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Asset tracking: What products and services can trace device location?

IT asset tracking can be used to ensure devices stay in a precise location, or to trace missing devices. Expert Michael Cobb covers the most popular products and services.

I'm looking for an app to trace assets when they're stolen or broken into. Can you suggest something of interest for asset tracking?

There are plenty of products and services available that provide asset tracking, depending on what type of assets you need to track and over what range. A variety of companies offer vehicle- or fleet-tracking services. Apptricity's Asset Tracking Software is a mobile or web-based asset tracking and management software tool that uses radio frequency identification tags to track asset movements within the workplace, or satellite and cellular networks to get precise location data for assets outside of the workplace.

If your main intention is to track IT assets, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, there are a variety of options from which to choose. Geofencing is becoming a popular method for ensuring devices do not leave defined areas, like an office building. A geofence is a virtual perimeter around a given geographic area. When a device leaves a designated, geofenced area, an app installed on the device can trigger various actions, such as sending real-time notifications of the device's whereabouts, encrypting data on the device or disabling sensitive functions. For enterprises where hundreds or even thousands of geofences may be needed, it's important to use a platform that scales and has the ability to draw both polygonal and radial perimeters with no maximum size limit to ensure all situations can be handled.

Network-based geofencing using carrier-grade location data to determine where SMS-capable devices are located is a cheaper option, though less accurate. And as it requires pull requests to obtain location data, it isn't really practical for constant location-based asset tracking. In situations when a device should not leave a tightly defined area, such as a server room, a Bluetooth Low Energy hardware device or beacon can trigger an app to send an alert if the device is moved out of range.

Hardware vendors, like Dell and HP Inc., offer a range of laptop and data protection services, including asset tracking and recovery for lost or stolen laptops, with data delete features, so administrators can remotely delete sensitive data if a device is lost or stolen. Similar services are offered by zTrace Technologies -- if a device is stolen, it will report its location the next time it is connected to the internet. Prey Pro from Prey Inc. provides a set of management tools to track and trigger actions on any registered device. Once remotely triggered, devices can be locked down or send back location data, as well as a picture of who is using the device.

The Android Device Manager website and app can be used to find an Android device and lock or erase it, if needed. Typing "find my phone" into the main Google search page will locate the phone associated with the Google account being used, and will also ring it. Find My iPhone for iPhone and Find My Phone for Windows Phone apps provide similar services to find a missing iPhone or Windows device. To try and deter thieves from stealing mobile devices in the first place, consider using asset tags. They are cheap and not easily removed, and they are often enough to discourage the opportunist thief who is only interested in the device's resale value. Motion sensors can provide additional security for devices being used away from the office. MetaSensor Inc. is due to release a Bluetooth-based motion detector that can sound an alarm and send an alert if it is moved.

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This was last published in October 2016

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