I’ve written about the laptop theft problem before, and have recommended some widely-accepted control measures to reduce the risk of laptop-theft incidents. I’ve come up with a few new perspectives since I previously wrote about this issue, and I would like to share them with you.
The laptop I use most often is a Dell Inspiron 600. This computer was issued to me when I joined High Tower Software in July, 2005. Windows XP (now with Service Pack 3) was installed on this laptop, and all things considered, the hardware and operating system have both been excellent. When High Tower folded just about a year ago, all employees with laptops were allowed to keep them. The timing was not very optimal, as my computer was getting older, and I had requested a new one. A number of employees walked away from the High Tower office for the last time with much newer and better machines than mine, but still mine was not (and still is not) really such a bad machine, even though it had gone through all the travails of frequent travel.
Travel is not good for laptops because they get banged around. Airport security staff who inspect them to ensure they do not contain explosives are some of the worst offenders, but I also deserve my fair share of the blame. My laptop really shows the signs of travel-related wear and tear. There are numerous scuff marks on it as well as an ugly gouge, and the paint has faded in a non-uniform manner. This laptop looks as if it has been in a battle zone for a prolonged period of time to the point that sometimes my friends ask me when I am going to get a new one. I will buy a new one some day before too long, but one of the reasons I always take this particular machine with me is that it is not a very attractive target for laptop thieves. Statistics indicate that the major motivation for stealing laptops is to obtain a computer that can be sold in a pawn shop or other place. Most laptop thieves are interested neither in the software nor personally identifiable information and/or financial information. Consequently, I feel that the appearance of my machine is sufficiently ugly that most thieves won’t want to steal it.
How ugly a laptop looks is something that most organizations and individuals never think about, but perhaps they should. I would not rely on laptop ugliness as a major theft deterrent, but I am confident that if a thief has a choice of stealing a brand new, attractive laptop or one that appears old and beaten up, the thief will steal the former nearly 100 percent of the time.
Another measure that I take with my laptop is never allowing any externally-visible information about my employer such as the name of the company, URL for its Web site, and/or the physical location of the company. I figure that if I taped my Emagined Security business card to it, my laptop would become a more attractive target of theft because some laptop thieves are after proprietary and other information. Instead I tape my own personal business card to it. If you read one of my previous blog entries you’ll discover that doing this also saved my neck, so to speak, one time. I left my laptop at San Francisco International Airport security and flew ignorantly and blissfully to Bloomington, Illinois. If my personal card had not been taped to the computer, no one from airport security would have called my home number to report that my computer had been left behind. The ending to this story was good—I was able to recover my computer.
A final, additional non-conventional laptop theft prevention measure is being smart when it comes to storing a laptop when away from home. If I am on travel and I am at a restaurant, I actually take my laptop into the restaurant with me and place it right next to my chair. A few times waiters have almost tripped on it, but no real catastrophes have happened, and I have never had a laptop stolen. I used to leave my laptop in the trunk of whatever rental car I had, but when I realized just how proficient thieves have become in breaking into trunks, I gave up doing this. The biggest dilemma concerning laptop security that I typically face, however, is what to do with my laptop when I am in a hotel and want to go running. I suppose that I could bring a backpack with me, put it on and stick my computer in it, but that seems a little over the top. Consequently, I place my computer in some place that I am fairly sure most thieves would not look, like back of the toilet.
Conventional laptop theft prevention measures are good, but if you really value your laptop, you might consider additional measures. The ones I have mentioned may seem weird, but they definitely work for me as well as for others who have used them.