Physical hardware for your digital life

alienstech.info

SOFTWARE THAT KEEPS your data yours is one thing, but what about the devices you use every single day? How do you keep those out of the wrong hands? You can tie them down — laptop cables offer more than a simple visual deterrent with their reinforced steel, and when in transit, a secure, locked case is a sensible option. These are fine for when you’re leaving them unattended or turned off, but even when you’re in front of your laptop, sensitive information can be quickly and easily snapped. Locks for precious house keys seems like an oxymoron, so enter the Bluetooth tracker to take care of those, which act like homing beacons, and can be attached to a plethora of other everyday items, too. Wallets, backpacks, suitcases can all go stray, and the power of these trackers isn’t to be underestimated. We’ve also covered personal security in this roundup, and some of the more subtle, hidden items can be truly surprising.

 

Yubikey Neo

MAY WE PRESENT YOU WITH THE KEY TO THE CYBER-CITY.

WITH THE RISING occurrence of mass account hacks in recent years, it’s no surprise that two-factor authentication (2FA) is also on the up. This usually involves wrangling multiple devices and codes but the YubiKey NEO, as the name may suggest, acts as a physical key to replace the secondary device wrangling in 2FA, relying on the open standard dubbed FIDO Universal 2nd Factor. This means that, when logging into services such as Google, Dropbox, Windows, MacOS, and even password-managers like LastPass, you can insert the YubiKey into your computer’s USB port as that second factor. The neat trick with the NEO is that it works with NFC-mobile devices as well — simply tap the tiny key to the back of your phone and you’re in. While tininess is an inevitable feature of all keys, both digital and physical, the NEO’s diminutive size makes it easy to lose, but given the advertised ruggedness of its design (“nearly indestructible”), you should feel confident chucking it on your keyring. For businesses and individuals alike, the Yubikey is a very tidy solution to a growing problem.

 

Kensington ClickSafe 2.0 Keyed Laptop Lock

THE LATEST STANDARD IN CABLE-LOCKS FOR TECH.

FOR CLOSE TO 20 years, the Kensington security slot has been a standard for securing your expensive and portable items to something less expensive and much less portable. The ClickSafe 2.0 laptop lock offers increased protection over its MicroSaver range, with a thicker carbon steel cable that would require dedicated tools to cut through, but at the expense of a slightly bulkier and stiffer cable. The choice boils down to how much security the user believes is offered by the durability of the cable compared with the visual deterrent of a security device at all. Setting up the ClickSafe 2.0 is surprisingly simple, inserting a small anchor point into the slot and affixing with the included allen key is all that’s needed to plug the lock in, and once you’ve registered your keys online with Kensington, you can order replacements if you lose them. The ClickSafe 2.0 offers excellent protection from opportunistic theft, but just be sure you’re not using a Dell laptop with a competing Noble lock slot, or a MacBook that offers no slot at all.

 

Kensington VeriMark Fingerprint Key

A SIMPLE, SNAPPY SCANNER FOR FINGERPRINT SECURITY.

WHILE THE SMARTPHONE market has already adopted biometric security in a big way with the near-ubiquitous fingerprint scanner, the uptake in laptops and desktops is much slower. But with the Kensington VeriMark, you can add this feature to any Windows 7 and above system with a spare USB port. Setting it up is as easy as plugging it in, waiting for the drivers and software to automatically install, then following the prompts to register as many fingerprints as you’d like. This tiny dongle can replace your Windows login password, or any two-factor authentication that uses the FIDO U2F standard, such as Google, Facebook and password managers. The VeriMark faces the same losability problem as the NEO and offers a similar solution — you can attach it to your keyring via a small protective case. If you’re looking to add a fingerprint scanner to any of your devices, the VeriMark is snappy and simple, but once you carry it around on your person as you would a key, the scanning itself feels a little redundant.

 

Tile Pro Series

STYLISH BLUETOOTH TRACKER FOR LIFE’S ESSENTIALS.

TILE’S TRACKERS HAVE evolved. This third generation is sleeker than its predecessors in size and shape, with two attractive case options — Sport and Style — that make it look less like a big chunky square of plastic. It’s also waterproof to 1.5m, has a better range (60m compared to 30m), is louder than before, and the volume can be adjusted in two incremental steps. The ethos remains the same, however. Your Tile is constantly beaming out a Bluetooth signal, and you pair it to the phone app. Give that Tile a name in case you have multiple Tiles to distinguish them, attach it to whatever you want tracked, and you’re off. There isn’t a GPS unit inside them — that’s what your phone is for. As long as the Tile is within range of your phone (and your Bluetooth is turned on) you can see on a map where your Tile is, or its last known location. If it does go out of range, other Tile user can crowdsource your missing item autonomously. Once the internal battery is dead, that’s it, you’ll have to replace it. Expect to get about a year of use.

