Defending against notebook theft

The key to notebook theft is stealth. An unattended machine can be slipped into a bag or under a coat and, in many cases, transported through busy, crowded areas such as offices or hotel lobbies.

But imagine what would happen if the stolen notebook emitted a piercing sound, like a car alarm. Even if the thief were out of sight, the sound would certainly draw attention.

This is the concept behind a unique product from Caveo Technology, the Caveo Anti-Theft PC Card Laptop Computer Security System. Equipped with micro motion sensors, the card sends audible warnings and alarms if it detects unauthorized physical movement. The system works even when the notebook is turned off because the card contains its own battery.

The battery automatically charges every time the computer is on. A fully charged battery will last at least three weeks without a recharge if the computer remains off.

Caveo Anti-Theft does more than prevent physical theft, however. Its software component protects data by shutting down the machine's operating system in the event of an alarm. System access after an alarm requires a 16-character emergency password.

The product also comes with encryption software called CaveoCrypt that allows you to create password-protected encrypted volumes on the hard drive or a floppy disk.

Good Options

We were impressed with the product's many options, making it highly customizable and flexible enough for many environments.

The first option is called the "theft perimeter." This is the linear distance the notebook can travel before the alarm goes off. Setting this option allows you the freedom to move your notebook within your own office, for example, without having to disarm it.

The theft perimeter is set using a 10-point scale, with the lowest setting corresponding to approximately five to 10 feet of linear distance. The scale is qualitative because it measures the system's motion history, which is highly individual. We set the theft perimeter to nine and the alarm sounded after we had walked about 20 feet.

To prevent accidental alarms, the system sends several levels of warning signals before the theft perimeter is reached, so an authorized user who has forgotten the notebook is armed can stop the process before the alarm sounds and the notebook shuts down.

The warning signals, and all other sounds, can be customized. You can choose Caveo tones (various beeps and blips), Caveo voice messages or WAV files of your own choosing, including self-recorded files. In addition, you can choose medium (85 decibels) or high (110 decibels) volume levels for the alarm. The medium level is audible from an office or two away, while the high level is quite loud.

The next step is to choose a four-character password that Caveo calls a user personal identification number, even though it can be alphanumeric. The PIN is used to change settings and arm or disarm the computer.

Changing the Caveo settings at any time is easy with just a right click of the Caveo icon in the system tray. After you enter your PIN, a window appears containing tabs for each setting. Arming and disarming are also easily accomplished with a right click and PIN entry.

In addition to the user PIN, you must select a 16-character emergency PIN that is used to recover the system in the event of an alarm and subsequent system shutdown.

Caveo wisely includes a recovery question feature in case you forget the emergency PIN. During setup, you are asked to type in three questions with answers known only to you. Upon two unsuccessful emergency PIN entry attempts, the system will prompt you for the answers to these questions.

We were pleased to see that Caveo has taken the real world into account with its auto-arm feature. The reality is that many busy workers would probably forget to arm their systems on occasion, and that's where this feature comes in. You can set the system to arm automatically in any or all of the following situations: when Microsoft Corp. Windows starts, the screen saver activates and the system goes into standby or hibernate mode.

If the system auto-arms and you don't realize it, the alert tone will remind you the next time you move the notebook.

Our favorite feature, however, is the motion password. This password arms and disarms the notebook when you move it into three successive positions in 3-D space. A position is any orientation of the machine. An example of a motion password would be tilting the left side up, tilting the right side up and holding the notebook horizontally.

It took us a few tries to get the hang of the motion password. Our mistake was pausing at each position when we should have moved the notebook in one quick, fluid motion. Because Caveo emits confirmation tones at each position — a nice feature letting you know the system has read the position — the natural instinct is to pause after each tone.

If the alarm goes off and the computer locks up, the motion password can be used to stop the alarm. However, the notebook will remain locked until you enter the emergency PIN.

The CaveoCrypt encryption software is a nice addition to the system, allowing you to create Triple Data Encryption Standard hidden volumes on either the hard drive or a floppy disk. The volume size can range from 19K to 2G, and multiple volumes can be created.

We commend Caveo for producing a clever, well-designed product that offers both physical protection and data protection for notebook computers. The host of options provides the flexibility needed for convenient use in many situations. Despite the numerous options and features, Caveo Anti-Theft is user-friendly. The designers obviously thought about how this product would be used in the real world.

***

Caveo User options

* Theft perimeter.

* Auto-arm options at start-up, screen saver activation and/or suspend or hibernate.

* Integral encryption options.

* Alarm settings on high or low volume; alarm also can be turned off.

* Alerts and warnings with standard tones, voice messages and browse feature for customizing sounds.

REPORT CARD

Caveo Anti-Theft

Grade: A

Caveo Technology

(617) 576-7700

www.caveo.com

Caveo Anti-Theft is available on the General Services Administration schedule for $71. Caveo Anti-Theft is a clever, easy-to-use product that protects notebooks from physical theft and data theft.

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