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Physical security for laptops

Make sure your portable computers aren't too portable. Consider physical security for your organization's laptops.

This tip originally appeared on, a sister site of

Most users know they have to protect their data. Administrators implement antivirus and antispyware software to shield systems from malware. IT installs personal firewalls and intrusion detection or prevention software to guard the computer from malicious attacks. Files and folders are password protected, or even encrypted, to make sure there is no unauthorized access.

For some computer users, that may be enough. But what if somebody just takes the whole computer? That may not be a concern for desktop users, but for laptop users, it's a very real danger. The very portability they enjoy by using a laptop also poses a security concern of its own.

There are a variety of products available to help keep your laptop from walking away without you. Depending on whether you use your laptop primarily at your desk in an office setting or if you tend to use it while traveling or at public wireless hot spots, your security needs may be different. Consider these safeguarding solutions:

  1. Cable lock: The method most used to secure a laptop is a cable lock like Kensington Technology Group's MicroSaver. A basic kit consists of a steel cable with a lock that fits into the microsecurity slot found on all notebook computers. You lock it by looping the cable around an immovable object and inserting the pin of the lock into the microsecurity slot.
  2. Portable cable lock: The portable cable lock is similar to the standard cable lock, but rather than having a fixed-length cable, it has a retractable cable. You can make it longer or shorter as needed to accommodate locking the computer in different locations or settings. For an example of this style of lock, check out the Kensington MicroSaver Portable Notebook Lock.
  3. Motion alarm: A different method of ensuring that your laptop does not go anywhere is to attach a motion alarm. A product like Targus Group International Inc.'s DEFCON MDP (Motion Data Protection) fits into the slot on your laptop and, when it detects motion, sounds an alarm whether the computer is off or on. The Targus DEFCON 1 is similar to the cable lock systems mentioned above, but it includes an alarm that sounds when the device is moved or if the cable is cut.
Tony Bradley is a consultant and writer with a focus on network security, antivirus and incident response. He is the Guide for Internet / Network Security, providing a broad range of information security tips, advice, reviews and information. Bradley contributes frequently to other industry publications. For a list of his freelance contributions, visit Essential Computer Security.

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