December 08, 2000, 2:07 PM — These days, IT managers may tend to wonder if corporate information can too easily
walk off on easy-to-remove laptop computers. Recent events, notably the disappearance
earlier this year of a State Department laptop with important top secrets, and the
flight this weekend of a Qualcomm exec's PC, have cast light on the problem. Managers
know, too, that airport laptop thefts are far from uncommon.
Experts say the problem is a big one. The Computer Security Institute, a membership
organization composed of computer and network security professionals, estimates that 57
percent of firms suffered losses from laptop theft in 1999. Only virus attacks are a
more prevalent security problem, according to the institute. And insurance industry
estimates reveal that an estimated 319,000 laptops were stolen in the US last year.
Naturally, technologists are at work on ways to stop laptop flight. In early 2001, a
wholly new class of laptop security products -- one that uses advanced sensor
technology of the kind that powers auto safety air bags -- may make its first
Caveo Technology of Cambridge, Mass., is employing specialized silicon ICs developed by
Analog Devices of Norwood, Mass., to forge a new kind of laptop security solution. The
Caveo antitheft system is based on an on-chip micromachined tilt-motion sensor, which
sets up a safe security perimeter for laptop computers. Micromachines are ultrasmall
electromechanical devices that can be integrated on-chip with conventional silicon
Gail Greenwald, Caveo's vice president of operations, said the company's software
employs unique motion-analysis algorithms to detect the level of movement a laptop may
encounter. For example, if the laptop is picked up, the alarm will emit a small
warning, but if it is carried off, a full alarm will sound, she said.
A pioneer in micromachine technology, Analog Devices, which is providing Caveo with the
tilt-motion sensor, produced the first single-chip accelerometer for crash detection in
"The sensors are integrated on the motherboard of the PC and are transparent to the
user," said Christophe Lemaire, Analog Devices' business development engineer. And, the
chip is able to do more than just set off an alarm, said Lemaire.
When the PC is beyond a certain perimeter, such as an employee's cubicle, and the alarm
goes off, the computer is disabled at the BIOS level, making it useless to unauthorized
users. To stop the alarm, the user must enter a password, Lemaire said.
He said the sensors used in the Caveo-empowered laptops will have the same basic
technology as those in automobile air bags, but they are not the same device. Caveo is
using ADI's ADXL202E tilt-motion sensor.