The very thing that makes laptops so valuable to your organization—their mobility—is the same thing that makes them so easy to steal.

Forty-five percent of those who took part in the CSI/FBI 2000 Computer Crime and Security Survey reported that they had lost laptop computers to theft during 2000. Although that number was down from 68 percent in the 1999 survey, the thefts were still valued by survey respondents at more than $10.4 million in losses.

Although the laptop’s claim to fame is its mobility, according to a recent survey in Support Republic, respondents indicated that laptops were most often lost or stolen on corporate property, not while traveling.

In this article, we will discuss one company’s answer to providing physical security for laptop computers.

Lock down
According to company literature, the San Mateo, CA-based Kensington Technology Group owns the patent for the locking slot (or K-slot) found on 95 percent of today’s laptops, making the company one of the biggest in the laptop security field.

The company sells the Kensington Notebook Microsaver for a list price of $44.99 (about $35 in stores). It looks like a bicycle lock with a long, plastic-covered, steel cable with a loop on one end and a key-lock on the other end (see Figure A). Corey Carrillo, senior marketing communications manager at the company, likes the bicycle lock analogy for the most part. The problem with the analogy is that people will lock up their $300 bicycle, he said, but not their $3,000 laptop computer. Kensington is working to change that.

Figure A

Using an ROI calculator on the Kensington Web site that uses Gartner estimates for the costs associated with a stolen laptop, the real cost of losing a $3,500 laptop is close to $6,300. The ROI calculation takes into account such factors as the cost to procure and deploy a replacement, dealing with police and insurance claims, data replacement and recovery, and lost productivity.

“One stolen laptop—encrypted, traceable, or password protected—is still a lost asset, and, more importantly, in the right hands (or wrong, as the case may be), it can create a vital security breach if the thief knows what he or she is doing. Preventing the laptop from actually being taken in the first place is the easiest and most effective solution to prevent data loss from ever occurring,” Carrillo said.

Helping users feel secure
Laptops are often found just sitting out on tables and desks—unsecured and unattended. Hotel rooms are a prime example, but as our survey indicates, one of the most popular places for unattended laptops is on desks in corporate offices.

But unattended laptops can be safeguarded. Having a Notebook Microsaver on his laptop “is just a matter of feeling secure,” according to Clive Kamins, an attorney for a business and litigation firm in Chicago. “It’s like insurance in that you don’t worry about it until you need it, and then you’re sorry if you don’t have it.”

He was the first in his law firm to adopt the security device. Now several attorneys in the same office are using the security cable.

There are nights at the law firm when Kamins simply leaves his laptop out on his desk. He has the cable looped around a secure part of his desk with the free end crossing his desktop to the back of his laptop, where a post on the key-lock fits into a special hole in the computer case, securing the two together.

It’s not Fort Knox, but it will keep the laptop from being casually removed by the cleaning staff or an unattended visitor.

“The loss of a computer is more than the loss of a box. There’s information on there that would be difficult to replace,” Kamins said. He likes the security cable so much that he keeps a second cable in his laptop’s travel case.

Some things to consider
Before you go out and buy a cable lock for every laptop computer in your organization, there are several things you will need to consider, including:

  • Will you need locks for both the laptop and a dock, if it has one?
  • Would a key lock work best for your users as opposed to a combination lock?
  • If you get a key lock, do you want to get matching keys for all of the computers? What about a different key for the docking stations? Does the lock manufacturer offer this as an option?
  • Are the K-slots on your laptop computers located where the bulk of the lock will not interfere with anything else (such as the dock)?
  • Is there something secure nearby for the laptop cable to encircle?
  • For the sake of convenience, should users be issued another cable lock to carry with them on the road, allowing the desktop cable to remain in place?

At TechRepublic, we use a combination of Compaq and Hewlett-Packard laptop models. The Armada 1700 that I’m using has a K-slot on the side where it doesn’t interfere with the dock. An interesting feature on this computer-dock combination is that the K-slot on the dock is in front of the lever you use to release the computer from the dock, so by locking the dock to the desk you can also effectively lock down the computer as well.

Other options
Kensington is not alone in this field. There are a number of other makers of cable locks for laptops, including:

Most of these makes, including Kensington, offer laptop locks for around $35. Lock features may vary.

Carrillo said that what separates Kensington’s product from the competition’s is that the Microsaver products were developed with the original equipment manufacturers and fit more securely than the other cable locks on the market.

Walking the dog

Are you using cable locks to secure your laptops and/or docking stations when they are at the office? Are you using cable locks on your laptops when they are on the road? Do you think your users would use the locks if they were issued to them? Send us a note with your comments or express your opinions in the discussion below.