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Laptop Security Tips

Laptop security tips including preventing theft, laptp data protection , and more.

laptop security cable and lockLaptop Security 101

Laptops have become essential tools in both our business and personal lives. Laptops allow us to get work done anywhere, whether that's on a business trip, in the library or coffee shop, or comfortably on the couch, in front of the TV. 

The very features that make a laptop so convenient, however, are also exactly what make it vulnerable to theft. Laptop hardware is small, portable and relatively valuable, and the information stored on an average laptop is even more valuable - whether it's personal data or corporate information.

Preventing Laptop Theft - Laptop Security Tips

The most important thing you can do to protect your laptop and its contents is simply to never leave it unattended. Don't give thieves a chance to even try stealing it. 

When out in public, never put it down or let it out of your sight. If you must put it down, place it between your feet so that you can still feel it and protect it.

Don't leave your laptop in the car, and if you must, be sure it is out of sight. When traveling, always take your laptop as a carry-on; never pack it in your checked luggage. Be especially careful going through airport security. 

Everyone's laptop bag looks the same, and it's easy for yours to go missing in the shuffle. Wait until the person before you has cleared security before putting your bag on the conveyor belt to be scanned, and pick it up right away on the other side. Better yet, if you can, use a buddy system. Have someone you are traveling with go through first so that they can collect your laptop bag for you on the other side. You can further protect your laptop by carrying it in a backpack rather than a laptop case, making it a less obvious target.

Keep your laptop safe at home and in the office as well. Use a docking station to lock your computer down, or put it and any laptop accessories out of sight (preferably in a locked drawer) when they're not in use. Laptop safes (or laptop lockers) are available to securely store your computer in a closet, desk or car trunk. The same applies in hotel rooms, where theft is even more likely. Don't leave your laptop sitting out when you're not in your room. It's wise to hang a "do not disturb" sign on your door, and take advantage of the room safe if there is one.

Theft Deterrents - Laptop Security Tips

The whole point of the laptop is its portability, though, isn't it? You can't stop taking it places, and you can't keep it out of sight while you're using it. There are a number of steps you can take to discourage potential thieves.

First and foremost, invest in a laptop lock. These are cheap and easy to use. Most laptops have a Universal Security Slot that will accept any laptop cable lock. Simply tether your computer to an immovable piece of furniture or railing. 

For best protection, look for sturdy cable and cylinder lock (not a tumbler lock). These locks can be broken, of course, but they make your laptop a much less attractive target.

You can go one step further with a laptop alarm. A variety of alarms are available; some will sound when anything is unplugged from your computer, some detect any movement of the laptop, and some are triggered if the computer is removed from a designated perimeter. Regardless of the trigger, all will sound an ear-splitting 110 decibel alarm if anyone attempts to steal your computer, drawing instant attention and (hopefully) scaring them off.

Finally, you should apply conspicuous, indelible ID labels to your laptop and any removable components. Visible labels let potential thieves know you have taken steps to protect your property. The best labels leave indelible tattoos if the thief tries to remove them. This very simple form of theft deterrent can also help you to recover your laptop if it does get stolen.

Data Protection - Laptop Security Tips

Because the data on your laptop is probably more valuable to you than the hardware itself, make sure you have taken precautions to protect it, as well.

Start with a good password. Don't choose something obvious (like your name, or "password"). Make your password at least 8 characters long, and include a combination of upper case, lower case, numbers and symbols. A complicated password is harder to break, but it's also harder to remember. Be sure not to store your password anywhere on the computer or in your laptop case.

However, you can't count simply on your Windows password: savvy thieves can get around this pretty easily. Regularly back up your hard drive, to be sure you still have a copy of recent work should anything happen to your laptop. To prevent information falling into the wrong hands, store minimal data on the laptop itself. Use an external hard drive or remove the internal hard drive when not in use, and keep it separate from the laptop.

You can further protect sensitive information by encrypting part or all of your hard drive. This is easily done with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, and there are separate software packages you can buy to do an even better job. This will protect your files even if the hard drive is removed and run on another system.

Recovering a Stolen Laptop - Laptop Security Tips

There are even software applications you can invest in to help with the retrieval of your laptop in the event that it is stolen. Tracking software, for example, sends a signal to a tracking company every time the computer connects to the Internet. If the thief uses your computer to access the Internet, his location can be narrowed down by tracking the IP address and access point used.

Remote access applications allow you to control your laptop remotely while the thief is online. You can retrieve data, delete or encrypt confidential files, run programs or even have your webcam snap and upload photos of the thief. Some services will do all of this for you automatically as soon as you report your laptop stolen.

Whether or not you have this type of security software, make sure you record your laptop's serial number in a safe place to use in police reports and insurance claims. Report the theft right away to the police, and to your employer if it was a company-issued computer. Let your employee know of any confidential company or client information that was lost. Finally, consult the FTC about steps to take to protect yourself from identity theft.


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