A laptop lock that can't be defeated by pens or pennies
January 2, 2009 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Is there a good $50-ish laptop/notebook lock out there that *can't* be opened by a toilet paper tube, ballpoint pen, penny, or other common item?

I'm not looking for a bullet-proof solution, but I do remember the famed news some years ago about using common Bic ballpoint pens to open the Kryptonite bike lock and Kensington/Targus locks (I think that particular news peaked in 2004), and the latest bit I found was a 2007 blog article noting how to open a Kensington Microsaver with a penny (the blog doesn't actually tell you how, only that someone else found out how and published it--the comment about PIN numbers is also great).

Unfortunately, I haven't found a handy list of all laptop lock models that have somewhat ridiculous security flaws like those noted above. I prefer to use a key instead of a combination since that's one less thing to remember...
posted by Ky to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
On most notebooks the mounting point is considerably less robust than the cables locked into them, so treating the cable as a weak point is moot. It's more of a deterrent than anything.
posted by furtive at 2:51 PM on January 2, 2009

I have never met a lock that could not be picked. I've met some I couldn't pick, but never because I didn't have the tools--mainly just 'cause I lacked the patience, time or practice.

Besides, as furtive alludes to... lots of the laptops I've seen stolen have been taken by breaking the attachment on the laptop and leaving the cable behind. These are really only good to keep otherwise "honest" people from walking off with your attractive nuisance.
posted by Netzapper at 3:42 PM on January 2, 2009

Mounting holes aside, I have a pair of carpet-cutting shears that make short work of any laptop cable lock. It fits into my messenger bag (pants in a pinch) and looks like a scissors.
posted by rhizome at 4:00 PM on January 2, 2009

I think your most secure setup would be something with a chain or cable that takes any lock. Then you can use something more secure than what 90% of the market for laptop locks wants.

But see the above about cables. Even thick bike cables are easy to cut. If you're looking for something that will frustrate a serious thief - one who also isn't willing to damage the laptop in the process, and can't bring a hacksaw or angle grinder to bear on the problem, and doesn't have more than 15 minutes to do the deed - then you'll want some way of attaching a heavy chain and a secure padlock to the laptop.
posted by zippy at 4:39 PM on January 2, 2009

I should add that most padlocks can be defeated without picking them via a shim that can be made from an aluminum can without much difficulty (this is publicized on Youtube and Instructables, if I recall correctly) so you will want to get a padlock that is designed to be resistant to this technique.

Alternately, do what I do. Take your laptop with you when you would otherwise leave it.
posted by zippy at 4:41 PM on January 2, 2009

Get yourself a comfortable messenger bag, and keep your laptop with you at all times.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:56 PM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding b1tr0t's solution - this is what I do as well.
posted by zippy at 5:17 PM on January 2, 2009

Where are you locking it? If it's at work, maybe there's a locking closet where you could leave the laptop? A good door lock is going to be more secure (and less likely to break the laptop) than a laptop lock.

In general, though, take it with you. Even if you had a theoretical laptop lock that prevented theft 100%, someone with physical access to the machine could still (a) mess with your data, or (b) smash it with a hammer. Or, in some cases, use a screwdriver and 30 seconds to take your hard drive and battery and leave the (useless) laptop there.
posted by mmoncur at 5:32 PM on January 2, 2009

A good door lock is going to be more secure (and less likely to break the laptop) than a laptop lock.

Nah. Most locks not designed for protecting cash or military hardware are all about equally easy to open for somebody with a little bit of practice. When I was in good practice, it took me the same average minute and a half to open a $2.00 padlock as it did to open a $35 Kwikset deadbolt--not that I'm that good anymore. In reality, the high security locks (think $200+ for a single lock, and keys you wouldn't recognize as such) are also all pickable, they just tend to require specialized hardware unlike what it takes to open the other 98% of locks, and may take a couple minutes longer.

Honestly, most locks are more of a request, a signal that you don't want somebody inside, than they are an actual barrier to entry.

The real advice is: either carry your laptop with you, insure it (and use the silly locks the insurance will require of you), or stop fretting about it.
posted by Netzapper at 6:22 PM on January 2, 2009

All laptop cables tend to do is keep honest people honest. They act as a deterrent.

I had a combination cable lock that jammed and wouldn't accept the code. After leaving it attached to my office desk for 2 days, I needed the laptop elsewhere. Called my IT support and they said just snap it off....which I did. Took less than 30 secs, small bit of plastic pinged off and the laptop was free, fully functional and the case barely looked damaged. One replacement case later and the laptop was as good as new.

Take the laptop with you or lock it in a room/cupboard.

My company won't even let us lock laptops in the car boot these days before driving to a restaurant/stopping for errands, as they know people go around zapping car remotes until a car opens and they run off with the contents. Taking it with you is a pain, but the safest way.
posted by arcticseal at 8:40 PM on January 2, 2009

This kensington bar lock seems to be impervious to the attacks you mentioned: I don't know whether there have been other insecurities revealed.

Nthing the other comments above, many ways to separate a laptop security slot from its lock tat dont invove lock picking.
posted by lalochezia at 10:15 PM on January 2, 2009

Hm, guess the consensus is that it's all a futile exercise, pens and pennies regardless. I work in the public library whenever I can, so I would like to leave my laptop occasionally to either get materials or go to the bathroom, which wouldn't take more than a few minutes. I certainly wouldn't leave a laptop in the hotel. Ah well, I'll think of something.
posted by Ky at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2009

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