 

Kensington SecureTrek 17” Roller

UNASSUMING CARRY-ON WITH TIDY DEFENCES.

THE KENSINGTON SECURETREK Roller is carry-on approved with plenty of room for a longer trip, but most importantly, it’s secure. There are two main compartments, one that can fit a 17-inch laptop, 10-inch tablet and various other tech goodies, and another designed for clothing (albeit with an excessive cutaway for the pull-out handle). A third, flatter section is good for organising a variety of smaller items, although the locking mechanism only applies to the two main compartments. Each of these sections feature zippers (double-layered, anti-puncture zippers in the case of the tech compartment) with a hammerhead design, enabling them to clip under a steel plate that can be secured with a regular padlock or one of Kensington’s own dedicated locks (not included). There are some signs of poor construction on the interior — flaking glue, rough plastic edges, loose threads — but thankfully, the external 840D poly twill seems tough as nails. It’s a decent piece of carry-on and is made even more-so by the peace of mind brought about by its security features.

 

TrackR Bravo

KEYRING COMPANION

RIVALLING TILE’S SLEEK tracking unit is TrackR’s smaller, lighter and more utilitarian device. What it lacks in waterproofing and looks, it makes up for in portability and flexibility. Where Tile’s devices are sealed in and have to be disposed of once their battery runs dead, the Bravo’s CR1620 battery can be replaced by simply flicking out the tray and clicking it back in to place. Download the app, register the tracker, and you and the community can keep track of where your items are (though only you can see where your Bravo is; the community’s resources simply pool together to help locate it). Once paired to your phone (and your handset’s Bluetooth is on and in range), they can call it and trigger an alarm, in case you can’t find it. As for the Bravo itself, it has a small loop at the top that fits a keyring. One’s included, which is good as the loop is annoyingly tight. The TrackR has one more up on the Tile Pro Series units as it features a small, blue LED that flashes in unison with the shrill alarm when it’s being called. We’re also fans of the ‘history’ list on the app, so you can see where your Bravo has been over time.

 

Pioneer DreamCare

FINDER FOR YOUR FOUR-LEGGED FRIEND.

FIDO DOESN’T ALWAYS come when you call. The Pioneer DreamCare tracker gives you an up-to-the-minute idea of where your pet is thanks to an integrated 3G SIM card (much like the one in your smartphone), Wi-Fi controls and GPS. An added bonus is that the app also keeps track of how much exercise your pet gets. A Vodafone SIM is pre-installed in the chunky, weatherproof case, and all you have to do is affix the robust rubber band, charge it up, and then follow the instructions in the app to get started. The app can set virtual limits on where your pet roams, alerting you if they step outside a radius that you’ve marked out on a map, or if they stray outside of the range Wi-Fi on your phone (if you go walking and let them off the leash). You can also track them down by remotely activating the alarm and a flashing light. The cost may be off-putting, as on top of the $189 RRP, the SIM costs US$2.99–$3.99 per month, but for peace of mind, it’s worth it as the unit is sturdy and the app easy to use. Expect approximately two to three days of use between charges, depending on how much your pet goes walkabout.

 

Everki EKS622XL RFID Messenger

PROTECT YOUR TABLET... AND YOUR RFID TRANSMISSIONS.

DESIGNED TO FIT Pad Pro 12-inch or Surface Pro laptops, this laptop bag is made from extremely rugged ballistic nylon to stand the rigours of the road. There’s ample padding to ensure your hardware doesn’t get damaged, and there are lots of little compartments for headphones, pens, notepads and the like, making it easy to keep all of your gear stowed away nice and tidy. There’s even a special phone compartment so you don’t have to frantically dig through the interior to find that ringing handset. Bonus points for its styling, which doesn’t announce to the world that you’re carting around several thousand dollars’ worth of laptop, too. However, it’s the special RFID protective pouch that sets this bag apart from the rest. Located at the front of the bag, this pouch is big enough to easily fit both your passport and wallet. This explains the slightly higher price point, though the overall quality of the bag material and rugged zippers makes it a keeper.

 

Korjo RFID Passport Defender

FOR THOSE WITH E-PASSPORTS.

