Monday, July 23, 2007

How to Remove Absolute Computrace from a Lenovo 3000 N100 Laptop with Phoenix BIOS

I recently purchased a Lenovo 3000 N100 laptop from Best Buy and I reinstalled Vista to get rid of all the bloatware that comes preloaded these days. But no matter what I did, my antivirus software kept showing me a trojan, "rpcnet.exe", in my system. And every time I removed the file and restarted, it would reappear.

Apparently, this is part of Absolute software's Computrace laptop recovery system (also known as LoJack for laptops) and they were sneaky enough to stick it in the secure flash area of the system BIOS. Once I learned this through some googling, I checked out my BIOS settings, and sure enough there was a setting under the "Security" tab showing me that Computrace was enabled, but it wouldn't let me disable it!

I called Lenovo technical support and they didn't really know anything about it. They said it wasn't a hardware problem so I should use their "Experts Live" service, but that costs $100 so forget that. I tried again and after some persistence, a nicer tech rep told me to call Computrace. I called them since it seems that they are supposed to be able to remotely deactivate it, but they never called back. From what I could gather on their BIOS embedding, it seemed that flashing the BIOS wouldn't get rid of it, but I figured it was worth a shot.

So I downloaded the newest BIOS update from the Lenovo support site, flashed the BIOS, and no more Computrace! So this might work for you if you have the same problem. (Just search for "drivers and downloads" and look for a BIOS update and follow the instructions. I still have a copy of the file if you really can't find it.)

The whole situation really bugs me for two reasons:

1. The extent to which preloaded software is being embedded into PC's these days is really frustrating for someone who wants to be able to control his PC. Cell phones suck because consumers have so little control over their software choices, and now this is happening to my PC! The next time I buy a laptop, I have to ask about what additional software is loaded into the flash memory of the BIOS?

2. Any thief who's at least somewhat resourceful will be able to defeat this system. Even if flashing the BIOS would not have worked so easily, the BIOS flash memory is not ROM so it can be modified. Plus the laptop can still be sold for parts.

Anyway, I hope this post saves someone the time of going through all the work I did.