Stephen Hoare, product marketing manager for security at Kensington Europe, explains the history of the ubiquitous K Slot
Since the creation of the K Slot in 1992, nearly every desktop and laptop computer has shipped with what may seem like a small whole in its casing. In fact, it’s a security slot that enables users to lock up their computer, keeping it safe from opportunistic thieves. The K Slot was invented by Kensington and, in this short article, product marketing manager Stephen Hoare explains what a security slot is, where the idea came from and how locks can help in the battle to keep your data secure.
Where did the idea come from?
Back in 1990, when laptops weighed at least twice as much as they do today and were not nearly as portable as the name suggests, Kensington predicted that laptop theft would present a major problem for businesses. The idea actually came from a product designer from Kensington who was traveling on business and thought there should be some way to protect his expensive laptop from being stolen. He recognised that people would inevitably save valuable data on the machines they carried around with them, and that these devices were highly vulnerable. This meant that even if the loss of the hardware wasn’t a major concern, a company could be severely damaged by the loss of the data on it – especially if that data fell into the wrong hands.
While other security vendors set about protecting the data from theft via the Internet and network breaches, Kensington focused on creating a much more straightforward and preventative measure to keep thieves out: a laptop lock. The developers at Kensington realised that having passwords and encryption on the machine without attending to its physical security is like having an expensive alarm system for your house, then going out without locking the door. They began to design a unique lock and a method of attaching the lock to a laptop computer. The result was the Kensington K Slot and the patented Kensington T-Bar lock head, which has a tight fit with the slot to ensure integral strength and reliability.
Laptop locks were to become the first line of defence for laptops around the world, deterring opportunistic thieves and protecting machines in schools, airports, offices and homes everywhere.
How was the lock developed?
First, Kensington needed to ensure that a laptop could be locked. You couldn’t just wrap a bike lock around it and hope for the best, and unlike a bike, there was nothing inherent in its structure that would make it ‘lockable’. And so, after two years of deliberation, design, innovation and testing, the K Slot was born.
First came PassProof, a security system for Macs, as Kensington already had an established relationship with Apple. However, it was the universal nature of the K Slot that laptop suppliers could understand and see the potential for.
The designer met with each of the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and convinced each computer manufacturer to add a small, security slot in their laptop designs. Compaq was the first OEM to incorporate the Kensington security slot in 1991.
In 1992 Kensington brought to market both its security slot and first MicroSaver® security-cable-&-lock device, which uses the slot to keep a device safe. This value-added feature was quickly incorporated by other OEMs and the Kensington security slot became an industry standard.
Most computer manufacturers identify the security slot with the Kensington ‘K-lock’ logo. The name ‘Kensington’ actually came about when the creators of the slot and T-Bar locking system were having a drink in a bar in Kensington, London, discussing what to call the company that would take their invention to market.
How does the K Slot work?
The slot, lock and cable together form an anti-theft system designed by Kensington. The slot itself is a small, metal-reinforced hole found on the side of almost all small or portable computers and electronics equipment, particularly on expensive or easily removable items, such as laptops, computer monitors, desktop computers, gaming consoles, and video projectors.
The beauty of the K Slot, as it quickly became known, is that the solution is simple and universal – it was not long before the vast majority of laptops of all brands were shipping with the K Slot, and that’s still the case today.
Once manufacturers realised that an in-built security slot added value to their proposition and to their customers, the K Slot quickly spread to other products. Now, slots can be found on other valuable electronic equipment, as wide ranging as guitar pedals and digital photoframes.
Locks are generally secured in place with a key or combination code and attached through a rubberised steel cable. The end of the cable has a small loop that allows the cable to be looped through or around a permanent object, such as a desk’s cable management system, securing it in place.
As the market grew, so did the number of suppliers wanting to get in on the act, and now there are numerous options available to those wanting to purchase a laptop lock. But with its heritage, association with the K Slot and extra years of research, Kensington has retained its place as the number one provider of laptop locks around the world, with a 60 per cent market share in Europe.
Lock designs are constantly evolving. As laptops get thinner and lighter, Kensington is working hard to ensure its locks are also thin and light – without compromising on security. This Autumn, Kensington will be adding further locks to its range with slimmer lock heads, and with retractable or coiled cables, making it easier for mobile computer users to carry their locks with them.
So, how secure is it?
As the industry leader Kensington takes security incredibly seriously. Its locks are thoroughly tested, examining resistance to:
- Foreign implements
- Extreme temperatures
Key strength is also thoroughly tested, along with tests looking at the lifecycle of the lock. It’s hard to believe what your computer goes through every day, so they test the lock’s resistance to common chemicals, including alcohol, coffee and fizzy drinks, which over time could erode cable integrity or lock head mechanisms.
In addition, the challenge is always to stay one step ahead of the thieves, providing customers with the assurance they need that their valuable equipment and data is safe. So, when a lock picking club made unverified claims to have picked Kensington’s locks in 2005, the company not only took those particular locks off the market, having already brought out a new, even sturdier design in 2004, but also provided any concerned customers with a new lock, free of charge.
There will always be those who argue that a lock can be pulled out with intense force or that a cable can be cut with two-handed wire cutters. Imitation products are certainly more prone to this. But who is going to buy a laptop with a big hole in its casing or half a lock still embedded? And what kind of thief wanders around with highly conspicuous industrial-strength wire cutters? It would be immediately obvious that they were handling stolen goods, hence the value of a lock as a deterrent.
Faced with the fact that a laptop that’s not locked up is far more likely to be stolen, the primary factor to bear in mind is that prevention is better than cure. A lock is far cheaper than a new laptop, and is a small price to pay to for peace of mind.
Ultimately, the most important thing is that people remember to use their locks: whether in a library, client’s office or at a trade show, the lock will only provide a deterrent if its in use. Manufacturers ship products with the K Slot and Kensington provides a range of locks suited to home, office and mobile use.
To create the ‘first line of defence’ in laptop security, all that remains is for mobile computer users to realise how easy it is to keep their laptop – and the information it contains – safe.
For more information, please visit www.microsaverinfo.com or www.kensington.com.