Laptop Security

Gregg Stebben

Gregg Stebben is the Chief Internet Evangelist for PC Pitstop. Gregg is well-known to radio listeners all over the country as a “tech guru”, including his weekly reports on WTOP in Washington DC. WLW in Cincinnati, WOAI in San Antonio and KSL in Salt Lake. He is the author of 11 books, including INTERNET PRIVACY FOR DUMMIES, and he has also written for magazines ranging from MEN’S HEALTH to ESQUIRE to BON APPÉTIT. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

Hi, All –

Here is a recent headline from the WASHINGTON POST:


Did the Transportation Security Administration miss the memo on safeguarding sensitive private data?

And in case you didn’t know it, missing laptops are not a new government phenomenon:

  • At the Commerce Department, 1,000 laptops disappeared last year
  • An April IRS report estimated that 500 laptops were stolen or lost at the IRS over a 3 1/2 -year period

As we all know, last year one laptop was stolen from the Department of Veterans Affairs that contained personal data on over 26.5 million veterans.

Of course, you don’t have to work for the government to lose a laptop or get it stolen…

…in fact:

  • 2 million laptops are stolen every year
  • You have a 1-in-10 chance of getting your laptop stolen this year
  • No surprise here, but 97% of all stolen laptops are never recovered

And with all that in mind…

…here are some tips that are worth talking about to help you protect your laptop:



We all know the danger, for men, of carrying a wallet in the back pocket…

…that’s the most obvious target for pick-pocket, and the easiest place for them to lift a wallet without you feeling it.

Similarly, laptop thieves know there are certain places where it will be easiest for them to lift your laptop.

For instance:

  • You’re having coffee or a meal with a friend…and where do you put your laptop?

On a chair, out of sight?

On the floor, out of sight?

If a laptop thief watched you walk into the restaurant, he or she knows you have a laptop…

…so you are a target from the moment you walk through the door.


Always carry your laptop in a non-identifying bag (ie avoid bags that say Dell or HP or Targus), and make sure the bag has a shoulder strap.

Make it a habit to loosely wrap the strap around your foot or ankle or rest it up on your leg anytime you sit down…

…that way, if someone grabs the bag they’ll have to drag your entire body along with the laptop. >

  • You’re walking through town, through the mall, through a parking lot…

…and what’s the safest way to carry your laptop?

Again, always use the same non-identifying bag and make sure it has a shoulder strap.

Using the shoulder strap will prevent you from setting the laptop down on the ground and forgetting about it while you pay for a cup of coffee or pay for parking.



Your laptop probably cost you $1,000-$2,000…

…and it may be worth $300-$400 to a thief.

So once a thief sees you sling your laptop into the backseat of your car in a parking lot…

…he or she can follow you until you park the car again, then break in while you run an errand.

The easy solution here:

Lock your laptop in the trunk, because that’s harder to break in to…

…or get in the habit of always slinging the laptop over your shoulder with your bag’s shoulder strap.

Bonus tip:

When traveling, avoid renting cars that have no separate trunk.



Going through security is chaotic…

…but there’s only one thing you should have on your mind:

Your laptop.

  • Keep it secured to you with the shoulder strap until all your other possessions are lined up to go through the scanner…
  • …then send your laptop through the scanner last.
  • Keep your eyes on your laptop at all times while it is being scanned…
  • …and even keep your eyes on it while you walk through the metal detector.
  • Once through the metal detector, grab your laptop and put it in its bag and sling the shoulder strap over your shoulder, THEN put on your shoes and belt and gather other possessions.

On the plane:

  • Keep your laptop under the seat in front of you, not in the overhead bin.
  • If you have to go to the bathroom, put it back under your seat…unless you’re in the aisle seat, and then take it with you.



  • Take your laptop to a jeweler or local trophy shop and get the lid engraved with your name and phone number in large easy-to-see writing…

…because thieves will see the engraving and know it will be easy for you to positively identify the machine, and they will also know it will be harder to sell with your name permanently engraved on it.

End result:

If they’re smart, they’ll take a pass on your laptop and steal someone else’s instead.

  • Backup, backup, backup…

…so that if you lose your laptop, at least you won’t lose all your data.

  • Consider using a “laptop retrieval service” like Lo-Jack or zTrace

These services can locate lost or stolen laptops once they are reconnected to the Internet…

…and you can even opt for the option of remotely destroying all data on the laptop to prevent anyone else from accessing it.

Cost for these services:

Starting at $49 for one year, $99 for three years.

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