Laptop Security Tips

Laptops represent the number one theft item in the United States, according to the FBI and the insurance institutes, with approximately 1,800 stolen per day in this country alone. This number is expected to quadruple in the next few years, since laptops and tablets are becoming more and more affordable, and today's smartphones are more powerful and popular than ever.
With this in mind, we've compiled a list of things you can do to improve the security of your laptop. Also, although we use the term "laptop" throughout this page, just about everything can be extended to your other mobile devices.

The Top 5 Security Tips: Concentrating on these five tips can reduce laptop thefts by as much as 95%.

1) Lock it up - Lock your laptop in a desk drawer or in a lockable cabinet. They can't steal what they don't know about.

2) Lock it down - Use a steel lockdown cable lock to secure the laptop to a sturdy, preferably immobile, object. It will take some time to cut the cable or break the lock out of the laptop, and this is time the thief doesn't have. Make the thief look for an easier target.

3) Lock them out - Lock your office door. The bad guys always go for the easy theft, and locking your office door presents the first barrier they have to go through. This has the added advantage of securing everything else in your office.

4) When traveling, keep it with you at all times - Any time the laptop is out of a secured environment (like your office), it becomes a much easier target for the thieves. Airports and hotel rooms are common places when laptops are misplaced or left alone "for just a minute" and are subsequently stolen. Even more common is leaving the laptop in the car. Breaking a car window to steal a laptop provides a high-value item in a short amount of time. Car trunks are only slightly more secure, so try to keep the laptop in your posession.

5) Don't carry anything you can't afford to lose - Improved storage technologies allow for laptop hard drives larger than 1TB, or 1000 GB, and this size is growing. Increased storage capabilities make it very tempting to store more and more on the laptop, from personal pictures, movies, and correspondence, to sensitive patient information, credit and tax information, and critical research data. Theft of the laptop means theft of everything stored on it, which can lead to consequences ranging from simple inconvenience to identity theft, lawsuits, and loss of research funding.

Also, be aware that University policy prohibits the storage of sensitive University information on personal laptops and media.

Other Security Tips: These tips can be used in conjunction with the Top 5 to provide even more protection.

Use a nondescript laptop bag - Try to pick a laptop carrier that doesn't blatantly advertise that you are carrying a laptop; this is the equivalent of saying "Steal me now!" Consider using a padded briefcase or backpack instead.

Use security software if it is available - There are various types of software designed to add security "value" to your laptop. Disk encryption is required for all University-owned laptops, but there are versions available for personally-owned laptops, as well. Likewise, laptop recovery software is available for both personal and University laptops. There are even add-ons that sound an alarm if there is unexpected motion or if the laptop is moved outside a specified area.

Backup, backup, backup - Because of their portability and low cost, many people frequently forget to backup the data on their laptops. As mentioned in Tip #5, hard disk storage is getting greater and greater, which means there's that much more to lose. Remember, a good backup can turn a castrophe into an inconvenience.

Report a theft AT ONCE! - Laptop thefts must be reported as soon as possible to minimize the impact of the theft; this is especially important if sensitive information that could affect a large number of people was stored on the laptop. The longer the time between the theft and the report, the greater the potential for harm and the more complicated the "clean-up" process. For example, a thief can cause a great deal of harm with unprotected patient information from a stolen laptop; if the theft is reported promptly, the appropriate agencies can be brought in sooner and the damage could possibly be mitigated, but not prevented. Theft of University-owned laptops must be reported to the University Police; if the laptop is stolen off-campus, notify local law enforcement first, and then notify University Police. It is also in your best interest to report thefts of personally-owned laptops to University Police so they can work with local law enforcement. In all cases, be sure to get the case number of the police report(s) for any insurance claims.
For more information on reporting lost or stolen equipment, click or copy-and-paste this link

A FINAL NOTE - One idea to tie all of the tips together is this - Don't make it easy for the bad guy! Put as many layers and obstacles between the thief and your laptop as you can, and this applies to any sensitive equipment and data. The goal here is to make the thief look for easier targets than your computer - others who haven't locked their doors or locked their laptops down, others who don't pay attention to their surroundings and leave their laptops unattended. If the bad guys want your computer, make them work for it!

For more information, check with your TSR or call

the IMS Service Desk at (210) 567-7777
the Information Security Hotline at (210) 567-0707.