Surviving a Stolen Laptop

Paul Mah

SMBs and enterprises are buying laptops in larger and larger quantities, and even executives not issued with them are bringing them into the office. My primary work machines for the last five years were laptops.


Yet a laptop's very mobility also means that it can be easily stolen. I hope it hasn't happened to you, but let's look at some steps you can take to survive the loss of a laptop.


Don't pin your hopes on laptop recovery software


You must have heard about those nifty software applications that either "phone home" via the Internet or allow you to track down the crook by figuring out the physical location. While fantasizing about getting your laptop back will no doubt make you feel better, I would be altogether more pragmatic about the chances of getting a stolen laptop back.


Moreover, the hope of getting one's laptop back can only create a false sense of security over the crucial areas highlighted below. It is imperative that the following steps are rigidly adhered to.


Set a password, and enable it


The first thing you should do to pre-empt the pain of a stolen laptop would be to ensure that a password of adequate strength is set, and required in order to log in. In fact, I would also enable it to kick in after resuming from suspend or hibernation, and probably even when returning from a screensaver, too, if you use one.


Backup, backup, backup


What more can I say, except that data backups are a non-negotiable requirement? As I have highlighted previously, you should back up selectively, though I would go for backup software that does its work automatically and instantaneously in the background. My opinion is that manual or even batch backup is passe, and a recipe for potential disaster. Trust me; I've seen more cases of out-of-date backups than I care to count.


As mentioned in an earlier blog, I've had a positive experience with Mozy, though I rely on a paid version of SugarSync now.


Enable file encryption


Data is not encrypted by default on a Windows machine. This means that for all your diligence in setting up a Windows password or even BIOS-level one, all a crook needs to do to access your data is to take out the hard disk drive and access it from another system. Of course, you're in for a much tougher time if you need to open up a laptop like mine. In most cases though, it is a simple matter of removing a couple of screws in order to remove the hard disk drive.


The only way to properly secure your files would be to employ the use of encryption. According to vendor reports, some of the newer laptops are coming with hard disk drives enabled with on-board encryption, though that is still the exception rather than the norm. In the meantime, Windows Vista (Windows 7 too) comes with an encryption technology called BitLocker that you can, and should, enable. Of course, you will need either the Enterprise or Ultimate version of Windows Vista for BitLocker to be available.


There are a number of steps involved to enable BitLocker on a system, which I shall cover in another blog.


Do you have any recommendations to add to this list?

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