No one's going to touch my chips

How can you protect your computer from the RAM-raiders? Chain it down, wire it up and cover it in indelible ink, says Pradeep Luther

If thieves were rational beings, they would stop stealing RAM chips because prices have collapsed. Unfortunately, we cannot count on this - it seems the RAM-raiding epidemic will take a while to run its course. Computers, and their innards, remain tempting targets. So what can you do to make sure your new home office machine stays where it is, and intact?

There are several kinds of security devices available: those that prevent the whole computers being stolen, those that prevent the system case being opened, burglar alarms that activate with vibration or when the case is opened, and marking of the chips with indelible ink.

With the first kind, such as the Lok-Kit, you secure the computer to furniture. A plastic-covered metal pad carrying an eyelet is attached to each of these with strong peel-apart adhesive. The eyelet on each pad is then threaded with a 1/4 inch-thick plastic-sheathed steel cable and the end of the cable is padlocked. Steel braids may stop the computers being removed, but they provide no protection to the internal components. Also the cables are unlikely to resist strong cutters. A determined thief well may pry the pads apart from the case.

To prevent a computer case from being opened, a cheap and simple solution is a lock based on the screws that attach the case to the frame at the rear of the computer. The screws are attached to the case through the barrel-shaped locks. Fitting a padlock across the barrel blocks the screwhead, and the computer case is secured. An example is the SimmSaver lock from HCS Global (pounds 11.95 including padlock).

Probably the most effective solution are steel-cages that enclose the case and are bolted or padlocked to the furniture. Aegis Security Enclosures provide custom-built cages for the system case. The cages are hinged over the computer case and a central spiggot at the base attaches the cage into the table-top. A strong padlock secures the spiggot. This is a cost-effective solution adopted by several universities.

Entry into a computer is also possible through any spare diskdrive bay. In a computer with a single floppy disk-drive, adjacent bays may be empty. Manufacturers hide the bays with clip-on plastic covers that match the case. The plastic covers can be removed easily, and provide free access to the internal components. Aegis provide steel blanking plates that are screwed into the case.

Internal alarms fitted on interface cards are relatively new on the market. When activated, they emit an ear-piercing 105db siren. The "Wobbler", activates when the equipment is jolted or when the case is opened. The alarm allows for short accidental jolts. Fitted with its own batteries, the card fits into an existing slot in the PC.

To address the problem of untraceable memory modules, the Home Office Forensic Science Service has launched the IndSol Tracer, a uniquely identifiable paint issued to each registered customer. It can be safely used on memory chips and other valuable equipment such as mobile phones and laptop computers. Although invisible, its presence can be identified by the police, and the Home Office database can locate the true owners.

Steel Cable and Pads

SuperBond Lok-Kit II: pounds 26.96 for three-plate kit.

Standard Lok-Kit: pounds 24.95 for two-plate kit.

Additional pads: pounds 10.95 each

From Inmac. Tel: 0181 740 9540. Fax 0800 611116

Internal Alarm Cards

Wobbler Card: pounds 72 HCS Global. Tel: 01475 500011. Fax: 01475 500022.

PC-Alarm: pounds 70 Inmac. Tel: 0181 740 9540. Fax: 0800 611116.

Barracuda: pounds 89, Secure PC (address below).

Computer case steel-cages:

Aegis Security Enclosures, 42 Portland Court, Kingsway, Luton LU4 8HA. Tel: 01582 410110. Fax: 01582 451511. email: aegis@docutext.demon.co.uk

Computer security consulting firms:

Prolox. Tel: 01223 568198. Fax: 01223 566340

Secure PC, 464 Fulham Road, London SW6 1BY. Tel 0171 610 3646.

Clarion Security Systems, Lee Valley Technopark, Ashley Road, London N17 9LN. Tel: 0181 880 4646. Fax: 0181 880 4640.

Chip Marking Paint: IndSol TRACER marketed by Probe FX (UK), PO Box 23, Newport, Shropshire TF10 7BR. Tel: 01922 643555. Fax: 01922 643131.

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