June 30, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Getting over laptop loss

If your laptop gets swiped, consider this: 97 percent of stolen PCs are never recovered.

The rare retrieval of a notebook computer robbed from a Department of Veterans Affairs employee this week just underlines that FBI statistic. Finding the PC was made a priority for the agency, as it contained sensitive details on more than 26 million U.S. military veterans.

That outcome is unlikely for the thousands of ordinary people who lose a notebook, even though they, too, may be at risk of identity theft. A few simple things can help reduce some headaches after a laptop is stolen or misplaced, experts say. But the real solution is the most obvious: Don't let your PC get stolen.

"Common sense is the best defense," said Jon Oltsik, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. That means not leaving your laptop in plain view in a car and not letting it out of your sight in an airport or at a conference or other public places, he said.

But laptop theft and loss are facts of life. More than 600,000 notebook thefts occurred in 2003, according to Safeware Insurance, which sells computer insurance. The number increased to about 750,000 laptops last year, according to Absolute Software, a maker of tools to retrieve lost or stolen laptops.

"The proliferation of laptops has made the overall theft numbers go up," said Ben Haidri, vice president of marketing at Absolute.

Laptop leashes and locks sold by companies, including Kensington and Targus, can help prevent laptops from disappearing. Of course, like bicycle locks, these measures are only a deterrent. A determined thief will be able to bypass them easily.

"One of the simplest things consumers can do, if they have a laptop, it should never be in the backseat of a car," Haidri said.

In San Francisco, police have warned that places that offer wireless access to the Internet are turning into hot spots for laptop theft. Last year there were 48 laptop robberies in the city. This year that number is projected to surpass 70, with 18 thefts as of March, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle in April.

Some heists in San Francisco are particularly heinous. One finance manager was stabbed in the chest for his Apple Computer PowerBook while sitting at a coffee shop in the city's Mission District, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Avoiding becoming a victim
There are a few techniques people can use to alleviate the problems that follow the loss of a laptop and the data on it.

A recent data backup means that a lost computer doesn't equal lost files. If there is private data on the machine, password protection and hard drive encryption can prevent access to that by the thief.

Software that scrambles full hard disk drives is sold by companies including PGP, which offers the PGP Whole Disk Encryption product for $149. Microsoft is also building encryption capability, called BitLocker, into enterprise and high-end consumer versions of Windows Vista, the successor to XP slated to be broadly available in January.

"Think about what's on your laptop. The threat to individuals is primarily about identity theft," said Andrew Krcik, vice president of marketing at PGP. "In the past the target has primarily been the hardware. We're seeing a lot of talk about laptops being targeted for the information that's on them."

Encrypting only certain files and folders is also an option. Various products can do this, including Windows XP and free software found on popular download Web sites such as Download.com. However, confidential information may be stored in the browser cache and other locations on the hard disk drive that can't be easily encrypted using those products. (Download.com, like CNET News.com, is a CNET Networks property.)

Reassuring, perhaps, is that the majority of laptop thieves are petty criminals who are only interested in the hardware. "Fifteen years ago, these guys were selling car stereos," Oltsik said.

Regardless, if a laptop with private data is stolen, laws in the majority of U.S. states now require that the people who might be at risk of identity fraud be notified. This is more likely if it is a business laptop and can be costly, not to mention a public relations fiasco. "If the laptops are corporate assets, they must be protected," Oltsik said.

Retrieving a lost laptop can be a long shot. A trace on a computer increases the chances of recovery. Companies including Absolute and zTrace sell software-based bugs. These products periodically connect to the Internet, if a PC is reported stolen, the computer returns details on its location, which is reported to law enforcement.

"We have 90 percent success rate," Absolute's Haidri said. The company has about 700,000 current subscribers to its service, about 15 percent of those are consumers who typically pay $99.99 for a three-year subscription, he said.

In the case of Absolute, the software is sometimes embedded in the system as part of the laptop BIOS. This means that it can't be removed, even if the hard disk drive is replaced or wiped clean, the company said.

The Absolute tracking packages for business users offer further options, including the ability to remotely wipe selected data when the laptop has been reported stolen. For the consumer version, called LoJack for Laptops, Absolute is considering a feature that will remotely retrieve data if the machine is reported missing, Haidri said.