WHETHER YOU BELIEVE RFID information theft is real or not (stats show it’s less than 1% of all info-hacks), at just $8, this piece of shielded cardboard is a very cheap way to buy piece of mind. And that’s exactly what it is — in the pack you get two cardboard sleeves, each lined with RF-blocking material. According to the specs, it blocks 13.56MHz and 860–960MHz transmissions, while also shielding ISO 14443/15693 and EPC Gen1/Gen2. If you happen to have an e-Passport, unlike contact-less credit cards, it does actually have an RFID chip embedded within, so this cheap sleeve guarantees nobody can skim your data without your knowledge. To be honest, we’re more worried about our RFID chips becoming corrupted by other devices, after this happening to us in the past, so this sleeve should also stop that from becoming a reality. Ditto with credit/debit card defenders — we’ve lost track of the number of debit cards that stopped working after just a few weeks due to another card or device being placed too close to the dead card. And for just eight bucks, that convenience alone is worth it.

 

Targus 4Vu Privacy Screen Filter

DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE?

FOR THOSE THAT want to keep their computer screen their own, a privacy filter is the next best thing after setting yourself up in a corner. The 4Vu option from Targus is able to fit a vast array of laptop and desktop displays — we tested out a 21.5-inch filter on our desktop monitor. The filter is reversible and offers either a glossy or matte finish to suit your preference, but both orientations noticeably darkened our display and required a doubling of backlight brightness to accommodate. The filtering effect is quite powerful and blackens the screen completely to all but a 30° viewing angle, but with wider displays like our 21.5-inch monitor, the edges of the display are noticeably dimmed even when looking at it straight-on. Despite the three adhesive-tab options on offer, the affixing process was finicky. The smaller ‘easy removal’ tabs flew off when trying to insert and the ‘fixed attachment’ option left long strips of visual distortion on the edges of the filter. This filter works as intended, but you’ve got to really want that angular privacy to accept the associated costs and sacrifices.

 

Armourcard Personal Force Field

BLOCKING THE SCANNERS.

YOUR MODERN PASSPORT, some bank cards, Opal and Myki cards all have a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. It’s this chip that allows you to swipe or hover the card over an EFTPOS machine or train/bus/tram card reader for contactless payments. It also means, in theory, that they’re vulnerable to nefarious types walking past with a portable RFID card reader, scanning your info, duplicating it and taking off with your identity. The Armourcard is a credit card-sized device that slots into your wallet or purse and creates a barrier around your cards to protect them. It does work, and works well, as we tested it with a number of phones loaded with an RFID scanning app, and sure enough, when the unit detected that something was trying to pass a signal through its barrier, a small LED furiously blinked back. However, it’s a largely superfluous product. Your cards need to be mere centimetres away from the reader, so anyone wanting to steal your info would have to be well within your personal space. And RFID crime is low — you’re more likely to have your credit card skimmed.

 

Revolar Instinct

KEYRING TRACKER FOR YOUR PERSONAL SAFETY.

WE’VE FEATURED BLUETOOTH trackers that keep track of your possessions, and this is a discreet tracker that’s designed to keep track of you. Attach it to your keys, pair it to your phone, and then click the button to alert your friends and family of your whereabouts. It differs from the Pioneer DreamCare, which passively monitors the person (or item) it’s attached to, as the Revolar only kicks into action once you tap its discreet button once, twice or three times. It also relies entirely on your mobile phone — if you don’t have your phone with you, it’s simply a fancy keyring fob. The messages it sends out can be customised, but depending on the situation, a simple ‘I’m fine’ one click can be escalated to a three-click ‘send emergency services’. All three alerts give away your location on a map. We had some trouble pairing the Revolar to our phone, and also maintaining a connection to trigger alerts, which is less than ideal. However, the phone app mimics the unit’s functions, and there’s no on-going cost once you’ve bought the unit. That goes some way to making up for spotty performance.

 

3M Gold Privacy Filter 17-inch

LAPTOP SHIELD.

AIMED AT HIGH-FLYING execs who want to protect their screen view whilst also looking pretty slick in the process, this is 3M’s flagship screen filter. Available in a wide variety of sizes, we checked out the large 17-incher, for those who like to lug a monster of a laptop around. The film is easily applied to your laptop; rather than the entire screen protector being completely adhesive, like a phone’s, it comes with eight tabs that can be used to affix the screen to your laptop. This removes any issues such as bubbling or misalignment, and also means you can take it off with minimum hassle for meetings where having the whole viewing angle is essential. Once in place, when looking directly at your screen, the view is clear and easy to read, though brightness does suffer a little. However, at a 30° viewing angle, the image starts to fade; at 60°, all you see is a beautiful rose-gold mirror, hiding any and all data from the screen. It can be reversed to show an all-black finish if you’d prefer. There’s one small hitch — it’ll disable any touch functionality of your screen.