Keep your laptop safe and secure while you travel

Of course your laptop is coming with you on any holiday trips. It’s your pride and joy—for many of us, it’s practically an appendage. It’s our entertainment at the airport and on the plane. It’s our office umbilical cord—because you know you can never completely escape work.

Unlike an arm or leg, though, your laptop isn’t physically attached to your body. And there are all too many ways that it can come to harm—or even disappear with someone who covets it as much as you do. Follow these tips for laptop security, and you won’t have to ask Santa to bring you a new one.

Keep it padded

Tossing a laptop into the average backpack, book bag—or worse, simply carrying it under your arm—is asking for trouble. Your delicate hardware needs a purpose-built enclosure to keep it safe.

Find a nice, cushioned bag without obvious laptop markings and logos.

Traveling is full of shoving bags into tight spots, jostling them about, and stuffing in just one more thing. Push a little too hard, and you may hear an investment-shattering crack. Get a laptop-specific carrying case with plenty of padding and protection. Separate compartments for accessories and power cables are a luxury that can keep your PC scratch and dent free.

To deter theft, buy a nondescript bag, without logos that advertise to potential thieves that there’s valuable merchandise inside.

Turn it off

It’s tough to pack a powerful computer into a tiny enclosure, and then keep its critical components running nice and cool. That’s what the numerous vents and fans that suck cool air in and push hot air are for. Now imagine the heat that can accumulate in the secure, padded, tight quarters of a fancy new laptop bag.

Don’t make the mistake of cramming a sleeping computer into the confines of a backpack or messenger bag. Hibernating is not the same as being powered off. Heat is a computer's enemy number one. It can shorten your computer’s useful life, loosen components in the motherboard, or entirely destroy it. Block the computer’s vents for long stretches, and you could unpack a fried PC at the end of your trip. Be safe and power down that laptop before you stow it.

If you do discover your laptop’s temperature to be on the rise, here are some suggestions for cooling it down.

Keep an eye on it, but keep it out of sight

Laptops are hot-ticket items for thieves. Keep yours on your lap or within view while you're at the airport, bus, or train terminal. Don’t leave it an open target by setting it on an adjacent seat and then becoming distracted by your phone or your kids. If it disappears, don’t expect it to show up at the lost and found.

When traveling by car, keep your laptop hidden. Leaving it exposed on the passenger seat, even when getting out to pump gas, could be the perfect opportunity for a sticky-fingered individual to reach in and scoop up the loot. Keep it in the trunk, under the seat, or cover it with a jacket. And keep your car locked at all times.

LoJack can increase your chances of recovering a stolen laptop.

If, in spite of your best efforts, your laptop still winds up missing, you might be able to recover it—provided you installed a program such as LoJack before you hit the road. You’ll find some other good recovery tips here.

Back it up and lock it down

What could be worse than losing your laptop? Losing the information you have stored on it. Follow a backup regimen, keeping a copy of your important data on a hard drive at the home or office or in the cloud, so you can pick up where you left off as soon as you can afford to replace the missing PC.

And what could be worse than losing the information stored on your laptop? Knowing some unsavory person has access to it. What’s on your laptop? Contact information for friends, family, and colleagues? Personal photos? Banking and tax records? Sensitive information about your business? Perhaps there's enough personal information and photos to let someone steal your identity. Protect yourself by locking it all down with a strong password and encryption.

Store any written-down passwords and sensitive data away from the laptop itself. It doesn’t do much good if the thief manages to snag the laptop and any information necessary to access what's stored on it.

Remember, you’re in public

When wandering between public Wi-Fi networks, it’s easy to pick up hitchhikers in the form of viruses, malware, and data snoops.

Make sure you have up-to-date antivirus and antispyware software installed and running in the background. Keep your firewall up to block unsolicited connections to your PC. When connected to an unfamiliar network, it’s sometimes best to be paranoid and treat everything like the enemy.

Be sure your connection is secure before giving up sensitive data.

Going online for some last-minute holiday shopping or to check your bank account while you’re on the road might seem like a good idea, but uploading personal information to the Internet while using public Wi-Fi is asking for trouble. If possible, wait until you’re on a secured network to do the sensitive stuff.

If you must perform an online transaction, be sure the web address begins with “https” and that there’s a locked padlock icon in the corner of the browser window or in the address bar itself, indicating you’re connected to a secure site.

Know what you have

Finally, record your PC’s precise specifications, including the make, model, and serial or service number. Having this information on hand is crucial for reporting a lost or stolen laptop—and perhaps recovering it.

This service tag on the bottom of an HP laptop contains all the vital information you might need, including its serial number.

Check the bottom of the laptop for a service tag with barcodes on it. Write all this information down. Better yet, take a picture to keep on your phone. Be sure to note any distinguishing features as well. Stickers, scratches, dents, or additional physical features will help prove you’re the rightful owner.

You're going to be harried enough dealing with travel and family during the holidays. Follow these tips, and your laptop should accompany you safely and securely, no matter where you’re headed.

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