How to Stop Laptop Theft

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Educate Your Employees

The human factor in laptop security may be the most important one--and it is certainly the easiest to overlook. Most laptops are accidentally abandoned, not purloined, and even instances of actual theft usually amount to crimes of opportunity. Physical security is the single best way to prevent loss. Unfortunately, persuading employees to guard company property with the same attention and zeal they would devote to their own purse or wallet is a difficult.

Develop a written company policy on safeguarding mobile equipment, and periodically reinforce awareness of the consequences of laptop theft. Employees need to realize that they may lose, along with the laptop, their personal Web passwords and e-mail, any work not backed up, and whatever else they might have stowed in the laptop bag--such as keys, USB flash drives, and company papers. Remind workers about the importance of taking personal responsibility for company property, and review the consequences of noncompliance. Do periodic spot-checks to ensure that people are adhering to company guidelines. And while you're at it, emphasize the need to use backup and encryption software. In all of these security systems, the user is the weak link.

Belkin USB Laptop Security Alarm
Advise your notebook users to carry unobtrusive bags that don't scream "laptop inside." Messenger bags, knapsacks, and rolling overnighters with inner pockets all make good alternatives to dedicated laptop bags. Finally you may want to recommend that employees who travel a lot use an alarm. The Belkin USB Laptop Security Alarm ($55) function as cable locks but sound an alarm if someone cuts the cable. The Doberman Laptop Defender Portable USB Computer Alarm ($30) incorporates a motion sensor that triggers a loud alarm if the device attached to it is moved.

Some final, more-specific advice for employees:

  • Never leave your laptop unguarded in a hotel or conference room. Protect it by using a cable lock or a hotel safe. If neither of these is available, take the laptop with you.
  • At the office, lock portables in a special drawer or safe when you go home for the night.
  • Never leave a laptop bag on a car seat in plain view. Always lock it in the trunk--but do so out of the sight of others in the parking lot.
  • Triple-guard your bag at airports (one of the most common theft locations). When waiting at a gate, place your bag between your feet.

A little preparation can go a long way toward preventing laptop theft, and toward recovering a machine after it's lost. For less than $100 per machine, you can add tags, tracking software, and locking systems that may save you many times that amount.

Becky Waring is a Berkeley-based freelance writer specializing in personal technology.

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