Be a PC Crime Fighter: Keep Your Hardware Safe

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Be a PC Crime Fighter: Keep Your Hardware Safe

Illustration: Stuart Bradford; Photograph: Marc Simon
"Only the Paranoid Survive."

What Intel's Andy Grove said years ago about the computer industry applies to computer owners as well. All the firewalls, virus scanners, and antispyware apps in the world won't do you any good if a bad guy has physical access to your PC. Use these tips, gadgets, and utilities to raise the shields on your hardware.

Lock down your PC: While notebooks have long been a prime target for thieves (see "Eight Tips for Holding Onto or Recovering Your Laptop"), desktop PCs are also vulnerable. Kensington, PC Guardian, and Targus offer products for physically securing your PC to a desk, wall, or other fixture. But since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, make sure your anchor point is solid. Anchor points that attach via adhesive bonds may cost less, but I prefer a device like Targus's $47 Defcon Worksurface Lock, which bolts to a desk or other surface (see Figure 1

Figure 1: Secure your PC by bolting it to a desk with Targus's Defcon Worksurface Lock.

You'll also want to protect your PC's memory modules, its graphics cards, and especially its hard drives. Your local computer shop should sell locks--priced at about $15--that secure your PC's case by blocking one of its chassis screw holes. If you're planning to buy or build a high-end PC, invest in a case with a lock.

Plug your memory holes: Your system's floppy and writable optical drives, as well as USB thumb drives and other types of external storage, make it easy for thieves to remove large amounts of data from your PC. makes several locks that physically block access to floppy drives, optical drives, and media-card readers. For $23 you can buy a four-pack of small locks for your USB ports from Lindy.

If you don't feel the need for a physical lock, you could try the $15 USB Lock AP utility, which controls access to your PC's USB ports and optical drives through an easy-to-use interface. And if you don't want to spend any money, Windows lets you disable almost any piece of hardware via Device Manager: Right-click My Computer, select Manage, Device Manager, double-click the drive or port you want to disable, and under 'Device usage' select Do not use this device (disable) (see Figure 2

Figure 2: Prevent data theft by disabling any port or drive via Windows' Device Manager.
). However, be aware that this technique would merely slow down a data thief, who could reverse the changes using any administrator account on the system.

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