An app to stop laptop thieves

ROMA – A laptop thief passes by a library gate.
But before he gets out, he must have both “his” laptop and his student ID scanned.
Now, the two don’t match…he is caught!
He could have stolen this computer from someone in the library.
Indeed, in a few seconds, another student comes screaming for her lost computer.

But she is immediately comforted to find both her laptop and its thief trapped at the gate.
This is an application developed by Pitso Mothibe and Motloheloa Maieane, two former National University of Lesotho (NUL) students who developed it for the university itself.
It works this way.

Before you enter into a library with your laptop, you have to register it.
You use your student ID number and your computer serial number.
These two are important because one identifies you, the other identifies your computer.

Then the two IDs are built into a Quick Response (QR) code.
Never mind what that QR thing is.
However, they are placed in the QR code in a manner that makes them hard for you to identify — if you are a hacker.
“That is because we encrypt the information,” Mothibe, who confided that he cultivated his love for computing by listening to his Maths and Science teacher in high school, we said.

“My teacher, Mr Zimbe Moses from Uganda, used to talk about computing and programming a lot,” Mothibe said.
“That left a mark on me which propelled me into taking computing at the NUL,” he said.
So what is this encryption?

“We use a key known only to us which rearranges the information which anyone who wants to hack finds hard to read.”
Easy example:
Let’s take the word “laptop.”
Let’s encrypt it with a key called “anyone.”
Then you get the encryption called “laanpytoonpe.”
Every letter in “laptop” is followed by another letter in “anyone” in an order. So to know the encrypted word “laptop”, you must know the key “anyone.” 

Of course these folks use a far more sophisticated method but you get the point.
Once your ID and your computer’s serial number have been encrypted into a QR code, the QR code itself is printed into a tag that is placed on your computer for scanning every time you pass in or out.
Let’s say you are in a library doing your school work enjoying your laptop.
Oops! You are not alone.
Computer shacks are there too.

Mind you, NUL alone has about 10 000 students at any moment in time.
Most will visit the Library with their laptops at one point in their stay there.
If you are a laptop shack, what a better place to frequent!
Thieves are like lions.

Lions don’t just attack their prey anytime they see it.
No! They wait for the moment of weakness, like when the prey is tired or has moved too far from the rest of fellow animals.
For you, that moment of weakness comes when you want to visit a bathroom.

Tired, weary, you just stand up and move to a bathroom, only to come back and find that your laptop is gone.
We are not joking here.
Many students know what we are talking about because they have experienced this first-hand.
It can be devastating, not only because the laptop itself is a valuable material but because the information in there cannot be priced.
So when the thief passes the library checkout point, he finds something he didn’t know.

He is asked to check out by scanning his ID and a QR tag on “his” laptop.
He either doesn’t have a student ID (if he is not a student) or his ID doesn’t match with the laptop code.
He is caught!
This method is a far cry from a manual method currently used at the NUL library (if it is still in use).

You register your computer’s serial number on a note book and mark the page in which that serial number is — you need to recall that page when you come back because there are many of you.
When you come back from the library, you mention the page to the security guard and then you mention your serial number which must match the one shaded by the security guard so you don’t see it.
When the two match, then you can pass. 

It is a Born Before Technology (BBT) technique in the digital age.
To make Mothibe’s app extra safe, the QR tag must be printed on a material that collapses when you try to remove it and the material must be stamped.

That will prevent crooks from exchanging their old computers for new ones by simply exchanging tags.
If the security at the gate finds that the tag has been tampered with, the alarm is raised.
Then the whole method becomes nearly bullet-proof.

Own Correspondent

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