Your laptop is one of the weakest links in your life’s security chain. Unlike your desktop PC, which stays at home, or your phone, which probably stays in your pocket or in your hand, your laptop is portable and can easily be picked up and hidden away.
Whether you’re in a college library or a Starbucks, here are 6 easy tips to help improve the security of your laptop PC:
1) Lock your laptop using a Kensington lock or similar device
Today, more and more laptop users are choosing to secure their laptops using special locking devices. These locks use a small hole on your laptop’s case called the Kensington security slot. That slot is small and reinforced by metal. When you attach a lock to that hole, it securely links your laptop to a physical object, like the wall or the leg of your desk.
Other laptop locks connect to your VGA port, printer port, and other parts of your laptop. Sometimes, these locks require keys, while in other cases, you simply need a combination. Here are some companies that make laptop locks:
Obviously, this isn’t a foolproof way to prevent laptop theft. A thief can still cut the thin lock cord using bolt cutters, and if locking to the VGA port or printer port, it’s possible to simply break the port to free the laptop.
2) Install anti-theft tracking software
Just like smartphones have anti-theft apps that can take a picture of your thief’s face, laptops have security software of their own. Most major security software companies offer anti-theft software as part of their security bundle, including:
These software programs track your laptop using IP addresses, Wi-Fi, GPS, and more. Most programs also give users the ability to remotely wipe their system or take pictures using the laptop’s webcam. Expect to pay an annual subscription fee for each of these programs, but if you’ve lost a laptop in the past, then $40 per year is a small price to pay for easy laptop tracking.
You may also be able to find free anti-theft software for laptops by searching online, although the quality of these programs varies considerably.
3) Encrypt your most sensitive data
Encrypting your data makes it virtually impossible to access. Unless the thief is using the world’s most powerful supercomputer, they’re not going to break into a 256-bit encrypted folder any time soon.
If you keep sensitive data on your laptop, then you should consider encrypting that data. Many versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 come with built-in encryption software called BitLocker. TrueCrypt is another popular free encryption program for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Encrypting your data gives you one extra step to go through when accessing your data and opening folders (you enter your password). That extra step could be the difference between losing your identity to a thief and staying secure.
4) Use HotSpot Shield when accessing Wi-Fi hotspots
Most public Wi-Fi hotspots are perfectly safe to use. However, there are some Wi-Fi hotspots designed specifically to ensnare any laptop users who come near. To avoid being sucked into these tempting hotspots (which rarely have passwords and are monitored by evil people), install HotSpot Shield and run it when accessing public Wi-Fi.
You can also use your cell phone to create your own password-protected Wi-Fi hotspot over a 3G or 4G internet connection. If you don’t want to suck up data, try logging into a corporate VPN or a school’s VPN in order to obfuscate your personal information and put an extra wall of security between you and the enemy.
5) Use a Windows login password – even if you’re the only laptop user
This step seems simple, but it’s a step many people don’t take. Even if you’re the only user on your laptop, it’s important to set up a password-protected Windows account.
Today, many laptops come with fingerprint sensors in order to give you an extra layer of security. Sometimes, these fingerprint sensors don’t work at all and should be disabled to prevent major security headaches (as is the case with my Lenovo ThinkPad). In other cases, these fingerprint sensors are an incredibly effective way to put a wall of defense between you and a laptop thief.
At the very least, you should have a complicated Windows password with an unrelated hint. It doesn’t make your laptop unbreakable, and the thief will most likely just wipe your laptop anyway, but it will prevent your sensitive personal data from being compromised.