Do laptop security cables actually prevent theft?

They work by inserting a tiny little tab into a tiny little hole in the case and extending a tiny little arm to “lock” it into place. Laptop cases are not particularly heavy duty. I have never tried this but it seems that you could probably leverage the lock and break it out of the hole, even without tools. Someone who really knows what they’re doing could probably do this fast without drawing a lot of attention. If you have bolt cutters and are not visible you could probably just cut the cable and deal with the lock later.

So now you have a hot laptop with the security hole broken. If you’re going to use it yourself, you don’t care. If you’re going to fence it, it will probably look like it’s stolen, but whoever is buying it at a bargain-basement price probably doesn’t care either.

Any security device is vulnerable to someone who plans specifically to defeat it. Laptop locks prevent crimes of opportunity.

Usually the inside of the hole is reinforced with a hardened metal plate - it’s not impossible to just yank them free of the lock, of course - no material is infinitely strong, but doing so will attract attention, and probably pull off a chunk of the case when it does give (you basically have to pull the metal plate through the casing material of the laptop - you’re likely to lose a corner of the case.

As @Snowboarder_Bo points out, these things are to prevent casual, walk-by theft really. Like someone grabbing it off a table right in front of you and running away with it.

Locks keep honest people honest.

I would think it would prevent a good percentage of casual thief, and even perhaps even more ‘professional’ levels as the thief may not have their wire cutters on them, but would have taken the opportunity to walk away with it if they did. I’ve even have known a couple of people over the years who respect that it was locked and would leave it alone just because of that, some sort of weird honor code, or just feeling that the person is thus indicating by using a lock that they would prefer that their item not be stolen, and no lock means they must be OK with it being stolen, or the owner must not care about it leaving it unattended and unsecured. Not that I’ve know them to do such a thing, but they have expressed such an attitude on occasion.

I had my laptop stolen off of my office desk over a weekend. The end of the cable lock was slightly bent, presumably after they twisted it out. It wasn’t a quick snatch and grab though, the thieves had time to wander around and decide what was worth the effort to steal.

Yep. Cables prevent the “Yoink!” type of stealing. If someone has the time and effort, the cables can be broken.

For example, I work in the construction industry in a trailer onsite. There’s dozens of people in-and-out of the trailer all day, ranging from construction owners to bob-the-hammer-guy. When nature calls, and I’m away from my desk for 10 minutes, a less-than-honest person could come in the trailer, see the unsecured laptop, and Yoink!. I’d never know. But with that cable, its going to take a few minutes to get it undone, by which the time either I’ll be back, or another random person will enter the trailer, foiling the thief.

IMO

Locks keep semi-honest people more honest than they’d otherwise be.