'Book Value

Protect Your Notebook Against Loss, Theft, Data Loss, and Security Breaches

Charles Moore - 2009.08.25 - Tip Jar

Evidently, an awful lot of people seem to have astonishing difficulty keeping hold of their laptops when traveling. I don't mean dropping them, but rather losing them or having them stolen.

Laptop Loss in Airports

A Dell sponsored study by the Ponemon Institute calculates that about 12,000 laptops a week are lost by business travelers in US airports alone. Interestingly, the problem is much worse at some airports than others, with LAX reporting three times the frequency of laptop loss of Washington Dulles. On average, only 33% of laptops within the Lost and Found departments in airports are reclaimed.

The study report notes that over 70% of business travelers say they feel rushed when trying to get on their flights, and 60% worry that delays due to security checkpoints will cause them to miss their flight.

The stress of rushing to catch a flight, combined with the number of items business travelers typically carry (i.e., laptops, cell phones, PDAs, briefcases, luggage, etc.), creates a situation conducive to property loss, and the rate of loss may be exacerbated by checkpoint security procedures that require passengers to separate from their personal property during electronic scanning or pat-down procedures.

Endangered Data

Perhaps even more alarmingly, over 53% of business travelers say that their laptops contain confidential or sensitive information - but 65% of those travelers admit they don't secure the information contained on their hard drives. More than 42% of respondents admit that they do not back up the data in their laptops, which is high-risk behavior whether you're on the road, at the office, or at home - and not only with laptops.

According to Safeware Insurance Agency in Columbus, Ohio, more than 600,000 laptops are stolen or lost every year, with laptops used in education facilities particularly vulnerable. Electronic Data Systems Corporation estimates that each year, 10% of laptops are lost or stolen and 15% fail, citing IDC statistics. According to market research firm Gartner Group, the odds of a laptop being stolen in a given year are also 1 in 10. I've seen other estimates of up to 1 million lost laptops annually.

Whatever, there are an awful lot of laptops going missing, so obviously people need to be doing a better job of keeping their laptops secure and under a watchful eye.

Security Tips

An easy first step is to assure that every user account on your notebook - especially those with admin access - requires a login password.

The Ponemon Institute report offers the following suggestions and tips for keeping your laptop and its precious data more secure.

  • Label your laptop with your full contact information so that if the device is found, airport personnel will be able to reach you or your company quickly.
  • Allow for enough check-in and boarding enough time. Airline travel is a hassle that only gets worse, and stupid mistakes can be avoided if you slow your pace.
  • Carry less and think ahead. Have a well-thought-out strategy when removing laptops and other possessions prior to screening at a security checkpoint.
  • Take appropriate security measures to protect your information. Consider the use of encryption technologies and always - always - back up your data.
  • Think carefully about the information you carry on your laptop. Is it really necessary to keep that much information accessible on your computer?
  • Know in advance who to call if you lose your laptop.

The Absolute Software Corporation, a provider of firmware-based, patented, laptop theft recovery, data protection, and IT asset management solutions, has also compiled a collection of 10 travel tips to help ensure that your laptop gets to your destination with you safely and securely.

  1. Back up valuable data before traveling. Back up your data as frequently as possible to minimize the risk of data loss in the event that your laptop is stolen. Use an encrypted flash drive to back up sensitive or valuable files and keep it separate from your laptop. Because the information stored on the laptop is often more valuable than the laptop itself, it is important to treat the data with as much care as possible.
    (And with a Mac and OS X "Leopard" or "Snow Leopard", Time Machine makes keeping regular backups simple so long as you have compatible backup media available - small external hard drives are ideal for road warriors - also stored separately from the computer.)
  2. Use laptop recovery and data protection software. Laptop recovery tools are highly effective in the event thieves do make off with your gear. If you've installed Absolute Software's Computrace LoJack for Laptops, the Absolute Theft Recovery Team can use information sent from the stolen laptop to track it down, assist your local police in recovering it, and help prosecute the alleged thieves. And while the laptop is being recovered, Absolute can remotely wipe sensitive information from the hard drive, rendering it inaccessible to thieves.
    (LoJack is available for Macs running OS X 10.3 and later.)
  3. Don't put your laptop in your checked luggage. Checking your laptop is a big gamble; always keep it with you. Apart from not having your valuable and expensive gear under your control, baggage handlers don't know what is in your bag. You run the risk of having your laptop broken or stolen in transit. Keep your laptop inconspicuous. Absolute Software recommends that laptops especially should always be carried in nondescript carrying cases, such as backpacks or tote bags, rather than of telltale laptop bags.
    (MacBook Airs and the 13" MacBook Pros especially make stashing your laptop unobtrusively in something like a beat-up attaché case or accordion portfolio easy.)
  4. Colorware offers corporate branding for laptops and moreClearly label your laptop to distinguish it from others at security checkpoints. When going through the metal detectors, hold on to your laptop until the last second. Clearly labeling the laptop itself will help you find it among other laptops once through the metal detectors. Make sure to put your name, contact information, and address on the label, as most airport lost-and-founds won't power up the laptop to find out whom it belongs to out of privacy concerns.
    (Even better is a laptop customized with your company's colours, name, and logo printed or painted on it, making it unlikely that anyone will steal it because they won't want to want to carry such a conspicuous item. Colorware offers corporate branding as one of its customization services for Mac computers. You can find out more about that here: )
  5. Ask to put your laptop in the hotel safe when you're not using it. Most hotels have a safe that guests can use in their room or at the front desk. When making a reservation, ask whether the hotel offers this service. If they do not, stow your laptop in a secure cabinet in the room.
    (Again, a small laptop like a MacBook Air or 13" MacBook Pro are easy to stash. All Apple laptops (except for the MacBook Air) have anchors for Kensington Notebook Locks. USB port locks are also available from Kensington.
  6. If you are using a public computer, be aware of keyboard loggers/trackers. Identity thieves will often install keyboard loggers on public computers (like those in hotels or public libraries). These programs invisibly track the keystrokes of unsuspecting victims. A thief can come back at any time and see where you've been on the Internet and gather the usernames and passwords you've entered.
  7. Do not log on to unsecured wireless networks. If the wireless network you're logging on to doesn't require you to enter a password, don't use it. Unsecured networks are a two-way street. While anyone can access the network, anyone on the network may be able to access your laptop, and subsequently your information.
  8. Don't access financial or bank records while traveling. Avoid accessing financial or banking records while traveling, especially on public wireless networks. This will help to prevent your bank records and financial information from ending up in the wrong hands.
  9. Deselect "remember me" when browsing the Internet. Clicking "remember me" on websites, or allowing the Internet browser to remember passwords or usernames, negates the security those username and passwords offer. If a thief gets hold of your laptop, they will have the ability to easily steal your online (and possibly offline) IDs and passwords.
  10. Clear your history and cache after using a Web browser. Web browsers remember everything about your session - even after you've logged off. Before ending an Internet session, particularly on a public computer, clear the private data (cookies, history, Internet files) stored in the browser. This can be accessed through the "tools" menu on most Internet browsers.

Much of this is just prudent common sense that, given the statistics on laptop loss, seems to be less common than it might be.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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