How to Stop Laptop Theft

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Rely on Recovery Software

If a thief steals your laptop, tracking and recovery software can help you get it back. Absolute Software's ComputraceComplete ($50 per year), Brigadoon's PC PhoneHome ($30 lifetime), Inspice's Inspice Trace ($30/year), XTool's Laptop Tracker ($40 per year for Small Business Edition) and zTrace Technologies' zTrace Gold ($50 per year) are tracking utilities that connect periodically to a central server. When any of these does so, the associated service can trace your laptop's location on the Internet and summon the local police to recover it. Absolute Software claims that Computrace can survive on a laptop even if the thief successfully reinstalls the operating system, reformats the hard drive, or (in some laptop models) swaps out the hard drive.

Some tracking products also have such features as the ability to wipe out key data if a laptop is stolen, or to take a photo of the thief if the machine has a built-in camera. The laptop's location may be pinpointed by IP address or by GPS, depending on the device and the service. Discounts vary among the services, depending on such variables as features, number of devices covered, and duration of contract, but the overall expense for most businesses pales in comparison to the cost of data loss.

ComputraceComplete is the market leader, with a broad set of features, from asset and software license management (another great tool for small businesses) to a remote data deletion capability that meets Department of Defense standards. The company guarantees recovery of your computer within 30 days; if it fails to produce the lost unit, it will pay you 90 percent of the device's original purchase price, up to $1000.

Back Up and Encrypt Your Data

Regardless of the precautions you take, a laptop may still get lost or stolen. So it's vital to keep the loss to a minimum by ensuring that all important data is backed up and encrypted.

Encrypting data on laptops and on USB drives is relatively easy these days, thanks to numerous inexpensive security tools (see "Lock Down the Data on Your Portable Drives") that provide military-grade encryption. But these programs are only as effective as their users allow them to be, so make sure that your business's employees understand how to take care of their equipment. For instance, instead of letting a laptop sleep during travel, they should shut it down completely, thereby locking the drive.

Employees must also understand which folders are encrypted and how to back up files when out of the office. An online backup/sync service can handle this task very efficiently. Make sure that the one you use demonstrates its routine so you can tell whether it is functioning properly. See "Choose the Right Backup for Your Business" for suggestions on selecting a low-cost online backup service.

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