Security

How to Stop Your Entire Desktop PC or Home Office From Being Stolen

Simon Batt Updated 16-03-2020

Laptops have all kinds of tracking technologies to recover them after a crime, but how about the humble computer? It’s a good idea to physically secure a desktop computer, as they’re still targets of theft despite not being as portable as a laptop.

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Let’s explore how to secure a computer to a desk, as well as how to keep your data safe.

Securing the Computer Case With Locks

A physical lock is the easiest way to secure a desktop computer. The methods we’ll cover will restrict movement, but given that it’s a desktop, you’re probably not moving it much anyway. Choosing from secure movement-reducing solutions is one advantage you have with securing a desktop over a laptop.

Using Locking Kits to Secure Computers

A Kensington lock on a computer

A rudimentary locking system usually consists of a solid metal cable that runs through both the PC and an anchor point. The anchor point can be anything hard or impossible to move, like a desk, the floor, or a wall.

Products such as the Kensington desktop locking kit provide an adhesive anchor you can place anywhere. Though not as sturdy as an anchor built into your desktop or mounting surface, the adhesive is strong enough to deter most thieves.

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Using Locking Enclosures to Secure Computers

A computer security case

The final word in PC anti-theft precautions is a locking enclosure. You can get a unit that secures a single small PC tower for general office protection. If you want the full works, you can get full cabinets that can house a whole setup complete with monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer.

Secure PC cases can be used in conjunction with a cable lock to prevent a thief from stealing the locked enclosure and opening it in privacy. This route is effective but you should plan on spending at least $100 to secure a small PC and several hundred if you want to secure a large tower and multiple components.

Using an Alarm System to Alert Others

PC enclosures work well, but they are expensive and can take hours to install in an unprepared workspace. Alarms are more affordable and stop thieves with the threat of being caught. There are two types of store-bought alarms; self-contained alarms and alarm systems.

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How Self-Contained Alarms Work

A self-contained alarm is a small unit with an alarm inside that attaches to a computer (or another device) with adhesive. The alarm then connects to a cord or cable that acts as the trigger.

If the cable is removed, it triggers an armed alarm to go off, alerting anyone in the vicinity. The best examples of these alarms can sound off for hours after they’re activated. Expect to pay around $100 for this type of alarm.

How Computer Alarm Systems Work

An alarm system, on the other hand, builds upon the above model. It still uses a cable and a trigger within your computer to detect theft; however, the cable also routes back to a central alarm box. If the cable connection between the box and the sensor is severed, or the sensor is detached from the desktop, an alarm sounds and sends an alert to the central box.

Once the central box receives an alert, it can perform remote alarm actions. This could include a phone call, a text message or an email, depending on how the system is set up. These systems can cost hundreds or thousands to install.

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Build Your Own Alarm System

A third option is a homebuilt alarm that monitors your office or computer. This isn’t the most secure system or the easiest to construct, but it can make for a fun project and may save money if you love tinkering with project boards like Arduino.

Home users are obviously best off with a self-contained alarm. This option is less expensive than a full system and easier to install.  Full alarm systems are better suited for organizations that have thousands of dollars to spend and a security staff that can respond to a remote alarm call.

Using a Webcam Deterrent to Catch Thieves

Businesses, governments and other large organizations protect their computers with security cameras that deter any would-be thieves and identify the ones that actually go through with the theft.

Home users, however, usually can’t afford such a dedicated network of cameras. Fortunately, the humble webcam serves as a surprisingly competent replacement.

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The iSpy program interface
You can put your webcam to work using a surveillance utility with motion sensing capability and remote alert features, such as iSpy. Point the webcam towards the most likely point of entry, turn on motion sensing, activate remote alerts, and you’re good to go.

iSpy also has an Agent version which runs like a portable application, so it doesn’t leave any trace on the program list. The regular software, however, is easier to set up and more intuitive to use at the time of writing.

iSpy will automatically send you an alert if it detects movement, alongside a photo of the intruder. This is useful since it prevents unnecessary worry over a false positive. You can even record to a remote location so that your video data is still accessible should your computer disappear.

While this setup is handy for identifying a thief, it’s also great for stopping the theft in the first place. No thief wants to step into a room and see an active camera staring them down, even if it is just a webcam.

iSpy is also fantastic for tracking people using your PC behind your back 4 Tools to Track What Others Do on Your Computer Behind Your Back What if someone is snooping around on your computer? Learn how to track computer activity and catch the spies red-handed. Read More , so give this program a try if you have nosy workmates or family members.

