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Firms offer software to prevent PC theft

Two companies team to offer a computer-protection technology based in a machine's BIOS software and designed to disable a stolen computer once it's hooked up to the Net.

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Pilfering a PC may become less appealing, if software makers Phoenix Technologies and Softex have their way.

The two companies on Tuesday will unveil software called TheftGuard, which is designed to be anchored in the guts of PCs and to automatically disable any stolen machine connected to the Internet.

TheftGuard is also meant to help victims of computer theft track down a perpetrator, if he or she uses the stolen machine to go online. "You know how he's accessing the Internet through his ISP, and then you can get the cops involved," said Timothy Eades, senior vice president and general manager of San Jose, Calif.-based Phoenix.

TheftGuard, developed by Austin, Texas-based Softex, is designed to run independently of a computer's operating system. It is installed on Phoenix software called the Core Managed Environment, which resides on the computer's underlying hardware and on part of the machine's hard drive. Phoenix's Core Managed Environment technology is centered on the firm's FirstBIOS, which is basic input/output system software.

Every time a computer outfitted with TheftGuard connects to the Internet, it pings the TheftGuard site. A computer-theft victim can register the machine at the site. If the stolen machine is brought online, the original owner can arrange to have the machine crippled or crippled with all data erased, and can determine the Internet Protocol address used--which can help in hunting down the thief.

Other companies have introduced similar Internet-based technology to deter computer theft. TheftGuard is designed to foil even thieves who swap out a laptop or desktop computer's hard drive to circumvent other antitheft protections, Eades said. Because the software lives in the foundation of the machine, TheftGuard still can disable the computer if it's connected to the Internet, Eades said.

Eades said the Softex partnership improves the value of its Core Managed Environment product, which was introduced earlier this year. Eades wouldn't disclose how many computers now ship with the product. Phoenix's BIOS software ships in more than 100 million new systems each year, according to the company.

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