At the Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai, China, this week, the world’s leading chipmaker introduced the Intel Anti-Theft Technology, which will be integrated into the Active Management Technology suite that is part of Intel’s vPro systems for businesses. The new anti-theft component will allow IT departments to remotely lock out a lost or stolen laptop computer.

This is essentially an upgrade to the Intel vPro technology — introduced in 2006 — which is aimed at providing IT departments in large organizations with improved provisioning, security, and troubleshooting of desktop and laptop PCs by providing comprehensive manageability at the chipset level. Intel likes to quote a 2007 EDS case study in which vPro was able to help IT reduce desk-side visits by 56 percent.

However, in practice, Intel still needs hardware makers such as Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard and manageability software vendors such as LANDesk and Altiris to get on board and provide solutions to implement the management capabilities of vPro.

In a presentation at IDF Shanghai, Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president of Intel’s Mobility Group, said, “I’m very happy to announce the Intel Anti-Theft Technology, which Intel is working together with the industry notebook OEMs and all the big names of service providers and security software, ISVs, to make sure that we have a solution that really works on asset and data defense. One of the biggest worries is that if I lose my notebook, if it’s been stolen, that the notebook and the data is not going to be maliciously used by people who I don’t want to use the data on my notebook… We are putting a lot of effort into management of corporate clients.”

Perlmutter explained that the Intel Anti-Theft Technology will “lock the system, lock the disk, so people cannot be maliciously using and getting the data.” The new technology will be available in the fourth quarter of 2008. It’s unclear whether this will only be available in new vPro systems or if there will be a BIOS/firmware upgrade to current vPro systems.

Bottom line for IT leaders

Lost and stolen laptops remain a huge security and privacy risk. Improved remote-lock capabilities such as the Intel Anti-Theft Technology can be a valuable tool to help protect sensitive data. However, it’s likely that you won’t see real world solutions using this technology until 2009. Also keep in mind that Intel can’t do this alone. If you want this technology, you should push your hardware vendor and your systems management software provider to implement it.