Grounded

How to foil a technology thief, 1995 edition.

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Computerworld / IDG

It’s the mid-’90s, and this pilot fish is the sole IT employee for a barebones operation. It’s a small agricultural nonprofit, and his job includes networking, user support, IT purchasing and application development — the kind of job where you learn a ton but work your butt off.

There’s a remote rural location, and fish manages an upgrade of sorts of its hand-me-down hardware: two refurbished desktops, one for a small quality lab and another for the receptionist/bookkeeper, and a server running Netware 3.12 that’s no longer needed in the main office. Fish tells the remote users to be sure to store all the accounting files, documents and quality records on the server and not their workstations. He also installs an external tape backup unit on the laboratory computer so it can do double duty at night as the server backup workstation. And there’s an ancient 80286 laptop sitting in a spare room running a dialup email gateway to the organization’s ISP.

After a few months, nearly all that equipment is stolen in a break-in. The thieves had smashed a window in the front office and took the computer at the reception desk and the one in the laboratory, along with the tape drive. They even grabbed the ancient laptop running the email gateway.

“What about the server?” fish asks.

“It's still here and running!” is the reply. “They took the monitor so we can’t see what’s on the screen, but it is still humming away.”

Fish starts scrounging around for temporary hardware to get the remote office back up and running, all the while pondering why the thieves had left the server — the most valuable computer — behind. The theft may have been a crude smash and dash, but they seemed to take everything that wasn’t nailed down, including that server’s monitor.

Next day, with replacements in tow, fish drives out to see for himself.

What did he find? Apparently, thieves can be stymied by a 10Base2 connection.

The server used a 10Base2 connection with T-shaped BNC connectors and coaxial cable, with a terminating resistor at each end, one of which had to be grounded.

The culprits had twisted the T-connector off the server’s network card. The server was at one end of the cable, with the terminator with the grounding chain, which was grounded by connecting the other end of the chain to the metal chassis of the server with a simple hex screw.

It seems that a properly installed grounding chain can serve as an antitheft device. But to play it safe, an alarm system was installed.

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