Laptop Anti-Theft: 7 Tips for Travelers

Laptop anti-theft, or protecting your mobile data, is a MUST for corporations and consumers. Almost half of workplace identity theft takes place because of mobile data. And the average value of the data on your laptop can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to a corporate spy or experienced identity thief. At the higher end of the scale, the value of the 26 million Veteran identities on a laptop lost over a year ago was estimated to be worth more than $100 million. Those are the types of computer security risks that can make your business unprofitable. But there are solutions.

Broken Window Theory: By removing graffiti and repairing broken windows in crime hot-spots throughout New York City, the NYPD was able to drastically reduce the entire city’s overall crime rate (not just the quantity of graffiti and broken windows), including thefts, burglaries, muggings and murders. In other words, certain actions that we take (e.g., focusing on crime hot-spots rather than on every type of crime) can have a disproportionately positive effect on achieving our goal (e.g., lower crime rates). Business translation: you get a far higher return on investment for certain well-planned tactical strikes than you do for far more expensive strategic initiatives.

My point? In the world of workplace identity theft and corporate data breach, laptop computers are the biggest broken window. Not only do laptops account for a disproportionate amount of data theft, but training the organization to properly protect mobile computers has a radiant effect on all other types of identity protection. Good habits in one area breed good habits in others.

Stop the theft of corporate laptops (or personal laptops with corporate data on them) and you have eliminated approximately 50% of the entire data breach problem at a fraction of the security cost.

Laptop theft generally occurs in transit: airports, hotels,  cars, commuter trains, conferences, off-site meetings, vacations, coffee shops, etc. Build laptop anti-theft training into your organizational culture of privacy:

7 Laptop Anti-Theft Tips for Travelers
Technorati Profile

  1. Laptop Anti-Theft Tip #1: Leave it at home. Okay, I know most of us won’t leave our laptops at home when traveling because we would be leaving our digital identity behind. But data theft goes through the roof on the road, so consider using your password protected iPhone or BlackBerry to keep in touch. If it is critical that you travel with your laptop, then…
  2. Laptop Anti-Theft Tip #2: Carry less data. Stop carrying data on your laptop computer that you don’t absolutely need. If you don’t need to have client information on the hard drive, don’t put it there in the first place. If you have an encrypted VPN connection with your company, pull the files off of your corporate network once you are at your destination (e.g., work, hotel, meeting). Many executives that have hired me to speak to their organizations (and take computer data security seriously) have an inexpensive netbook (very small laptop) that they take on the road. Its only purpose is for travel. Instead of carrying all of their sensitive files on the netbook hard drive, they take only what they need for the trip, and still have the ability to access the web, email and any cloud computing software (, WordPress, etc.) during their travels.
  3. Laptop Anti-Theft Tip #3: Use strong passwords. Passwords are the primary locks on our laptops. Make sure that you create an alpha-numeric-symbol-upper-lower-case password, like P@55w0rd! (do you see the hidden word that makes this easy to remember? By the way, don’t use this password). The longer the password, the better. I recommend passwords greater than 8 characters. I use a password protection program that I love called 1Password (available for the Mac, which I use because I find it to be a safer computing platform). It allows me to use highly-secure passwords that I don’t have to keep track of in an unsafe way (a spreadsheet, in my phone, in Outlook).
  4. Laptop Anti-Theft Tip #4: Use the hotel safe (see the video above). Most hotels have safes in the room that let you determine the combination. I feel that these are relatively safe. Sometimes your laptop won’t fit, so I suggest that you pull the hard drive out of the laptop (which is where all of the identity lives) and place that in the safe. In a pinch, place the DO NOT DISTURB sign on your door when you leave for the day to lower the chances of someone entering your room during the day. True, your room won’t get cleaned, but you are keeping potential thieves not just from your laptop, but from any client documents, passports or intellectual capital that might be in the room. No matter how clever we are, hiding valuables is a poor option. Can’t you just picture a person who appears to be a hotel employee leisurely searching the few hiding places in your room?  A thief will know every one of those spots by heart. See the video above.
  5. Laptop Anti-Theft Tip #5: Encrypt your hard drive. The data on your hard drive is no good if the thief can’t make any sense of it. For a very small investment, you can install software on your laptop that makes it exceptionally difficult for a thief to get to your private information. Encryption turns your data into a puzzle that only your password unlocks. If you are using a company laptop, check with your I.T. department before installing encryption. They may have already done it for you. Apple laptops come standard with encryption, but you have to turn it on and understand the implications for your network sharing.
  6. Laptop Anti-Theft Tip #6: Lock it up. Even when you are not traveling, the best policy is to physically lock up your laptop. More laptops are stolen out of the back of cars while you are shopping, out of your laptop bag while buying coffee, out of your office while it is unattended and out of homes while you are on vacation. Take an extra minute to lock it up in a locking filing cabinet, a fire safe or behind a locked door. Even if it only makes it less convenient for the thief, it improves your chances that they will move on to a less prepared victim.
  7. Laptop Anti-Theft Tip #7: Destroy it. Remember, your data has a whole lot longer life than your laptop! When you are through with it, make sure that you digitally shred the hard drive before you donate it, give it back to the HR department or throw it away. Just because the laptop is out of date doesn’t mean that the data on it is too.

John Sileo lost his business and two years of his life to identity theft and data breach. Today he uses his gripping story, first-hand experiences and humorous interaction to inspire audiences around the world to protect corporate data. His clients include the Department of Defense, FDIC and Pfizer. To bring identity theft expert John Sileo to speak at your next conference or meeting, contact him on 800.258.8076.

Follow John on: Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Privacy Project Newsletter


Posted by Identity Theft Speaker in Burning Questions (Video), Identity Theft Prevention, Video Tips and tagged , , , , , .

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Laptop Anti-Theft: 7 Tips for Travelers « Make Your Life Easier on June 9, 2009

2 Responses to Laptop Anti-Theft: 7 Tips for Travelers

  1. Mike Spinney: June 11, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    And remember: according to a recent Ponemon Institute study, the average cost to a business from a single lost laptop computer is just under $50,000. But as John points out, your results may vary!

  2. Warren: June 12, 2009 at 5:52 am

    Great article and nice to see that other people are seeing the same threats as we do.

    Protecting and securing the laptop is the first step, but no matter how secure you make it, there is still a chance it will go missing (either through theft or misplacing it). In these cases a products can be used to remove the data from the device when it is lost or stolen. Giving you the peace of mind that the data is gone.

    Great blog

Leave a Reply