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Top 10 Ways To Protect Yourself From Laptop Theft
There is a tremendous amount of sensitive data on your laptop. And if it is not obvious yet why you should care about laptop theft (identity theft, getting fired, inconvenience), here are some statistics. In 2003 there were over 600,000 laptops stolen, according to Safeware Insurance. And a CSI/FBI Survey reports that between 80-95% of organizations suffered laptop theft every year between 1999 and 2005.
Here are 10 ways you can protect yourself.
1. Lock it. Keep your laptop locked when it is on your desk. Don’t wait; go online right now and buy a lock for your laptop. Most laptops are lock-ready, having a Kensington Security Slot built-in. There are dozens of lock options and prices start as low as 10 bucks. If you travel a lot, buy a travel style lock. Put it on your expense report. (Would your boss really not approve a $10 lock for a $1,500 company asset?)
2. Be careful at home. You probably should keep your laptop locked at home too. A friend of mine had his laptop stolen by some construction workers right off his desk at home. He never recovered it. Remember that Veterans Affairs laptop with data on 26.5 million people? Stolen from a house.
3. Hide it. I know this is obvious. But mobile devices and notebook computers are stolen because the thief can see them. So, even if you are just quickly stopping for a cup of coffee, don’t leave your laptop visible in your car. You need to be almost obsessive about covering up your laptop. Try using the sun visor or keep a blanket or towel in your car.
4. Don’t leave it unattended. Another obvious one. Quite a few laptops are stolen from airports, meeting rooms, and conferences because the owner did not stay close by. This happened to Irwin Jacobs, CEO of Qualcomm, the multi-billion dollar mobile technology company. After giving a speech, he stepped down to talk with the audience, leaving his laptop at the podium. It disappeared and was never recovered.
5. Password protect it. There are several ways to do this. One way is to set a boot-up or BIOS password that restricts access to the computer (but someone could pull out the unprotected hard drive.) Virtual drive locks are better. This is electronics, provided on some models by a few manufacturers like Dell, that puts a password on a computer’s hard drive itself. So the thief would need to know that password to access the hard drive. And of course, you should use a strong login password for your operating system, whether it be Windows, Mac or Linux.
6. Make it easy to return. It is possible you might just lose your laptop, or the thief may decide to dump it. Put a tag on your laptop with a phone number. If an honest person finds it, they might call you. There are services that will sell you tags for your mobile equipment with a toll-free number. You register all your gear and if someone calls, the company will provide a reward and make it easy for the finder to ship it back. I use StuffBak . Another one is TrackItBack.
7. Personalize it. This is related to the tip above. The idea is to put stickers or marks on your laptop that make it distinctly your own. However, this might not be practical if your company forbids it. And it will probably hurt the computer’s resale value. You can also find asset tags which, if removed, leave a permanent message behind that says “Stolen Property.”
8. Write down your computer info. Take a moment right now to turn your laptop over and write down the model number and serial number. This just might help you recover it later. Although it is unlikely-the FBI says 97% of stolen computers are never recovered.
9. Back up your data. This is useful for two reasons. First, it can prevent you from losing a lot of time and intellectual property. If the worst case happens, with a recent backup you can at least start getting some work done. Second, with a recent backup, you can inform your employer and law enforcement exactly what is stored on the stolen device. This could be a really big deal.
10. Protect your backups. If you are backing up your laptop, don’t be careless with your backup device. For example, if you have one of those external drives, you need to keep that locked up too. Most people forget that in the Veterans Affairs laptop scandal, both a notebook and an external hard drive were stolen.
11. Bonus tip 1. Install laptop trace software. This is software that runs silently on your computer and checks in with a central site on the Internet. If your laptop is stolen, you activate the alert system online and the next time your PC is booted (by the thief) and connects to the Internet, the police are notified of its location. Some vendors of this software include Absolute Software and Ztrace (www.ztrace.com).
12. Bonus tip 2. Install remote locking software. This is similar to laptop trace software, except in this case, you can remotely tell your computer to lock down any sensitive files. So the next time your stolen PC connects to the Internet, your confidential data will be protected. TrendMicro (www.trendmicro.com) offers Remote File Lock as part of its Internet Security Pro product.
Advice to ignore. Some articles tell you not to keep your laptop in a bag that makes it obvious you have one. Those articles are probably written by people who either don’t own a laptop or have one that rarely leaves their desk. It’s pretty unpractical to suggest this, especially if you travel a lot. You need to keep your notebook protected from physical damage and you want the functionality these bags provide. Use the other tips here and you will be in better shape than most of the people out there.
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