How to Stop Laptop Theft

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If you run a small business, your biggest IT worry is probably not when or whether to upgrade to Vista; it's how to keep your valuable equipment--and the even more precious data it contains--out of the hands of thieves. Laptops and mobile gadgets like cell phones, PDAs, and USB flash drives have become a necessity in many business settings. And such equipment now spends more time than ever outside the office, as employees work at home or in the nearest Starbucks.

In Video: How to Secure Your Laptop From Theft

That development presents a huge opportunity for loss and theft. Laptop thefts out of parked cars and conference rooms may grab headlines, but a far greater number of devices simply get left behind in places like cabs, subways, and airplanes. reports that La Guardia airport alone has accumulated more than 70,000 unclaimed laptops and PDAs in its lost and found. According to Accenture, 10 to 15 percent of all handheld computers, PDAs, mobile phones, and pagers are eventually lost by their owners.

Laptops have become increasingly attractive targets for identity thieves, too. A 2006 Ponemon Institute study reported an 81 percent increase in the number of companies reporting stolen laptops between 2005 and 2006. Even notebooks that never leave the office can be targets, as many thefts are inside jobs.

Most small businesses can weather the physical loss of a laptop or two, especially if their insurance policy covers the hardware. But the files on the machine may raise more-troubling issues: They can hold trade secrets or financial and customer data; they may not be backed up on a central server; and losing them may trigger embarrassing public reporting requirements under several recent federal and state laws.

According to a 2007 survey by McAfee and Datamonitor, a data breach involving personal customer information could cost a company, on average, $268,000 in reporting expenses--even if the data is never used. And one-third of the companies surveyed said that a major security breach had the potential to put them out of business entirely.

You can take several key steps to protect both your laptops and your data. By adopting these measures, you'll greatly reduce your risk of losing key hardware and data.

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