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    How to keep your laptop from becoming another Christmas crime statistic

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver December 16-22, 2008; issue 999

    High Tech Office column

    Christmas is a busy travel season. For many of us that means packing a laptop. The result: peak time for travel also becomes peak time for laptop theft. According to Vancouver-based Absolute Software, a laptop goes missing every 50 seconds at U.S. airports. An estimated 12,000 a week are lost by business travellers alone.

    The company – which makes LoJack and Computrace laptop recovery software – suggests that holiday travellers:

    •Back up data before travelling. Absolute’s Lyle Singular notes that the business and personal data stored on our laptops makes them much more valuable to us than just the cost of replacing a piece of hardware.

    •Keep your laptop in your possession at all times – preferably within arm’s length. Don’t put it in your checked luggage, carry it with you onto the plane. Onboard, store it in an overhead compartment if you have use of the one over your seat. If not, keep it with you at your seat.

    • Keep it with you as long as possible when going through airport security and when you’re not holding it keep an eye on it. If you see someone starting to pick it up, don’t be afraid to yell! (Singular suggests, however, that most laptops lost at security are the result of the owners walking away and leaving them behind.)

    •Many laptops are lost when, after leaving the airport, people drive to a restaurant or other busy destination, then lock the laptop in the trunk after they park the car. A better practice, according to Singular, is to put it in the trunk before driving off, avoiding surveillance by thieves watching busy parking lots. Even better: take it into the restaurant with you.

    •At the hotel, lock it up – in your room safe or at the front desk. If you need to chain it to a piece of furniture, make sure its attached to something solid – bathroom fixtures are often good this way. Singular notes that old-style motels with exterior doors are more easily burgled than modern hotels, but that thieves can follow hotel cleaners, popping into opened doors.

    • Be wary of public computers such as those in airports, libraries and hotels; they might be infested with key logging software, allowing identity thieves to keep records of every keystroke to collect usernames, passwords, account numbers and the like. Therefore, avoid accessing financial or bank records.

    •On a public computer – or even on your own laptop – uncheck “remember me” settings when logging into websites. If your laptop is set to automatically log in and it gets lost, the new owner has just gained access to your accounts.

    •Before exiting a web browser, clear your private data: cache, history, cookies and the like. (Or consider using a portable version of Firefox or other browser stored on a USB key – then when you leave (assuming you remember the USB key), your private data leaves with you.)

    Security, according to Singular, is like a three-legged stool – it takes all three legs to stay upright. In this case, the three legs are data protection – encryption, data destruction in case of loss and theft recovery. Absolute, not surprisingly, recommends its LoJack and Computrace products, which can remotely wipe data from a stolen laptop’s hard drive and can trace a lost or stolen system, aiding in its recovery.

    In the end, though, Singular suggests that in order to avoid having your laptop become another holiday statistic, you need to stay aware and stay focused. During busy Christmas travelling periods that can be difficult; when our timelines are tight, we’re under extra pressure. And that makes us easy targets for criminals when we’re most distracted.

    Happy high-tech holidays. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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