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Blowing the Whistle on Laptop Theft

April 2, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - We've all heard the horror stories about executives' laptops being stolen from airports, cars or park benches often enough to know that it is indeed a serious problem. According to a 1999 survey of large corporations and government agencies conducted by the Computer Security Institute, a San Francisco-based association of security and network professionals, 57% of respondents reported losses resulting from laptop theft.

Replacing a laptop costs a relatively small amount of money, but the cost of compromising or revealing corporate data on that laptop can be significant, and a stolen laptop may grant access to a company's internal networks or virtual private networks.

How'd They Do That?

The tiny tilt-motion sensor that makes Caveo Anti-Theft work is the ADXL-202E, a low-power, low-cost, solid-state accelerometer made by Analog Devices Inc. in Norwood, Mass. The device stems from the same technology that's used to trigger the inflation of air bags in automobiles.

The heart of the sensor is a micromachined "beam" of polysilicon (400 microns on a side by 3 microns thick) that's attached to eight serpentine "springs" created from the same polysilicon and suspended just 1.6 microns above its substrate. The beam can move a very short distance on its springs. Acceleration forces of +/-2g can be measured using differential capacitive sensing techniques. Acceleration can be measured at a resolution of just two-thousandths of the force of gravity, at 60 Hz, according to Analog Devices.

David Lee, CEO of Caveo, formerly consulted for Analog Devices and helped develop the sensor, which is now at the heart of his new product.

While there are lots of antitheft devices on the market [Exec Tech, Feb. 7, 2000], they all suffer from one major flaw: They require the user to do something unnatural and inconvenient, like locking the laptop to a table or waiting-room chair with a rather bulky cable, then unlocking it when moving to another location. IT managers know that such security measures are important, so they buy the locks and cables. But they also know that most users will stop using them after the first few times—if they ever use them at all.

Caveo Technology LLC has a different answer, and it's very cool. This may be the first laptop antitheft technology that will actually work in the real world. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company's Caveo Anti-Theft device incorporates a solid-state motion-sensor memory, sound-producing unit and microcontroller, along with two levels of password protection augmented by a "motion password."

Proprietary software analyzes the computer's motion history and, based on user-selected parameters, determines if the unit is being carried beyond its normal perimeter—that is, if a theft is under way.

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