Understanding the Important of Laptop Security

October 6th, 2009 | Security Articles & Tips

There is no foolproof way to stop the theft of a laptop computer. Computer World says that laptops are becoming such a popular target for thieves, that its added $150 to the cost of every machine. Every security and facility manager is concerned about the theft of laptops because they are so easy to pick up and tote away. Thieves love them because they can be turned into quick cash or given as a really nice gift to their in-laws. The criminals don’t seem to have yet caught onto the fact that the data and information on the stolen laptops may be worth more than the hardware itself. You can count on that happening pretty soon, though.

According to Safeware, a computer insurance specialist firm, laptop theft is growing more than 10% annually, with more than 309,000 laptop computers stolen in the past year. The scary part is that the FBI reports that approximately 75% of laptop thefts are inside jobs! The culprits appear to be the ones who have a reason to be at the office (i.e. employees, couriers, and service contractors). Beyond the office, the most vulnerable places are cars, airports and hotels.

Security professionals have turned to every anti-theft device imaginable in an attempt to stop the laptop theft epidemic. Believe me there are enough anti-theft gadgets on the market to satisfy any gadget enthusiast. But the best method of protecting your laptop generally doesn’t involve extreme measures. Instead, it consists of users paying attention to their laptop. Hold on to the thing. Love it. Do not let it out of your sight. A recent survey conducted concluded that 52% percent of respondents said they relied on building security and property passes to deter theft of laptop computers. A smaller percentage of the companies surveyed reported using physical deterrent devices such as:

  • 19% – Cables and Locks
  • 14% – Lock-down enclosures
  • 7% – Motion or proximity alarms

An effective written policy concerning laptop security is also recommended, as long as management enforces the security policies. The policy should specify where the laptops can and cannot be kept when in use, storage or transit. The policy should also spell out the user=s obligations in the event that failure to abide by the conditions of use results in loss.

Companies should take a serious attitude when educating employees about computer security to help control expenses associated with such a loss. To encourage a positive loss prevention approach, companies can:

-Provide annual training and periodic reminders to maintain security awareness.
-Communicate in writing its policies and procedures regarding employee accountability for the security of laptops assigned to them
-Require a signed copy of such a policy statement from all laptop users.
-Consider making loss of a laptop from gross negligence a performance issue
-Encourage users to backup their files frequently.
-Maintain a current list of all laptop users, assigned equipment, serial numbers and software. Audit the list annually.
-Always keeping your laptop within reach. Don’t let it out of your sight. All laptops should be labeled with inventory or serial numbers so that their whereabouts can be tracked at all times.
-For large companies with an extensive inventory of laptops, bar code inventory tracking systems may be cost-effective.
-Have laptop users sign and date statements acknowledging possession of the equipment.
-When traveling through airports, bus terminals, etc. laptop users should be trained to keep portables in their possession at all times. If possible, the carrying case should be inconspicuous in its design.
-If the laptop is not being used, keep it in a locked cabinet or desk drawer. If you’re traveling, keep it in an automobile trunk or hotel safe.
-Never check laptop computers into a baggage claim. Luggage theft is a problem at many airlines and airports, and valuable electronic equipment is a high target item.
-Use a two-tiered password system to protect proprietary material on the hard drive. Another tool is data encryption.
-Always backup your data and programs before leaving on a trip, and immediately upon return from a trip.
-Do not loan out your laptop to someone else. Loaning it out is a good way to lose it or get it back with a virus on it. Files could also be copied and passwords to e-mail and other accounts could be accessed without your knowledge.

A variety of locking security products is available to prevent your laptop from “walking away”. The most basic type of physical security is a cable lockdown. But cable lock products have obvious disadvantages. They are no deterrent to the determined thief, who will likely come prepared with cable cutting equipment. In addition, they provide little or no protection for internal components.

The use of software programs (i.e. password locking programs, encryption programs, anti-virus programs) can also help protect and secure proprietary information and preserve data.

In an effort to combat the laptop theft epidemic, card access manufacturers such as Lenel International and Casi-Rusco have introduced asset-tracking products. A person walking through a doorway with a laptop could trigger an alarm if the laptop was not linked in a database to the person holding it. These systems are very expensive and may be cost prohibitive for some companies.

There are a host of other high-tech gadgets and services on the market, which are geared specifically for computer thefts. These include GPS homing devices, central monitoring recovery services, proximity alarms and motion detection alarms. Despite your department’s best efforts, an employee could still lose his/her laptop to a thief. However, following these suggestions and using common sense could be enough to keep your employee and laptop together for a long time.