April 11, 2006 1:43 PM PDT

Perps beware: 'Jacking Macs' could prove hazardous

At a time when laptop thefts are on the rise in high-tech corridors like San Francisco, an entrepreneur has rigged portable computers with a security measure that car owners have relied on--and sleepers have complained about--for decades.

"It's a car alarm for your notebook computer," said Randy Green, the Missouri-based creator of the iAlertU alarm system, which is expected to go on sale at Green's site, Slappingturtle.com, next month for $9.95.

Click here to Play

Video: A solution for laptop theft?
Watch a demonstration of iAlertU, software that sets off an alarm when an Apple MacBook Pro is jarred. It's activated by remote control.

Green has reconfigured Apple Computer's MacBook Pro so the computer's remote control can activate his security system. Thirsty coffee shop computer users who get up for another latte can hit a button on their remotes and they will hear the classic car-alarm chirp that tells them their systems are armed.

After that, any jostling of the computer will set a siren to wailing and the computer screen to flashing.

"Don't get your Mac jacked," is Green's slogan. Calls to Apple were not immediately returned.

Computer robberies in San Francisco jumped from 18 in 2004 to 48 last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. In the first three months of 2006, the city already saw 18 such crimes, putting it on pace to top 70 for the year.

Last month, a man suffered a partially collapsed lung after being stabbed by two thieves who were after his $2,500 Mac PowerBook.

Lt. John Loftus of the San Francisco Police Department's robbery detail says Green's software could be a deterrent but noted that it won't stop someone bent on stealing a computer.

"I don't know how effective it would be stopping someone who grabs the computer and runs," Loftus said. "If it went off, what they might do is throw it to the ground. In both cases you'd be out of a computer...But I'm sure it could be a deterrent."

A part-time software developer from Greenwood, Mo., Green wrote his program to override the MacBook Pro's remote control, which typically operates the Front Row software application for watching movies, viewing photos or playing music.

Green's software also uses the motion sensor in the MacBook Pro, which was designed by Apple to halt the computer's hard drive, thereby protecting it, if the laptop is dropped.

The alarm siren and the chirping sounds are downloaded with Green's program.

Green has rolled out a trial version but continues to experiment with the MacBook Pro's camera. He is trying to configure it so it will snap a photo of anybody who triggers the alarm. The system automatically e-mails the photo to a designated address.

Unfortunately, the system is rendered useless if the notebook isn't running. Also, a thief can disarm the system by removing the battery. Green notes, however, that the alarm would sound for at least the 10 seconds it would take the thief to unscrew the battery housing.

"It's kind of a novelty," acknowledges Green. "I really meant it to be a tamper-deterrent for college kids and the coffee shop crowd."

Another issue for Green to consider might be the plight of coffee shop owners who find patrons fleeing after an alarm is accidentally triggered while the laptop's owner is in the restroom. Fierce.

See more CNET content tagged:
Apple MacBook Pro, Apple MacBook, Missouri, remote control, alarm

14 comments

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LoJack
Have to wonder if this guy knows LoJack is available for laptops.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.lojackforlaptops.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.lojackforlaptops.com/</a>
Posted by User Information Private (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No Mac version yet, and why two posts?
There isn't a Mac Version yet (lojack says summer 2006 there will be) and why in God's name did you post this on CNET twice? With different titles, and altered sentences?
Posted by (461 comments )
Link Flag
LoJack is available
Wonder if this guy knows LoJack is available for laptops.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.lojackforlaptops.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.lojackforlaptops.com/</a>
Posted by User Information Private (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
did you say LoMac?
nc
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Will people care?
Think about car alarms going off today. When you hear an alarm going off, do you automaticly think someone is trying to steal the car? No. You automaticly assume that someone has accidently set off their own alarm which happens quite frequently. If a program like this became mainstrem then eventually, like the car alarm, it would become almost pointless to use and more of a nuisance then anything else. People would turn away annoyed rather then looking to see who's messing with the laptop.

And the picture idea is also quite useless. Are you going to get a camera hooled up on your laptop that has a 360 degree view of the area? If the camera was facing forwards and someone was really afraid of having their picture taken, they could grab it from the back.

I think that while the ideas behind the program are good, the reality is that it would not really deter would be laptop thieves.
Posted by rallynochaos (34 comments )
Reply Link Flag
the ultimate deterrent
Don't leave your laptop unattended. It's as simple as that. The article says something like that this would be used by people who leave their laptops while they go to the restroom. If you do that, then don't expect the alarm to help you very much.

People already don't care that your laptop is making noises. Especially a siren - they'll presume it's some sort of attention-needy game-playing teenager. Even if someone cares and hears the siren, what are they going to do? Stop the thief? At best, they'll just get a general description. Take that to the cops and you'll get a report for an insurance claim.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
flaw
Who steals a laptop without first closing the lid, which would put the computer into sleep and render iAlertU useless.
Posted by computer janitor--2008 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Designer working on fix for that
Hi Scott.

Randy Green, the creator of the alert system, is working on the closed-laptop problem and is confident that he's found a solution. Thanks.

Greg Sandoval
Posted by sandonet (318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Flawed Jack
Holding the power button a few seconds and the computer will turn off....no noise. Better yet, your index finger over the speaker hole will mute it.

Good concept, poor execution.

Best prevention is simply pay attention to your belonging and your surroundings.
Posted by tqt1586 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ROFL you have no concept or reality do you. The whole idea is that you don't have time its not like the person with the laptop which would be say me, who has a licence to carry a concealed gun would just stand there and let you play with my computer, I know you would but I would not let someone play with my computer. The software is also done to catch you unaware its not like its a real lojack.
Posted by SquezeBox (502 comments )
Link Flag
Eyesight on is a tip off, disable the external speaker shut off w/ headphon
This software is great if they can get the email photo function
complete, I would pay for this... Also, the alarm is played on the
headphones only when some are plugged in... since the eyesight
camera is on when this program is running it is a bit of a tip off,
one could simply insert headphones to disable the alarm sound...
Posted by ces32 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
You do know you can close the top and it still will go off. its just an added feature and in the end better than your idea which is... lol.
Posted by SquezeBox (502 comments )
Link Flag
Wait how is dumb enough to leave their laptop at the table alone as they go to the bathroom, now that is really asking for it.
Posted by SquezeBox (502 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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