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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Security twitch

Where's my mobile? Laptop? PDA?

Written in Dublin after a long working day and dispatched from Lower Ufford, Suffolk, on an open wi-fi link

Walking around with a mobile phone on a belt clip and a laptop in hand has always made me mindful of the security risks and the likely penalty of a loss or theft.

Until recently it was no big deal but then I somehow damaged my belt clip and my mobile would slip out unnoticed onto a cab seat or onto an office floor. I was lucky. Every time my phone decided to escape I heard it hit the floor, saw it on a seat or someone picked it up for me.

In the two weeks between busting my belt clip and finding a replacement I became paranoid. I developed a tick! I found myself constantly checking that my phone was in place. And if I momentarily misplaced my phone, and it wasn't in its clip, I suffered a panic attack.

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That was all months ago. Now I have a brand new mobile phone belt-clip that isn't broken and my phone is always secure. But guess what? My tick is still there. I keep checking my phone is secure. How come? The idea of losing all my vital contacts and data is too awful.

Like most business people I have everything backed up but still have a slightly irrational fear of losing any vital part of my hardware - whether laptop, PCs, PDAs or mobiles. So it was with great interest and relief that I recently found myself presented with a very neat Bluetooth-based solution.

The notion is simple but the overall solution spectacular. You wear a concealed Bluetooth dongle linked to all your devices and sensitised to distance by signal ranging. So, should you get up and walk away from your laptop or PC the screen goes blank and the hard drive is locked down as soon as you are more than three to five metres away. Similarly, should someone steal your mobile or PDA, the hardware stops working as soon as the thief is three to five metres away.

To my mind this is the best approach to device security I have come across. And guess what - it was designed by a user and not a security department.

So far I have only seen these devices available in the UK and Japan - at www.startlok.com and www.nttdocomo.com - but I can see them spreading across the globe. Anything wireless is essentially simple to secure by automatically rendering it temporarily or permanently useless through proximity tracking via Bluetooth, wi-fi, WiMax or whatever technology is in vogue.

Involuntary ticks and twitches were once a sign of a physical or nervous problem. But now they can happen in response to worrying about device security. Perhaps I have just found a novel and non-medical cure!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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