TUCOWS ARTICLE

Unique Tools For Computer Security and Theft Prevention

An unattended computer just begs to be stolen or tampered with. A few free and cheap tools can ease your mind and provide a supply a bit of security if you absolutely have to step away from your PC.
Published: Jul 15, 2008
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: Windows

Like many laptop owners, I often lug my "lappy" to a local coffee shop to get some work done, get out of the house, and get some caffeine. But when inevitably I need to step away from my table to use the john or feed the parking meter, a dilemma is ever present: take the time to pack it up and take it with me, or leave it and risk a thief taking a shine to and walking away with it. While it's never a good idea to leave your laptop unattended, there are a few inexpensive or free tools that can come in handy in the even that you do.

Laptop Alarm

Laptop AlarmLaptop Alarm is a super-simple free program that keeps an alert eye out for specific laptop events: a loss of AC power, an attempt to shut it down or log you off, mouse movement or someone unplugging your USB mouse, four things that might happen if someone attempts to make off with your laptop. When one of those events occurs--and you can enable and disable each at your whim--Laptop Alarm will sound a loud alarm, hopefully scaring off your would-be thief. How loud? Well, when you first install Laptop Alarm there's a warning never to use it with headphones lest you deafen yourself.

Laptop Alarm isn't a perfect security tool. There are obvious ways to circumvent it--taking out the battery before disconnecting the AC adapter, for example, or by holding down the power button for five seconds, which will force most laptops to turn off instantly--but since most laptop thefts are crimes of opportunity, not premeditation, it may still be enough to save your laptop in most instances.

The latest version of Laptop Alarm also alludes to an SMS (text message) alert feature, which would presumably only work if your laptop was connected to the internet, but that version is still in beta and the feature appears to be nonfunctional.

Bluetooth Proximity Lock

Bluetooth Proximity LockBluetooth Proximity Lock, BtProx for short, proves that Bluetooth isn't just for looking like a jerk in public. BtProx links up with your Bluetooth-enabled phone and, when it goes out of range, will lock your computer and, optionally, run a program of your choosing. While this might not prevent someone from walking off with your laptop (at least not without the aid of another program), it will make sure nobody can log in and snoop when you step away for a few moments.

Like Laptop Alarm, BtProx is free and simple to use. Obviously you'll need a Bluetooth-enabled laptop that's paired with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. Just select the phone in BtProx and, if you want, choose a program to be run when it goes out of range, and then click on the Start button. You can also choose a timeout interval in case you go out of range only momentarily or, say, accidentally turn off your phone.

Rohos Logon Key

Rohos Logon KeyRohos Logon Key is not a free tool--the full version costs $29--but it's definitely worth downloading the free 15-day trial. Like BtProx it's not so much an anti-theft tool as an anti-access tool. Rohos Logon Key works by turning any USB thumb drive into a "key" for your computer. Instead of entering a password to log in to Windows, you just pop in your USB drive. You can use the same USB drive for all of your computers, and you can set it up to require a PIN in addition to the USB drive in case somebody steals the latter. It can also lock your computer automatically when you remove the USB key. Rohos integrates with Windows' built-in login and authentication, and you can even make it restrict the amount of time per day a user can log in for. Cool.

Adeona

So, what if someone has already walked off with your laptop? It's too late to sound an alarm and it's no use having it locked up if they're just going to sell it on eBay. With the right software it can tell you where it's being held and maybe help you get it back. There's a lot of laptop-tracking software out there, but a new open source program called Adeona recently grabbed my attention. Adeona focuses on privacy--its developers point out that most theft-tracking software relies on the ability to regularly reporting a laptop's location to a centralized server, meaning that "even while the device is still in the rightful owner's possession, the tracking system is keeping tabs on the locations it (and its owner) visit. Even worse, with some commercial products, even outsiders (parties not affiliated with the tracking provider) can 'piggy-back' on the tracking system's Internet traffic to uncover a mobile device user's private information and/or locations visited." Not so with Adeona. If your laptop is stolen you can run the Retrieval Wizard on another computer, which can help the authorities narrow down its whereabouts (the Adeona web site wisely advises that you "Do not attempt to recover your lost or stolen laptop yourself").

Adeona is a brand new project, so some aspects of the program (and the documentation) are not yet very user-friendly, and some features--like the ability to snap photos (possibly capturing a thief's face) using a laptop's built-in webcam currently only work on Apple laptops. It appears to be under continual development, however, so keep an eye on its web site for updates and new features.


About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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