidden laptop by the Wi-Fi signals it may be emitting could be another headache that the hard pressed security manager now has to contend with.

Credant said for example that it doesn’t take a genius to realise that shopping centres around 6pm on weekdays could be a prime source of potential notebook computers, just waiting to be stolen from cars.

“And whilst the office worker is busy inside the mall doing their shopping, no-one is going to think twice about someone in a suit waving their ‘car keys’ around, ostensibly trying to find their car, when in fact s/he is looking for the strongest Wi-Fi signal,” Glynn said.

“You may not be able to totally prevent your laptop being stolen, but only switching on your Wi-Fi when you really need it, and, of course, encrypting your data on the notebook drive, will go a long way to preventing your computer becoming just another statistic,” he added.

Recent research from laptop security company, Absolute Software, found that the place where laptops are most likely to be stolen is not at airports or on the train, but rather in people’s own homes.

The Credant warning comes at a time when public Wi-Fi access is very much in the limelight, after the British government admitted that owners of open access Wi-Fi hotspots could be at risk of huge liability fines under the conditions of the controversial Digital Economy Bill.