To Catch a Technology Thief
June 05, 2012
Parked on a residential street in Vancouver, Washington, Ken Westin noticed movement to his left and felt his pulse quicken. A menacing-looking man, the one Westin recognized as a computer thief, sauntered out of a nearby house and began washing his car. Westin pretended to look for directions on his mobile phone but instead dialed a police detective.
“Police officers raided the home and recovered laptops stolen from a Portland school,” says Westin, CEO of Active Trak. “They also exposed an underworld crime ring, arresting six guys with long rap sheets for identify theft and stolen cars, computers, and cameras.”
Westin was at the scene helping police pinpoint a tricky wireless signal emanating from a stolen laptop equipped with GadgetTrak—his company’s premier product.
“I identified the thief from a photo taken by the computer’s webcam,” he says.
GadgetTrak is a cross-platform software application designed to help recover mobile electronic devices like smartphones, music players, laptops, and tablets—and the data stored on them. If a device is lost or stolen, customers go to the company’s website and activate their device’s tracking software. E-mails, police reports, and webcam photos are sent directly to them at a designated e-mail address after the stolen device connects to the Internet. Using this data, customers are encouraged to work directly with law enforcement agencies and never attempt a recovery on their own.
“While other companies rely on IP addresses to locate devices, we’ve introduced WiFi positioning along with GPS and cell-tower triangulation,” says Westin. “We’ve built a better mousetrap.”
Westin fell in love with the Web while taking classes in computer graphics, design, and programming at Lewis & Clark, where he majored in English and minored in East Asian studies.
“I used to be afraid of computers,” he says, “until I discovered my knack for technology.”
After graduating, he held a variety of technology positions at Portland-based companies like EyeVelocity, Tektronix, and Iovation. He designed a security application that was bundled with external hard drives and embedded in high-end thermal-imaging FLIR cameras.
He received a patent for the invention in 2009 and continued to develop more technology that allows laptop and smartphone users to track their devices and capture photos of thieves.
His most recent invention is CameraTrace. Launched this year, it’s a service that helps photographers recover lost or stolen cameras. By inputting serial numbers on the company’s website, customers can identify images uploaded online, protect their copyrights, and recover missing equipment.
“You may soon see our recovery stories on television,” says Westin. “We’re in talks with a major national news show.”
He also plans to expand data backup and remote recovery capabilities, including new iPhone applications, and partner with major manufacturers to embed security in a variety of devices. For example, cable companies equipped with GadgetTrak would be able to trace and disable stolen TV set-top boxes and those of nonpaying customers.
Another career high point, says Westin, is his collaboration with law enforcement—as a trainer and consultant.
“I train agency staff on how technology can be used against them and how our software can help,” he says. “GadgetTrak uses the same tools that hackers employ, only for good, not evil.”
—by Pattie Pace