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USB wireless security lets you lock your PC by walking away

A USB wireless security device employs proximity-based security to lock a PC or server when the user or admin steps away. The device has been turned into a plug-in.

A while back, I read about a proximity-based security system for PCs. The idea was elegant. The user wore a tiny radio transmitter (for instance, a badge or a bracelet), and if they strayed more than a meter or two from the computer, it automatically locked -- and wouldn't unlock until the user came back within range.

I liked the idea. It eliminated the need for typing passwords (although you could always use a password override if you forgot the transmitter or something else went wrong). Unfortunately, the technology didn't seem to achieve much momentum.

Good ideas die hard, however, and a recently released product uses this same idea in a slightly cleaner implementation. The USB Wireless Security Lock. The gadget consists of a USB dongle (a radio receiver) and a battery-powered transmitter about the size of a half dollar that transmits at 315 Mhz. The same principle applies as in the system mentioned at the start of this story. Step away from the PC and the computer automatically locks. If the device malfunctions or the key gets lost, the user can password-override the system.

Programmer Scott Hanselman loved the hardware but hated the software that came with it. So he wrote an entirely new software suite for the product in C# and VB.NET.

Not only did Scott add features, such as a plug-in architecture, he also released the whole thing as an open-source project so that anyone else could add freely to it. The existing plug-ins include:

  • one that triggers an Outlook send-and-receive action on returning;
  • an MSN Messenger away/busy setting plug-in;
  • one for switching the monitor off or activating a screensaver on stepping away; and
  • one for pausing Winamp playback.

If you've been considering some kind of proximity-based access control system for a server or even a set of workstations, this would be worth looking into -- both for the hardware and the way the software has been implemented to take advantage of it in an open way.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators. He is also the author of the book Windows Server Undocumented Solutions.

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