Tags: Techniques | Help | You | Prevent | Laptop | Computer | Theft

10 Techniques To Help You Prevent Laptop Computer Theft

Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM

Safeware, a computer insurance company, reported that in 1999 an amazing 319,000 laptop computers were stolen in the United States alone. And recent government statistics show that this number is increasing every year.

When your laptop is stolen, you never know whether it was just taken for the value of the computer itself -- or for the value of the information stored in the laptop. In fact, in numerous cases, the worth of your computer data -- possibly including your client list, sensitive facts and other proprietary information -- may exceed the actual value of the laptop computer by many, many times -- if you could put a dollar value on the information at all.

Here are some common laptop theft scams, and common-sense crime prevention tips suggested by the SANS Institute (www.sans.org) and the Department of Energy.

Scam One -- Thief #1 preceded a traveler through an airport security checkpoint, and then loitered around the area where security examines carry-on luggage. When the traveler put his laptop on the conveyer belt of the X-ray machine, Theft #2 stepped in front of the traveler and set off the metal detector. With the traveler now delayed, Thief #1 removed the traveler’s laptop from the conveyer belt just after it passed through the X-ray machine -- and promptly vanished into the crowd.

Scam Two -- A traveler carrying a laptop in their luggage cart did not notice Thief #1 position themselves to walk in front of the traveler. The thief stopped without warning, thereby causing the traveler to also stop. Thief #2, who was following close behind, quickly removed the traveler’s laptop computer from the luggage cart - and quickly disappeared into the masses.

By the way, the above examples are not based on theory, but on fact (these sorts of scams are also perpetrated in order to steal purses and other carry-on bags). Both of these deceptions actually occurred recently at two different airports. About 10% of all laptop thefts occur at airports.

It is unfortunate that in today's world we have to be wary of people asking for things such as directions or change, and that we have to watch for these 'bump-and-run' scams, but these are exactly the types of distractions in public places that can allow a team of thieves to rip you off.

Here are some security tips to lessen the risk of your laptop computer being stolen:

1. Never leave your laptop unattended in public places -- especially in airports, hotels and conferences. Quick security tip: if you have to set it down while checking-in, lean your laptop against your leg so that you can feel its presence, or hold it between your feet.

2. Be alert to any sudden diversions while traveling - especially in transportation terminals.

3. When you go through the airport security check, please do not place your laptop on the conveyer belt until you are sure no one in front of you is being delayed. Also, if you are being delayed at the checkpoint, be sure to keep your eye on your laptop. Quick security tip: if possible, directly hand your laptop to the security personnel for inspection instead of putting it on the conveyer belt.

4. Never check your laptop (as well as your other valuables) with your luggage.

5. Never keep passwords or access telephone numbers on the machine or in the computer’s case.

6. When possible, store your laptop computer in a carry bag that does not resemble a laptop carrying case. Quick security tip: you may want to consider carrying your laptop computer in an ordinary looking briefcase.

7. If your hotel room has a safe -- use it to store your laptop when you are out of the room.

8. When possible, lock your computer down. Many companies make security cables for virtually every brand of laptop. Quick security tip: new security software programs are on the market that can actually help trace your laptop and secure its data -- if stolen.

9. Permanently mark your laptop with your company’s name and ID number. This will not only make your laptop harder for the thief to sell, but may also help law enforcement in locating you if your laptop is recovered.

10. Stay aware of all the current laptop theft scams. Check out travel websites, as well as police alerts, to keep up-to-date. Quick security tip: see if your company offers training on laptop computer security for its employees.

A final thought: excellent protection for the information stored on your laptop is to encrypt all sensitive files and emails. Also, if you use your laptop in public areas, make sure no one "shoulder surfing” you. A good policy to follow is don’t have anything up on your laptop screen you don’t want the public to know about.


A reader’s email -- I received this pertinent question from Dan. Dan asked whether there was a clearinghouse to check whether a computer you are thinking of buying is reported as stolen? Yes, Dan, there is. Log on to www.stolencomputers.org. This is the website of the Stolen Computer Registry. You can search for serial numbers of computer equipment, as well as list the serial number of any of your stolen computers. The Stolen Computer Registry does not charge for its services.

Bruce is a nationally known security specialist, as well as a highly decorated reserve Law Enforcement Officer. In addition, Bruce writes a column for the trade publication Security Magazine.

This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.

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Safeware, a computer insurance company, reported that in 1999 an amazing 319,000 laptop computers were stolen in the United States alone.And recent government statistics show that this number is increasing every year. When your laptop is stolen, you never know...
Monday, 04 February 2002 12:00 AM
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