Prevention might still be the best cure. James Van Dyke has been the victim of four ID crimes in the past. He runs security software on his PC and makes regular backups of his data. To prevent unfriendly eyes from understanding his personal data, he scrambles his files by hand.

"Any criminal that got a hold of my files would have nothing of value, because account numbers and other personal information is all rendered useless because I store it in a code that only makes sense to me," said Van Dyke, an analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research.

See more CNET content tagged:
Absolute Software, PGP Corp., vice president of marketing, identity theft, laptop computer

26 comments

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You will be sorry.
My laptop biometrics built in. If an unrecognized dna has contact on the keypads for more than 60 seconds a laser (cleverly disguised as a Blue Ray DVD drive)pops out and kills any thief. Shortly afterwards the gps device is activated and the laptop sends me turn by turn directions courtesy of maps.google.
Posted by blueskydiver76 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ROTFL
That reminds me of robocop 2 or 3 when a man tried to steal a car and the car grabbed the man and electrocuted him. The owner came up, removed the dead body and drove away.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Link Flag
You will be sorry.
My laptop biometrics built in. If an unrecognized dna has contact on the keypads for more than 60 seconds a laser (cleverly disguised as a Blue Ray DVD drive)pops out and kills any thief. Shortly afterwards the gps device is activated and the laptop sends me turn by turn directions courtesy of maps.google.
Posted by blueskydiver76 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ROTFL
That reminds me of robocop 2 or 3 when a man tried to steal a car and the car grabbed the man and electrocuted him. The owner came up, removed the dead body and drove away.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Link Flag
Two products - Easy solution
Compusec - FREE
SecureDOC - $

Google them and use what the big boys use.
Posted by seandough999 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Two products - Easy solution
Compusec - FREE
SecureDOC - $

Google them and use what the big boys use.
Posted by seandough999 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
backup for lost / stolen laptop files!
And just in case you're more concerned about losing data than protecting data, there are some great automated backup solutions that can give you immediate access to your laptop files - data deposit box <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.datadepositbox.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.datadepositbox.com</a> and xdrive <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.xdrive.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.xdrive.com</a> are great solutions.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
backup for lost / stolen laptop files!
And just in case you're more concerned about losing data than protecting data, there are some great automated backup solutions that can give you immediate access to your laptop files - data deposit box <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.datadepositbox.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.datadepositbox.com</a> and xdrive <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.xdrive.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.xdrive.com</a> are great solutions.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Easily avoidable
This scenario of id theft is easily avoidable if you simply run as a non admin user, and use true crypt to encrypt the entire Documents and Settings\&lt;usrname&gt; and then have it mount as a drive. All the user's files are in there then, along with the settings and browser caches, and it just prompts you for a password at login, no biggy.

The only thing that I would miss if my laptop disappeared would be the hardware itself and maybe a day's worth of work that was 'in progress'. All is encrypted using the FileVault built into Mac OS X so no 'baddie' can grab my files, even if they could boot the computer to another OS and get to my hard drive (takes skill with Linux or other OS, most common theives don't have this skill.) all my files would be scrambled, not even encoded to myself. Even if I did this, I wouldn't be able to read the files.
Posted by Tinned_Tuna (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Easily avoidable
This scenario of id theft is easily avoidable if you simply run as a non admin user, and use true crypt to encrypt the entire Documents and Settings\&lt;usrname&gt; and then have it mount as a drive. All the user's files are in there then, along with the settings and browser caches, and it just prompts you for a password at login, no biggy.

The only thing that I would miss if my laptop disappeared would be the hardware itself and maybe a day's worth of work that was 'in progress'. All is encrypted using the FileVault built into Mac OS X so no 'baddie' can grab my files, even if they could boot the computer to another OS and get to my hard drive (takes skill with Linux or other OS, most common theives don't have this skill.) all my files would be scrambled, not even encoded to myself. Even if I did this, I wouldn't be able to read the files.
Posted by Tinned_Tuna (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One of the compromised
Let's see, in recent weeks the VA lost the Laptop, now recovered but not compromised they say, like we trust the FBI at this point :-) Well lucky me, I'm a vet...

Then the USDA got broken into, worked for them for two years...sigh

Lastly, the Navy had a recent breakin as well, as I mentioned I'm a Vet, just my luck, Navy :-()

So at this point, what, is it just better to put my info up on my website&gt;!? :-)

Government is a slow cumbersome mechanism, change is hard, forced and painfull, and it doesn't usually react from other branches mistakes!

