What can I do to protect my critical data in case my laptop gets stolen?
This question was answered on April 6, 2007. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
As with most technology, mobile computing is a double-edge sword It provides us great flexibility and productivity at the same time it creates massive exposure to our private or business data.
Stolen laptops are a fact of life, so taking the approach that at some point yours will get stolen is a good strategy.
Data suggests that 1 in 10 laptops has a chance of being stolen this year and that roughly 2 million laptops are stolen every year (Computrace)
The actual cost of the theft goes beyond the replacement cost of the hardware and software because of the valuable data that resides on the laptop Since the data is actually more valuable to the thief these days than the hardware and software, protecting that data in the event it is stolen should be your primary focus.
The first tip for creating a more secure environment is making sure you have a more secure operating system.
Windows is the most common choice, but the difference between Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional is significant when it comes to securing data because of the built in encryption capability in the Professional version.
Make sure any future purchases of laptops come with the business class version of Windows so that you have the file encryption capability to secure your critical files.
The reason this is so important is that if your laptop is stolen and the thief wants your data, they will remove the hard drive (which bypasses the need for them to know your password) and try to view the files from another computer.
Under normal circumstances, this is pretty easy and will give the thief access to virtually everything on your hard drive in a very short period of time.
If you have your critical files encrypted, they will be able to see the files, but when they go to open them, they will be denied access.
While a motivate thief may take the time to try and break the encryption, in most cases, they just move on to the next easier victim.
If you already have a laptop that came with Windows XP Home, you can install third-party encryption programs to achieve the same level of protection
You can find several low cost file encryption programs for Windows XP at http://snapfiles.com/ and searching for 'file encryption' complete with ratings and trial downloads.
If you want to try to locate the laptop after it is stolen, you can add a program like LoJack for Laptops ( http://www.lojackforlaptops.com/ ) which will allow you to activate a beacon (much like the vehicle version) once you report it as stolen.
The catch to this service is that the stolen laptop must access the Internet after it has been stolen If the thief never connects the stolen unit to the Internet, the system can not send out its hidden beacon signal.
The company claims that they recover 3 out of 4 laptops that are reported stolen and that if they do not recovery your laptop within 30 days, they will refund the purchase price of the program of $49.95 per year.
Another company that provides a similar service that goes one step further is Everdream ( http://everdream.com/ ) Not only will they use the silent recovery beacon process, they will also immediately remotely encrypt the stolen unit so that it can no longer be viewed by the thief (which still requires someone to connect the laptop to the Internet).
Your best strategy is to review all the different files that you would be concerned about if your laptop was stolen and make sure you have something in place to make it difficult for the thief to gain access to them.
About the author
Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on April 6, 2007