Anti-theft system

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An anti-theft system is any device or method used to prevent or deter the unauthorized appropriation of items considered valuable. Theft is one of the most common and oldest criminal behaviours. From the invention of the first lock and key to the introduction of RFID tags and biometric identification, anti-theft systems have evolved to match the introduction of new inventions to society and the resulting theft of them by others.

Theft: motive and opportunity[edit]

Under normal circumstances, theft is prevented simply through the application and social acceptance of property law. Ownership is often indicated by means of visual marking (license plates, name tags). When clear owner identification is not possible and when there is a lack of social observance, people may be inclined to take possession of items to their own benefit at the expense of the original owner. Motive and opportunity are two enabling factors for theft. Given that motives for theft are varied and complex and are generally speaking not within the control of the victim, most methods of theft prevention rely on reducing opportunities for theft.

Motives for actively preventing theft[edit]

Items may require an anti-theft system for a variety of reasons, which may occur in combination depending on the type of item and its use:

  • The item is expensive and/or has sentimental value (prestigious car, family heirloom, birthday gift, war medals, coin collection)
  • The item is difficult/impossible to replace if lost (produced in low numbers, antiques, unique works of art)
  • The item is easy to steal (retail/supermarket products, office stationery,no security tags(TJ)
  • The item may be left unattended in an unsafe environment (laptops in a library, cars in a carpark)
  • Inappropriate use of the item may cause considerable damage or may enable further unauthorized acts (theft of car keys, stolen building access keys, identity theft)
  • The item is desirable to others (jewelry, mobile phones, rare collectibles, auto parts, industrial designs)
  • The item is otherwise un-obtainable: (Alcohol, Tobacco products, age related substances)

Use of theft prevention[edit]

Equally varied are the methods developed for theft prevention. Anti-theft systems have evolved to counter new theft techniques as they have appeared in society. The choice for a particular anti-theft system is dependent on several factors:

Financial cost[edit]

In addition to the initial acquisition cost of an item, the cost of replacement or recovery from its theft is usually considered when considering the cost of installing an anti-theft system. This cost estimation usually determines the maximum cost of the anti-theft system and the need to secure it. Expensive items will generally be secured with higher-cost anti-theft systems, while low-cost items will generally be secured at low cost. Insurance companies will often mandate a minimum type of anti-theft system as part of the conditions for insurance.

Threshold for theft[edit]

Anti-theft systems are designed to raise the difficulty of theft to an infeasible (but not necessarily impossible) level. The kind of system implemented often depends on the acceptable threshold for theft. For example, keeping money in an inside shirt pocket raises the difficulty of theft above that necessary if the pocket were on a backpack, since unauthorized access is made sufficiently more difficult. Methods of theft evolve to decrease the difficulty of theft, increased by newer anti-theft systems. Because of evolution on both sides and the social aspect of theft, the threshold for theft is very dynamic and heavily dependent on the environment. Doors in quiet suburban neighbourhoods are often left unlocked, as the perceived thresholds for theft are very high.

Ease of use[edit]

Security is often compromised through the lax application of theft-prevention practices and human nature in general. The ideal anti-theft device requires no additional effort while using the secured item, without reducing the level of security. In practice, users of security systems may intentionally reduce the effectiveness of an anti-theft system to increase its usability (see passwords). For example, home security systems will often be enabled and disabled using easy-to-remember codes such as "1111" or "123", instead of more secure combinations.

Methods of theft prevention[edit]

There are a number of general categories of anti-theft systems:

Sequestering of valuable items[edit]

A very common method of preventing theft is the placement of valuables in a safe location. The definition of safe depends on the minimum threshold for theft as determined by the owner. Desk stationery is often considered secured if placed in an unlocked drawer away from view, while expensive jewelry might be placed in a safe behind a picture in a home.

Raising the awareness of theft[edit]

Another common method is the alerting of other individuals to the act of theft. This is commonly seen in department stores, where security systems at exits alert store employees of the removal of unpaid items. Older car alarms also fall into this category; newer systems also prevent the car from starting. The revolution of mobile applications and wireless communication make possible to get notified by your phone, when your properties are stolen. Probably the first solution of mobile application based theft detection is BluCop, which was published in December 2010.

Preventing removal of items[edit]

Yet another method is the attachment of items to a larger immobile object, usually furniture or walls.

Disabling the stolen item[edit]

Items with specific functionality can often be disabled to prevent the use of the item if it should be stolen. The anti-theft system can require disabling on every use, or enabling when the item needs to be secured. Disabling the anti-theft system is usually done by requiring identification of the owner at some stage of use. Identification can occur through physical or other means (physical keys, numerical codes, complex passwords, biometric identification). This can work even retrospectively: as a stolen credit card can easily be invalidated with a phone call to the issuing bank, the motivation to steal one is reduced.

In the case of vehicle theft, the best deterrent to theft is in the installation of an approved vehicle anti theft passive immobilizer. Many vehicles have OEM (factory installed) units and afford protection through the ignition system. OEM immobilizers function through the ECM/PCM (computer) under the hood of the vehicle. In general terms, the RFID tag attached to the key must be read by the ECM in order to allow ignition to occur. Unfortunately, organized crime is able to bypass these systems and steal any vehicle at will. An approved immobilizer uses a 3 circuit isolation system which thwarts even the most experienced thief.

Security tags[edit]

Security tags are devices that are attached to products to prevent shoplifting and are often used in conjunction with an Electronic article surveillance system. SelectaDNA or Smartwater are such security tags - a forensic fluid which contains millions of tiny fragments which have a unique number called "SIN" ("SelectaDNA identification number"), and registered in a national police database together with the owner's details, is etched into each of those particles.

Tracking software[edit]

Electronic items such as laptops, cell phones and even gadgets such as iPods now have software that enable them to "phone home" with information regarding their whereabouts and other information that can aid law enforcement to track the devices down. If tracking software is not installed on gadgets like mobiles, laptops and tablets then database of lost, found and stolen mobiles,laptops & tablets might help tracking down your lost gadget. Sites like 3gadget.com are instrumental in tracking down lost mobiles, Tablets & Laptops using IMEI & Mac IDs.

Forensic marking[edit]

Assets can be marked with various forensic marking materials for law enforcement traceability of the item. An example of this type of marking is SelectaDNA and Smartwater.

References[edit]