Using Sticker Deterrents to Warn Criminals

If you can’t use cables or cases, you can try sticker deterrents instead. These don’t physically restrict the thief from stealing a computer, but instead gives them a warning that they can’t re-sell the PC.

For example, STOP stickers stick onto a device, informing everyone that the PC is office property. The sticker has contact details on it to allow people to report the theft. The sticker takes 800 pounds of weight to remove.

If someone does remove it, the sticker leaves behind a permanent tattoo marking the device as stolen and provides a phone number to call.

While this doesn’t stop a thief from taking a computer, it is a cost-effective and easy way to kit out an entire office while providing a deterrent for thieves wanting to fence their stolen goods.

Protecting Your Data In Case of Theft

Unfortunately, while there’s plenty you can do to protect your assets, no security method is perfect. There are always flaws and tricks that thieves can use to get around your method of protection.

If you want to protect the data on your computer, it’s a good idea to encrypt the drive. Then, set up a good backup system to keep your files updated. That way, if someone does take your computer, the only loss the thief causes is hardware-based.

We’ve talked about how to encrypt your drive with BitLocker How to Encrypt Your Drive With BitLocker in Windows 10 Encrypt your hard drive and improve your security. Here's how to use the default BitLocker drive encrption tool in Windows 10. Read More before. By encrypting your drive, you prevent thieves from reading and stealing the data on it, which is important if you keep sensitive data.

Now we have the data protected from theft, but this still leaves you without any means of recovering data. That’s why it’s also good to have a file backup ready in case of an emergency. Be sure to try one of our recommended online file backup services that sync with Windows devices 5 Online File Backup Services that Sync with Your Windows Device Backups can be easy. Start with synchronizing your files to a cloud storage service. This provides off-site copies and automatic backups. We have highlighted the best online file backup services for Windows users. Read More to ensure you always have your files on-hand.

Protecting Your Equipment From Theft

The theft of a computer can be devastating, whether it’s replacing the hardware or recovering the data lost. Fortunately, there are ways to secure your computer, as well as protect the PC’s data from theft.

Now that your computer is secure, try using this USB drive trick to secure your laptop Use This USB Drive Trick to Secure Your Laptop in Public (or Anywhere Else) Did you know you can use a USB stick to secure your computer when you're in public? Read More too.

Related topics: Computer Security, Home Security, Webcam.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. HellO
    February 8, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    Seems like one of the easiest (and more valuable) things you can do to protect some of the smaller computers is to just get a cheap Kensington lock off ebay. Considering how small desktops computers are getting these days they could be as easy to nab as a laptop, (in-monitor and just plain small desktops).
    If the desktop is cabled to a desk or just to bulkier equipment and/or the laptop is locked to the chain, I'd think that would be enough deterrent... (though I really like the idea of putting bolts through the bottom of the case and into the desk, awesome idea. Probably wouldn't be workable on the smaller desktops and plastic cases, plus there's the holes in the desk...)

  2. John Williams
    August 29, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Back up your data regularly - to an external drive in another room.
    Buy a very shiny -for parts or not working laptop off ebay.
    Build you i7 mega gaming buster with quad graphics cards in the oldest beige full tower box you can find.

    and viola - theif steals shiny junk cos its lightweight and ignores huge beige box because it looks really heavy and old and not shiny ....

    alternatively, leave some cash under your keyboard.

  3. YellowApple
    August 29, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    I personally own a lot of old equipment, so I'll keep the newer, more expensive hardware hidden and the older, cheaper hardware in plain sight. Your average burglar will want to get in and out quickly, and will therefore be less likely to steal the more valuable systems when there are others more readily accessible.

    On top of that, most of my computers are configured with full-disk encryption to prevent any private data from being compromised. In many cases, stolen hardware is cheap compared to things like financial records and medical data, so making sure those things are inaccessible on stolen hardware is just as critical - if not more - as preventing said hardware from being stolen in the first place.

  4. Scott H
    August 28, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    cheap way is to take off the rubber feet and then run coach bolts or screws through the rubber feet holes to the desk or sideboard with big washers so it more stronger and then get a computer lock on the back to a wall fitting then buy some computer security screws so no one can get in it unless they destroy the computer case or just get a old computer tower so people are less likely to steal it and put small weights in it to make it more heavy so steal it or if you like me just leave it and make sure you have a external hard drive so you so not lose all you data

  5. catman
    August 28, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I know a guy who uses motion detection cameras and it emails him pictures when something moves.