How to Protect Yourself Against Laptop Theft

Posted by Jonquil on Nov 25, 2012 3:09 PM EDT
xjonquilx; By Jonquil McDaniel
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About three months ago, one night three young black men busted in to my apartment and stole both my laptop and the laptop of a friend. While I had taken steps to protect my laptop against such an incident, my friend was not so lucky. I think that it is of vital importance that everyone know how to protect their laptop against the case of a theft, especially since laptops do not have the extent of theft protection services that cell phones do. This article is going to discuss different security methods you can use to help protect your data, prevent the thieves from using your laptop, and trace the location of your laptop.

About three months ago, one night three young black men busted in to my apartment and stole both my laptop and the laptop of a friend. While I had taken steps to protect my laptop against such an incident, my friend was not so lucky. I think that it is of vital importance that everyone know how to protect their laptop against the case of a theft, especially since laptops do not have the extent of theft protection services that cell phones do. This article is going to discuss different security methods you can use to help protect your data, prevent the thieves from using your laptop, and trace the location of your laptop.

When considering a theft scenario, it is important to first consider which is more important to you - the protection of your data, or the recovery of your laptop. Laptop recovery is heavily dependent on the ability of the thieves to use the laptop, so if this is more important to you, I recommend leaving your laptop as open to usage as possible. Of course, there is a sort of balance that can be struck between the two objectives, but how that balance is struck is entirely dependent upon you.

Protecting Data/Preventing Usage

Use a strong user account password... encrypted or random passwords that utilize numbers, lowercase letters, uppercase letters, and special characters are best. Make sure your password is at least 8 characters long. The most surefire way to prevent thieves from installing over your hard drive is to set up a secure/strong BIOS password that requires a log in at boot before it will run any drives (like the CD ROM drive). Keep in mind this will NOT protect your hard drive from access... it will just prevent it from being accessed by that particular machine. If they take out the hard drive and put it in another machine, they can still access your data. Encrypt sensitive data. There's various methods of doing this. If you just have a few files/folders you want to protect, you can encrypt them individually, or if most of your data is of sensitive nature you can encrypt the entire hard drive. Use group policy. Use the principle of least privilege. (If you need to, look these terms up... I'm not going to explain them in depth here.) Don't run an administrator account for your daily usage, but use a limited user account and simply utilize the administrator account for any administrative actions you need to fulfill. Even if you decide to use a weak password for your normal user account (or no password at all), make sure you use a secure password on the administrative account.

Laptop Retrieval

Keep a record of not only the model number and serial number of your laptop, but the MAC address as well. In the case of a theft, the serial number can be uploaded to a national database by the police that is checked against the sales of laptops in places like pawn shops. The MAC address is a little more handy, though... with this, the police can get the local ISPs (internet service providers) to help trace the laptop's location. Consider using a tracing program like Prey to help locate your laptop. Keep in mind though that the thieves may know better than to attempt using the laptop without a new operating system installation first. Utilize the cloud. Services like Dropbox keep record of the IP addresses that connect to them. So, if a thief uses your user account and you have a cloud service like Dropbox running in the background, chances are you're going to be able to find out where they're located. Consider using no password on your user account if data is not a concern, and utilize the services talked about above. A passwordless user account may be too much temptation for the thieves to pass up... and once they connect to the internet, they're caught. However, it is important to note that most of them know better than to try accessing the owner's user account. Notify your community. Most thieves are smart enough to know better than to take a stolen laptop to a pawn shop... so most times they're going to try selling it on the street. The more people you can have looking out for your laptop in your community, the better your chances at retrieving it. Make sure you post about the theft on local services like Freecycle and Swip Swap... not only do these services have massive amounts of users, but a lot of the users tend to be the types that shop around for a bargain a lot/know where to shop for bargains, so they're more likely to notice if your laptop is being sold. Take a picture of your laptop. This will not only prove useful to the police, but the community as well. Know the differences between your laptop and other laptops of the same model. Make your laptop personally identifiable. Engraving is a great idea for this. Make note of every single scratch, dent, upgrade, etc. and do your best to make sure it is a laptop that stands out in the crowd. Check places like Amazon, Craigslist, and Ebay for used sales of your laptop's model number daily. Another possibility is that the thieves will try selling your laptop online, since they don't have to give a serial number to do this. Consider offering a reward, or offering to drop charges, if your laptop is returned to you, and distribute flyers. Use a Google Voice account for contact so you don't give away your real phone number, and make sure if they do contact you that you meet in a place that is safe for both of you. If the laptop is of importance to your daily life (like you need it for school), make sure you say so in the flyer and make an emotional appeal to the thieves (for example, on mine I explained that I was a single mother with only two college classes left, and asked if the thieves could relate to that via a mother, sister, or their own experience). Do not threaten or intimidate. Keep quiet about your activities. It may be tempting to shout out to everyone that you took steps to ensure its retrieval as a warning to the thieves, but know that if you do this you are possibly giving the thieves a heads up on how to get away with it.

Please add comments to this article if you have any more ideas on how to fight back against laptop theft. However, if you have knowledge of how to circumvent any of these techniques, please keep those thoughts to yourself... we don't want to give the wrong people any ideas, and if I see any comments like that, they will be deleted.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
This is about dealing with the aftermath, but there's also avoiding theft in the BernardSwiss 4 527 Nov 26, 2012 1:22 PM

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