Tips & Tweaks: Keep Your Notebook Safe

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If you own a notebook, or know someone who does, listen up.

Notebooks get stolen more often than you know. In fact, back in 2005, the CSI/FBI Computer Crime Survey said that unauthorized access and theft of proprietary information from computers had shown significant increase in the past year. That's no surprise, because too many people--especially those with sensitive data on their notebooks--just aren't security conscious.

Retrieving a stolen PC is tough, but there are ways to do it. In January I wrote "Notebook Thieves? Bring Them On!" with tips for securing and recovering your notebook (and desktop PC, for that matter). I didn't have space in the column to talk about Absolute Software's ComputracePlus service ($50 per year).

When the thief logs onto the Internet, the program silently alerts you, Computrace, and the police. For an extra fee, you can have the hard drive wiped clean of data remotely.

Read Andy Brandt's "This Stolen Laptop Will Self-Destruct in 5 Seconds" for more on Computrace. For even more advice on keeping your notebook safe, read Jim Martin's "Laptop Security, Part 1." And what about all that important data on your notebook? Jim's got you covered there, too. Read part 2 of his column for tips.

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Label It

Want a low-tech solution? Slap a label on it.

I'm a labeler. Practically anything of value that I take on trips--notebook, camera, PDA--has a label on it with my name, cell-phone number, and e-mail address. My hope is that if I leave something behind, a fellow traveler will do the right thing and return it. I also label every AC adapter and out-of-the-ordinary PC cable lurking under my desk.

I use a Dymo LabelManager PC (about $60 discounted) to create labels; it attaches to a USB port and prints a variety of label sizes and colors. An alternative is Dymo's portable Letra Tag. It sells for about $20, discounted.

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Privacy Filter for Your Notebook's Screen

Have you ever had this airport experience? You're waiting to board your flight, sitting in a crowded area with your notebook on your lap. From the corner of your eye, you can see the guy next to you sneaking a peek at your screen. (With any luck, you don't work for the Veterans Administration and aren't culling through Social Security numbers.)

The last time this happened to me, I was at Los Angeles International, writing a PC World column. Once the guy next to me spotted what I was doing, he starting yapping away, asking endless questions about his AOL hassles. Starting on my next trip, I'll be using a new privacy ploy: 3M's Privacy Filter for Laptops, a thin sheet of film that fits over a notebook's screen. Looking at the screen straight on, the filter's clear, with no distortion. But if you look from the side, all you can see is black.

The filter's easy to remove and there are sizes for notebooks from 12- to 15-inches as well as 17- to 18-inch LCDs. However, sit down: The prices are staggering. A filter for your 15-inch notebook filter will set you back $95. One for an 18-inch LCD costs $270.

If you'd rather not pay list price (unlike my brother-in-law) you can rummage around and find discounts galore online.

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Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
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