In today’s high-tech world, many of us have laptop, notebook, and netbook computers. These amazing portable computers probably contain a ton of private and important information including banking data, financial information, family photos, and other valuable and/or hard-to-replace records.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) understands the importance of laptop computer security and offers these “quick tips”:
Thinking of taking your laptop on the road? It’s a great way to work and stay in touch when you’re out and about, but you need to take some steps to keep your laptop safe, and in your possession. Here are some things you can do to keep track of your laptop:
Treat it like cash.
Get it out of the car. Don’t ever leave it behind.
Keep it locked. Use a security cable.
Keep it off the floor, at least between your feet.
Keep passwords separate, not near the laptop or case.
Don’t leave it “for just a sec,” no matter where you are.
Pay attention in airports, especially at security checkpoints.
Use bells and whistles. If you’ve got an alarm, turn it on.
The FTC suggests keeping the following in mind when you travel with your laptop:
Treat your laptop like cash. If you had a wad of money sitting out in a public place, would you turn your back on it, even for just a minute? Would you put it in checked luggage? Leave it on the backseat of your car? Of course not. Keep a careful eye on your laptop just as you would a pile of cash.
Keep it locked. Whether you’re using your laptop in the office, a hotel, or some other public place, a security device can make it more difficult for someone to steal it. Use a laptop security cable: attach it to something immovable or to a heavy piece of furniture that’s difficult to move (for example: a table or a desk).
Keep it off the floor. No matter where you are in public — at a conference, a coffee shop, or a registration desk — avoid putting your laptop on the floor. If you must put it down, place it between your feet or at least up against your leg, so that you’re aware of it.
Keep your passwords elsewhere. Remembering strong passwords or access numbers can be difficult. However, leaving either in a laptop carrying case or on your laptop is like leaving the keys in your car. There’s no reason to make it easy for a thief to get to your personal or corporate information.
Mind the bag. When you take your laptop on the road, carrying it in a computer case may advertise what’s inside. Consider using a suitcase, a padded briefcase or a backpack instead.
Get it out of the car. Don’t leave your laptop in the car, not on the seat nor the trunk. Parked cars are a favorite target of laptop thieves; don’t help them by leaving your laptop unattended. That said, if you must leave your laptop behind, keep it out of sight.
Don’t leave it “for just a minute.” Your conference colleagues seem trustworthy, so you’re comfortable leaving your laptop while you network during a break. The people at the coffee shop seem nice, so you ask them to keep an eye while you use the restroom. Don’t leave your laptop unguarded, even for a minute. Take it with you if you can, or at least use a cable to secure it to something heavy.
Pay attention in airports. Keep your eye on your laptop as you go through security. Hold onto it until the person in front of you has gone through the metal detector, and keep an eye out when it emerges on the other side of the screener. The confusion and shuffle of security checkpoints can be fertile ground for theft.
Be vigilant in hotels. If you stay in hotels, a security cable may not be enough. Try not to leave your laptop out in your room. Rather, use the safe in your room if there is one. If you’re using a security cable to lock down your laptop, consider hanging the “do not disturb” sign on your door.
Use bells and whistles. Depending on your security needs, an alarm can be a useful tool. Some laptop alarms sound when there’s unexpected motion, or when the computer moves outside a specified range around you. Or consider a kind of “lo-jack” for your laptop: a program that reports the location of your stolen laptop once it’s connected to the Internet.
What can you do if your laptop computer is stolen?
If your laptop is stolen, report it immediately to the local law enforcement agency. If it’s your business laptop that’s missing, also immediately notify your employer. You may also wish to review the FTC’s information for businesses about data breaches. If it’s your personal laptop and you fear that your information may be misused by an identity thief, visit the FTC’s identity theft resources for more information on ID theft.
For more details on this vital subject of laptop computer security, go to FTC.gov.
My Final Thoughts: The modern laptop computer offers us amazing convenience and unparalleled mobility. Given these facts, we must look at a laptop computer as not only a piece of high-tech hardware, but also as a “virtual safe” that contains our valuable and private information, photos and business data, and as such, it must be properly protected.
Quick Security Tip: Properly backup your laptop computer information (to an external backup drive and/or to a trusted and secure online backup service) on a regular basis so you can easily restore your data to new computer, if necessary.
In addition, millions of Americans are also carrying sophisticated “smart phones” which may also contain the same type of valuable and personal information as the laptop computer. Therefore, it might be a good idea to apply many of these laptop computer security and safety concepts to your mobile device as well.
Copyright 2009 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce Mandelblit (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com. This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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