Notebook computer theft: Preparing for the worst
By Jay Dougherty May 12, 2007, 3:12 GMT
Washington - It's every notebook computer user's worst nightmare. You go to retrieve your notebook from the last place you left it, only to discover that someone else - a thief - has retrieved it for you.
Financial records, bank and credit card information, personal data, sensitive files, expensive software - not to mention the notebook computer itself - can be gone in an instant. And the time and stress involved in trying to recover from such a loss can be overwhelming.
Notebook computer theft is on the rise, too, increasing along with the number of mobile computers in use. Last year, some 750,000 laptops were stolen in the United States alone, according to security software maker Absolute Software. What's worse, an estimated 97 per cent of stolen notebook computers are never recovered, according to the U.S Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
That means that if you own a notebook computer, theft prevention is your best defence. And if the worst should befall you and your notebook, some savvy laptop recovery software may help authorities recover your property.
--- What's on your notebook?
Just because your notebook computer is personal doesn't mean it will stay that way. So your first step in theft prevention should be to take a good, hard look at just what information you have stored on your notebook computer and decide whether it belongs there, remembering that at any time it could be exposed to prying eyes.
If your notebook computer is truly for travel and you have a desktop computer at home, behind lock and key, then why carry financial records, credit card information, or other sensitive data around with you. It's probably best to leave that type of data on your more secure desktop.
Also, be aware of the sensitive information you might have stored inside of document files on your laptop. Don't leave documents filled with user names and passwords on your notebook's hard drive, for example. And turn off automatic form filling in Internet Explorer or other Web browsers that offer that option. Making it easy for thieves to see which Internet banking sites you use and then to gain access to accounts simply by logging on to them makes no sense.
Think, too, about your liability regarding the personal information of others. Many of our e-mail inboxes and folders can be chocked full of confidential communications from friends and colleagues. Personal addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail accounts, evaluations of employees, and more.
--- Is sensitive information protected?
If you must carry around personal information on your notebook, it's wise to exercise at least a basic level of security in the form of passwords and data encryption.
Start with the notebook itself. Is it password-protected? Every major operating system in use today provides you with the ability to establish a password in order to gain entry. Use it. Don't make it easy for any thief to open the lid of your laptop and begin immediately rummaging through your files.
Also, regarding passwords themselves, be sure not to use the same password for everything. A surprising number of people do. If a thief discovers your widely-used password by inspecting an e-mail message or word processing document, can that same one be used to access your online bank account or credit card statement?
If you have sensitive information contained on your laptop - including data kept in personal finance software, e-mail messages, word processing documents, and the like - take the time to encrypt those files with the tools provided by the software programs themselves.
Virtually all financial programs on the market today allow you to password-protect your data files, as do word processing programs and most other application used to store valuable personal information. Or you can use a commercial available data encryption tool such as the well respected PGP Desktop (http://World Wide Web.pgp.com/products/desktop_home/index.html), which can help you secure everything from
--- Notebook retrieval software
If the worst happens and your notebook is stolen, you stand a good chance of beating the odds of ever seeing it again by investing in a notebook retrieval software program. Typically these programs work by running quietly in the background at all times.
The software securely and undetectably sends out a signal to tracking software run by the security software company. If you report your notebook as lost or stolen, the tracking software can be told to kick into high gear, sending out frequent calls to allow monitoring by IP address.
CompuTrace Plus's LoJack for Laptops (http://World Wide Web.lojackforlaptops.com) works in this fashion, as does zTrace (http://World Wide Web.ztrace.com). PC Phone Home and Mac Phone Home (http://World Wide Web.pcphonehome.com) work by sending out a secret e-mail message to the address of your choice. The e-mail message contains precise information for locating your laptop.
These notebook retrieval services generally come with a yearly service fee attached, anywhere from 20 to 50 dollars. Most boast retrieval rates well above the 70 per cent mark. If your notebook contains valuable information and you must carry it around, a notebook retrieval software solution should probably be high on your list of must-have items.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur