Yesterday’s post listed the unsettling effects of two very preventable things, getting an STD and having your laptop stolen. In today’s post we’ll review some of the prophylactic and protective measures you can put in place preventing your laptop from being stolen. The digital prevention measures covered today assume common sense, meaning we don’t have to cover “be smart about where you leave or keep your laptop.”

This is not to say that leaving your laptop out in plain sight is something that is unfamiliar. As independents we are constantly in situations where our laptop is out in public, some locations that are safe and some that are less comfortable. Especially somewhere not built on a community of trust, like a coffeeshop or any other shared space with randos, if you have to go to the bathroom, you’re up against the “laptop dilemma” covered by Lifehacker. If you’re regularly spending time in a space like this, you’re going to want to consider taking these steps that will provide you with the comfort to leave your laptop alone for a couple minutes.

The basic steps are to start with protecting your laptop in these situations. There are very nice programs that act as a car alarm for your laptop, making alot of noise and trouble for anyone who might want to snatch it. Some of these programs will turn your camera into a broadcast vehicle ready to send the picture information to your email inbox. Several of these tracking programs go even further to employ GPS to notify you of the location or notify a central hub of the location of your laptop when it checks into a network.

Measures that make the laptop less attractive to steal or worthless when stolen address data protection and encryption. These range from heavy encryption to simple things you can do to make sure that sensitive files are not accessed. Some of these procedures you should be doing already and are part of a healthy computer’s maintenance cycle, like password protection based systems and backups to disperse your data.

Alarms and Tracking systems


  • Get your passwords fresh and regularly from a Random Password Generator
  • Store your passwords with Keepass, a free, open-source password manager.
  • Set a password for your computer. If you want to get crazy, set a BIOS password. Lockdown has a tutorial here.
  • Monica Danna brought up this technique for people who like to keep their passwords in a text file on their hard drive: “Select a short string of characters and numbers to be placed at the end of every password you use. When you write down your passwords never include that string, making any password that is written down identifiably correct only to you.”
  • Another tip for people who like to use that password text file, use Steganography to hide your passwords in plain site encoded into images or mp3s. For more information on steganography, check Wikipedia. A commercially available tool is called Steganos.

Data Protection

  • Encrypt your hard drive’s data with TrueCrypt, here‘s how thanks to Lifehacker (hat tip Lifehacker).
  • For long term protection, encode your programs. This can set you up to prevent against identity theft. Again, Lifehacker has a great post about this.
  • Set a backup schedule for your data that folds into an online backup service. If you’re on Twitter enough you know @iJustine and are probably familiar with Mozes. Another good reason to have a regular backup schedule is that it can fold into your maintence schedule.
  • Remote data destruction? That sounds awesome. Thanks to Chris Pirillo for the tip here.
  • Another digital destruction device, this time submitted by Warren Free. Called BackStopp, this program employs GSM, Internet, WiFi and RFID to destroy data. Thanks for the tip, Warren

Good Habits

  • Plan for the worst. No one wants to ever have to call or email old contacts so proactively organize your old contacts or delete the ones who are no longer mailed. Delete or combine into an encrypted solution any information that contains passwords, account numbers, PINs or sensitive materials.
  • ‘Save early, save often” for a laptop looks something like “save multiple copies, on multiple formats”

Come back tomorrow where we’ll discuss physical steps you can take for theft prevention.

As always, comments are appreciated. What are some of the steps you take to protect and prevent laptop theft?

One Comment

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these resources – at least one good thing is to come out of this experience, thanks to you, and that’s people being more aware of how to protect their data!

    Posted June 17, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

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