Laptop Safety

Preventing Laptop Theft

Laptops have become thief magnets, attracting everything from common thugs and dishonest housekeeping employees to sophisticated con men, hi-tech crime rings, and industrial spies. Hundreds of thousands of laptops are reported stolen each year. Thousands more were simply misplaced or left in hotel rooms, restaurants, airports, cabs or coffee shops. Protect your capital investment by following these guidelines to better laptop security.

No Place is Safe

Never assume your laptop will be safe just sitting around. Treat as if it were $1,000 in cash lying around, and lock it down using a cable lock. Qualcomm's CEO has his laptop stolen from him during a news conference while he was standing no more than 30 feet from it. A State department employee had his stolen from a conference room and lost his job. Despite a $25,000 reward it was never returned. Never assume that your laptop is safe.

Asset Tag or Engrave the Laptop

You can greatly increase your odds of getting your laptop back if you happen to carelessly leave your laptop someplace. Permanently marking (or engraving) the outer case of the laptop with your name, address, and phone number. There are also a number of metal tamper-resistant commercial asset tags available that may help the police return your hardware to you if it is recovered. According to the FBI, 97% of unmarked computers are never recovered. Clearly marking your laptops deters casual thieves and may prevent it from simply being resold over the internet via an online auction.

Register Your Laptop with the Manufacturer

We've become so used to throwing away the registration cards for all of the electronic items we buy every day, because we've learned that it just leads to more junk mail. Registering your laptop with the manufacturer will "flag" it if a thief ever sends it in for maintenance, and increases your odds of getting it back. It also pays to write down your laptop's serial number and store it in a safe place. In the event your laptop is stolen, it will be impossible for the police to ever recover it if they can't trace it back to you.

When Traveling by Car

Never leave your laptop in a vehicle where a passing thief can see it through the window. If you do place your laptop in the trunk, use your cable lock to secure it to the trunk lid so that they still can't take it easily even if they manage to open the trunk. If you store your laptop in the vehicle for any period of time, keep in mind that the extreme temperature ranges within the vehicle could wreck havoc with your laptop. In the summer, the inside of a parked car can reach temperatures that will melt your laptop's components. In the winter, LCD screens can freeze solid and split.

Make Security a Habit

Get into the habit of locking your laptop up when you're working with it, or when storing it. (A cable lock takes less time to install then it does for your PC to boot.) Use common sense when traveling and try to stay in physical contact with your laptop at all times.

Over 80% of the laptops on the market are equipped with a Universal Security Slot (USS) that allows them to be attached to a cable lock or laptop alarm. While this may not stop determined hotel thieves with bolt cutters, it will effectively deter casual thieves who may take advantage of you while you leave to go the bathroom. Most of these devices are between $30 - $50 and can be found at office supply stores or online. In addition to the quality of the cable, consider the quality of the lock. (Tubular locks are preferable to the common tumbler lock design) And remember: tethers and locks only work if you use them properly. Tether your laptop to a strong, immovable, and unbreakable object.

Use a Personal Firewall on Your Laptop

We recommend using a good third-party personal firewall to secure your Windows XP workstations. Windows XP comes with a personal firewall, it does not attempt to manage or restrict outbound connections at all.

Personal firewalls such as ZoneAlarm add an effective and inexpensive layer of security that takes only a few minutes to install. If you want to test how much information your personal firewall "leaks out" to the web, try a free, secure online leak test.

Track Your Laptop

There are a number of vendors that offer stealthy software solutions that enable your laptop to check in to a tracking center periodically using a traceable signal. In the event your laptop is lost or stolen, these agencies work with the police, phone company, and internet service providers to track and recover your laptop. Two well-known corporations offering tracking services are CompuTrace and SecureIT.