In the early days of computing, no one had to worry about having their computer stolen. It was hard to simply move the room-sized beasts and that’s even if you didn’t care about people noticing. Modern computer tech is just a little bit more wieldy now despite the frankly insane performance increases. This miniaturisation opens up the risk of theft. While it might be difficult to steal a standard computer tower there are plenty of other computing devices that are much easier to steal. Tablets and laptops immediately come to mind. Raspberry Pi minicomputers and even some small form factor computers are also relatively at risk of a light-fingered thief.
The standard user will typically either be using their device, have it stored in their home, or will have it on their person/in a bag. For them, their device is already relatively secure. Additionally, such a user is unlikely to accept any security measure that impacts their ability to use and move their device.
Many businesses, however, are not quite in the same position. While a computer in an office may be considered safe there are plenty of computers in publicly accessible areas of many businesses. An Internet café or a library are obvious examples. Many other shops may have laptops or tablets available for their customers to use to place orders or manage their accounts. This sort of environment is where the Kensington lock comes in.
Locking devices down
When you’ve got computers being used by the general public there are many security steps that you should take. Most of them involve configuring the device so that administrative functions are secure and managing network access. When you’re dealing with small, light, and portable devices, it’s also advisable to have some sort of physical security too.
You don’t really want to have some sort of big clunky case that can be secured. For one thing that ruins the sleek modern design aesthetics. For another, it’s not great for cooling. You’d have to make sure that the cases are a perfect match for your devices. Big clunky solutions are also awkward to manage directly when you have to maintain the devices. Finally, big solutions also tend to have relatively large costs involved, so you want to keep things simple.
A Kensington lock fits the bill. The lock itself is small, it has an attached cable so you can tie it down to something secure. The lock connects to a standard Kensington Security Slot. Most laptops built since the turn of the century feature one. The slot is small, only slightly larger than a USB-C slot. The locking mechanism is simple, a “T” shaped bolt is inserted into the slot, then twisted by ninety degrees through the locking mechanism preventing it from being pulled out again. As a security mechanism designed to prevent theft, the slot itself is reinforced to prevent someone from just yanking the lock so hard that the shell of the device breaks.
Note: Most laptops feature a Kensington Security Slot. Typically an actual Kensington lock to make use of it is not included.
Modernising the lock
The standard locks are simple tube-based tumblers with a key. Some variants feature a combination lock. The cable is woven carbon steel thread to make it difficult to cut. It’s typically looped so it can be wrapped around a fixed object to secure the device. Generally, the Kensington slot is found on laptops. Being relatively small, portable, and expensive devices they’re decent targets for thieves. Some desktop towers and other peripherals such as monitors also feature Kensington slots. Some companies place PC towers in enclosures that themselves lock with Kensington locks.
Mobile phones and most tablets are simply too compact to support a Kensington slot. This is based on both the width of the device generally approaching that of the Kensington slot and the fact that any space dedicated to the slot could not be used for more functional parts. Space is at a very high premium in smartphones and tablets. Some tablets, however, include an integrated kickstand. Kensington currently offers a selection of locks that are designed to, safely, clamp down on the kickstand to lock the device in place. The range is typically intended for the Microsoft Surface Pro range, though it should work for many other kickstand tablets or two-in-one devices.
Laptop locking and docking stations are also available that don’t require a Kensington slot at all. Instead, they feature a pair of locking arms that hook around the joint of the open laptop. The locking docking station itself is secured with the standard tether. This allows any laptop, including models without a Kensington slot to be securely locked down.
A Kensington lock is a slot and locking mechanism designed as an anti-theft measure for portable devices, typically laptops, though some tablet and tablet-like devices are supported by clamping variants. The classic lock inserts a relatively small “T” bar into a slot and then rotates and locks it. The lock itself has a tough tether that is intended to be tied around something unstealable like a desk. Care must be taken to ensure that the cable can’t just be slid off the object it is secured to. Traditionally the lock uses a tube key, however, variants with combination locks and even RFID locking mechanisms are available.
The lock itself isn’t designed to make devices unstealable – such a task would be a fool’s gambit – it’s more of a best effort. Cutting the cable is difficult, picking the lock or guessing the combination is difficult, and tearing the lock off the device is difficult and will likely damage the device. Any of these techniques would take time, and not be particularly subtle, significantly increasing the chance that a security guard or upstanding member of the public notices something off.
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