Solutions to Laptop Theft

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story recently on an increase in laptop theft in San Francisco coffee houses. One victim was stabbed in the chest for his laptop during a recent robbery.

Lynch said people working on the high-priced computers are easy targets. “You walk by any Starbucks and you see people with a laptop, it’s so tempting for the crooks. They walk in, right on top of the person, and the person has all their attention on the laptop. They snatch it right out from underneath their fingertips. ‘

It’s surprising that there aren’t more incidents of laptop theft considering how expensive laptops can be, especially a nice Mac with titanium case and 17″ LCD. There are tons of people out there who walk around with thousands of dollars in their bags: laptops, ipods, digicams, etc. Luckily, there are a couple of options out there to help prevent laptop theft:

  • Get a laptop cable lock. Lock down your laptop with a cable lock that snaps into a specially designed loop on most laptops. Then loop the cable around something that can’t be moved. Unless thieves threaten you with body violence this is a good solution since it actually prevents theft.
  • Install Laptop Lojack. There’s a company called Computrace that makes a product by the name of Lojack for Laptops. They even licensed the name and everything. The idea behind it is simple: as soon as your laptop is stolen, you call the police to file a police report then you call Computrace and they set your laptop into “I’ve been stolen” mode. Basically, once the stolen laptop is connected to the Internet it sends notifications back to Computrace that help pinpoint its location by using the IP address, which is tied to your physical address. Computrace then notifies the police with information sufficient to serve as a search warrent. This is a good solution unless the thief wipes the hard drive before he connects to the Internet. Computrace has partnered with Lenovo, the maker of IBM Thinkpads, which now include the Computrace software on the actual BIOS chip. So, even if the hard-drive is wiped the software is still able to run and report back when stolen. Eventually all laptops could include something like this. Computrace claims that 90% of the laptops its customers report lost or stolen are either recovered or the data on them is destroyed using remote commands.
  • For Mac Users: Orbicule Undercover. Orbicule makes a similar program called Undercover that dials home when the laptop has been stolen. It also features support for iSight if you have a built-in webcam and will take snapshots of the thief. One interesting feature is that it simulates a hardware failure by gradually darkening the screen. The hope is that if the laptop is sent to Apple for repairs and connects to the Internet while at Apple, Undercover will detect the network settings and launch a special screen with instructions on how to return the stolen laptop to its rightful owner. It’s a novel approach, but who knows how well that works.


  1. When I moved to the bay area, I was shocked to see how many people just sit around with their laptops not secured. People use their laptops on the muni (lightrail) in plain view. It would be so easy for someone to just snatch if off their lap.

    I too have become complacent in this regard. When I lived in Austin and went to school, I made sure that everything was locked up and nothing, not even my crappy walkman, was in plain view. People steal things for weird reasons or no reason at all. I’d rather not be a target.

    I think our neighborhood is kind of an anomaly though. Nothing gets stolen from our apartment complex. People leave their bikes out unlocked. It’s weird and it does give me a false sense of security. In Austin, I was never a victim of crime, but I took care to watch out for little things. I’d even worry if I left my sprinkler out on the lawn all day. Someone could take it. Sure, it was 8.99 to replace it, but people stole stupid little stuff like that all the time.

  2. Any idea why the crime is low in your area?