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Lenovo ThinkPads to get text-message kill switch

Users of select 3G-enabled ThinkPad notebooks will, from the first quarter of next year, be able to remotely disable their machines by sending a simple SMS

Lenovo is to build a new security feature into some of its upcoming ThinkPad notebooks, allowing users to remotely lock their machines' functionality by sending an SMS.

Announced on Tuesday, the feature is called 'Constant Secure Remote Disable'. Based on embedded software from Phoenix Technologies, it will make its way to certain ThinkPad notebooks equipped with mobile broadband in the first quarter of next year.

Those who think their laptop might have been lost or stolen will be able to send a text-message command such as 'Lockdown PC now' or 'PC shut off' to the SIM-enabled ThinkPad, thus automatically locking the device. According to Lenovo's statement on Tuesday, a PC that has been sent the command while shut-down will "automatically [be] disable[d] the next time someone turns it on".

The disabled PC can be reactivated by the entry of a preset passcode.

"Remote Disable dramatically reduces the anxiety and waiting people often experience when they've been the victim of a lost or stolen notebook PC," said Lenovo's vice president of software and peripherals marketing, Bob Galush, in the statement. "Through our work with Phoenix, we are able to reduce customers' security risks and potential exposure of their confidential data when their ThinkPad notebook is lost or stolen."

Lenovo said that there will be no extra cost for laptops using its Constant Secure Remote Disable feature, and the feature will be supported anywhere that GSM communications and text messaging are supported by local cellular networks.

This kind of cellular-based remote-kill functionality is fairly widespread in the corporate mobile-phone market and is common in military and secure voice-communications systems, but is only now becoming feasible in the laptop world, through the embedding of cellular connectivity into notebooks.

In October, security company McAfee and communications firm Alcatel-Lucent announced they were working together on a similar mobile-security package that would use embedded cellular capabilities to protect notebook computers.