To Catch A Chip Thief

A COMPANY THAT PROVIDES the magnetic devices that department stores rely on to thwart shoplifters now wants to furnish an even higher-tech version to the computer industry. By some estimates, the black market for computer components now exceeds $8 billion a year. Industry employees are responsible for 50% of the thefts.

Knogo North America, located in Hauppauge, N.Y., is introducing the hair-thin Super Strip, which can fit on a computer chip, a hard drive, or other component. Made of two types of cobalt-based alloys, the hard-to-detect strip sends off a strong signal when it passes a sensor at, say, the factory door.

The cost of this sort of protection for a Pentium chip with a $500 street value is under 50 cents, says Thomas Nicolette, Knogo's chief executive. He says he has several high-technology companies signed up, but he declines to reveal their identities. "This program is best kept understated"--to avoid tipping off potential thieves, he says. The strip may be deactivated by the chip maker or the retailer.

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