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Over a million computers are stolen in the United States alone every year. The majority of these systems are laptops, but desktops can also end up the victim of a heist. Modern computers are relatively small, making them easier for thieves to walk out with, and computers are easy to sell on on eBay or Craigslists. Desktops also frequently disappear from the workplace courtesy of an employee who felt deserving of a bonus.
The tracking methods used to monitor laptops often don’t work with desktops, however, because so many of them lack WiFi and because they’re incapable of sending a signal so long as they’re unplugged. There’s not much hope of finding your desktop once it’s gone, but there are numerous effective ways to ensure it never goes missing.
Physical Case Locks
A physical lock is the easiest way to secure a desktop computer. Unlike laptops, which are difficult to lock if a lock mount is not already provided, a desktop can be readily secured in a number of ways. All of these methods restrict movement but, since it’s a desktop, that downside is almost entirely irrelevant.
A rudimentary locking system usually consists of a solid metal cable which runs through a loop on the desktop and a loop on an anchor point. The anchor point can be anything hard or impossible to move; a desk, the floor, a wall. Many products, such as the Kensington desktop locking kit, provide an adhesive anchor that can be used if a suitable anchors aren’t already available. Though not as sturdy as an anchor built into your desktop or mounting surface the adhesive is strong enough to deter most thieves.
Cables can be cut, however, so you may want to go with a lockdown plate instead. The plate is attached to a solid surface (like a desk) and then attached to your desktop PC with bolts. A lock is used, as well, to prevent removal of the plate without an appropriate key. Stealing a desktop secured with a lockdown plate is extremely difficult. However, you’ll probably need to drill holes in your PC’s enclosure and the mounting surface to install the plate, and this option is several times more expensive than a simple cable lock.
The final word in desktop security is a locking enclosure. These come in a variety of sizes, from units that only secure a single small PC tower to full cabinets that can house a full tower computer complete with monitor, keyboard, mouse and print. Locking enclosures can be used in conjunction with a cable lock or lockdown plate to prevent a thief from hijacking the locked enclosure and figuring out how to open it later. Going this route is effective, but 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.
Lockdown plates and steel security enclosures work, but they are expensive and can take hours to install in an unprepared workspace. Alarms are more affordable and stop thieves with the most effective deterrent available; the threat of being caught. There’s essentially two types of alarms; self-contained alarms and alarm systems.
A self-contained alarm is a single piece of hardware with an alarm inside that attaches directly to a computer (or other device) with adhesive. The alarm then connects to a cord or cable. If the cable is removed while the alarm is still armed it goes 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.
Alarm systems are similar in that there’s a sensor that adheres to your desktop as well as a cable, but the cable 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 will sound and the central box will send a remote alert. This could be sent to as a phone call, a text message or an email, depending on the system. These systems can cost hundreds or thousands to install.
A third option is a homebuilt alarm that monitors your office or just your computer. This isn’t the most secure system or the easiest to construct, but it can make for a fun project and may save your money if you’re experienced in 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. Alarm systems are better suited for organizations that have thousands of dollars to spend and security staff that can respond quickly when notified of an alarm.
Businesses, governments and other large organizations can protect their computers with security cameras that deter any would-be thieves and help find those who go through with their desire to loot. Home users, however, usually can’t afford such a dedicated network of cameras. Fortunately the humble webcam serves as a surprisingly competent replacement.
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, turn on remote alerts, and you’re good to go. The webcam will automatically send you an alert if motion is detected and iSpy can send you a photo of what set off the motion. That’s very useful since it prevents unnecessary worry over a false positive. You can even record to a remote location so that your video data is available if the computer is stolen.
Besides offering a look at a potential thief this software can discourage him by making it know that he’s being watched. No thief wants to step into a room and see an active camera staring them down, even if it is just a webcam.
There’s probably nothing that will stop a skilled thief set on taking your hardware, but most thieves aren’t skilled and don’t care whether they take your desktop or the one next door. As is so often the case you can dramatically improve your secure with even the simplest counter-measure. If you’re paranoid, though, you can drop a few hundred dollars on an alarm, steel enclosure and lockdown plate to turn your PC into a miniature fortress.
Are you worried about desktop theft and do you make any effort to secure your system? Let us know in the comments!
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