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Lock guru says Targus still leaves notebooks vulnerable

Lock guru says Targus still leaves notebooks vulnerable
Lock guru says Targus still leaves notebooks vulnerable 

Pioneer Press
Sept. 11, 2006

Computer-hardware makers keep churning out new laptop locks, and Marc 
Tobias keeps trying to crack them often with what he said is absurd 

His new victim: Targus' Defcon CL Armor Combo Cable Lock. It's the 
latest in a series of devices with reinforced cables designed to lash a 
laptop (or any other computer with a built-in security slot) to an 
immovable object.

Targus said it released the new lock partly in response to 2004 reports 
that an earlier version of the lock could be cracked with little effort 
as Tobias dramatically demonstrated to a Pioneer Press reporter at the 

But the new lock is all but worthless, said Tobias, a South Dakota lock 
and lock-picking authority. The $55 device, like its predecessor, sports 
a combination-style mechanism that slips into a security slot so a 
laptop can't be moved.

But, much like the flawed earlier version, the new lock can be probed 
with ordinary objects a length of wire, a straightened paperclip or a 
sliver of pop-can metal, in this case to ascertain its combination, 
according to Tobias.

This chore can be completed in minutes with little training, he argues.

"Targus has learned little from their original mistake," Tobias writes 
in an analysis of the locking mechanism. It "continues to put laptop 
users at a significant risk of loss and theft."

Targus' much-ballyhooed "steel-on-steel, extreme-cut-resistant" cable is 
also fatally flawed, Tobias said.

Ringlets used to sheath the cable are, indeed, difficult to damage, he 
acknowledges. But a thief need only pry apart two of the ringlets to get 
at the cable beneath and slice it with ordinary cutting tools sold in 
hardware stores, he said.

An outer transparent-plastic coating provides little protection because 
it can be easily cut or melted, Tobias adds.

"Although the (lock) appears to be virtually invincible, it is not," 
said Tobias, who suggests Targus hire better engineers.

Tobias has details on the Targus lock and its vulnerabilities at 

He said recently released Kensington and PC Guardian locks have better 
locking mechanisms and harder-to-cut cables that offer far better if 
never absolute security for computer users.

Targus defends its lock.

"Based on our internal tests, the ringlets on our Defcon Armor lock are 
snug and have some movement to allow flexibility of the cable and still 
protect the cable from cable cutters," product manager Henry Watanabe 
said in a statement.

"Our notebook lock is foremost a theft-deterrent device," Watanabe said, 
"and is one of the most robust notebook cable locks available in the 

Poorly reinforced security slots built into some laptops are "the 
weakest link" when using such locks, Watanabe argues. "The strength of 
(that) attach point varies quite widely from notebook to notebook. The 
stronger the attach point, the more secure the notebook."

Tobias agrees that a computer lock's mechanism or the strength of its 
cable is irrelevant if a computer's security slot is easy to compromise. 
He said the slots must be cut into a hardened-metal portion of a 
computer or reinforced somehow.

But, as the Pioneer Press recently found, ripping locks from too-fragile 
slots such as those built into certain HP laptops is all but effortless.


Julio Ojeda-Zapata can be reached at jojeda (at) or 
651-228-5467. For more personal technology on the Web or via RSS, go to and click "Business," then "Personal Tech."

2006 St. Paul Pioneer Press and wire service sources. All Rights 

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