My solution, perhaps a centralized US Govt IT, various stations, different agencies, BUT one centralized office and policy, and the ability to react more quickly, adopt and adapt more efficiently in the ever changing world of IT.
Posted by jschade (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Thin computing" is a pipe dream.
IT folks have been dreaming about thin computing since the
dawn of personal computers in the late 70s. The idea is that you
have a central server location or locations that do all the data
storage and most of the 'real' processing. It has never worked,
and it won't ever work, since with every increasing in processing
power and bandwidth comes an even larger increase in demand.

Best bet, use File Vault as others have suggested, or use
encrypted disk images (see Disk Utility in Applications:Utilities
on your Macintosh) for all of your sensitive data.
Posted by Macsaresafer (802 comments )
Link Flag
One of the compromised
Let's see, in recent weeks the VA lost the Laptop, now recovered but not compromised they say, like we trust the FBI at this point :-) Well lucky me, I'm a vet...

Then the USDA got broken into, worked for them for two years...sigh

Lastly, the Navy had a recent breakin as well, as I mentioned I'm a Vet, just my luck, Navy :-()

So at this point, what, is it just better to put my info up on my website&gt;!? :-)

Government is a slow cumbersome mechanism, change is hard, forced and painfull, and it doesn't usually react from other branches mistakes!

My solution, perhaps a centralized US Govt IT, various stations, different agencies, BUT one centralized office and policy, and the ability to react more quickly, adopt and adapt more efficiently in the ever changing world of IT.
Posted by jschade (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Thin computing" is a pipe dream.
IT folks have been dreaming about thin computing since the
dawn of personal computers in the late 70s. The idea is that you
have a central server location or locations that do all the data
storage and most of the 'real' processing. It has never worked,
and it won't ever work, since with every increasing in processing
power and bandwidth comes an even larger increase in demand.

Best bet, use File Vault as others have suggested, or use
encrypted disk images (see Disk Utility in Applications:Utilities
on your Macintosh) for all of your sensitive data.
Posted by Macsaresafer (802 comments )
Link Flag
Encript and backup with free tools
I got into computers in the time of tapes and 5 1/4" disks, so got used to backing stuff up!

Now I use Steganos Security Suite (which I got for free on the cover of a magazine) to encript my sensitive files and SyncToy Power Toy from Microsoft to backup my files to a server share and an external HDD. I have 2 laptops. Its no big deal if one got swiped. Backups are so important

Bryan
Posted by skooter500 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Encript and backup with free tools
I got into computers in the time of tapes and 5 1/4" disks, so got used to backing stuff up!

Now I use Steganos Security Suite (which I got for free on the cover of a magazine) to encript my sensitive files and SyncToy Power Toy from Microsoft to backup my files to a server share and an external HDD. I have 2 laptops. Its no big deal if one got swiped. Backups are so important

Bryan
Posted by skooter500 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Encript and backup with free tools
I got into computers in the time of tapes and 5 1/4" disks, so got used to backing stuff up!

Now I use Steganos Security Suite (which I got for free on the cover of a magazine) to encript my sensitive files and SyncToy Power Toy from Microsoft to backup my files to a server share and an external HDD. I have 2 laptops. Its no big deal if one got swiped. Backups are so important

Bryan
Posted by skooter500 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Encript and backup with free tools
I got into computers in the time of tapes and 5 1/4" disks, so got used to backing stuff up!

Now I use Steganos Security Suite (which I got for free on the cover of a magazine) to encript my sensitive files and SyncToy Power Toy from Microsoft to backup my files to a server share and an external HDD. I have 2 laptops. Its no big deal if one got swiped. Backups are so important

Bryan
Posted by skooter500 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Buyer beware
Popular and highly publisized programs such as LoJack for laptops provide inadiquite protection for you computer.

Unlike the LoJack vehicle antitheft device, LoJack for laptops and simular programs do not have a built in transmitter. They are pieces of software that can only work effectively if a stolen laptop is connected to the internet. This means that as long as thieves does not connect the stolen laptop to the internet, they can attempt to look over sensitive information, or simply pawn-off your computer, with no problem.

Now that LoJack for laptops is a widely used and advertised product, awareness of the product and its how to counter it has risen. The likely hood of recovering a stolen laptop has in all likely hood diminished, since thieves now know it exist and may take appropriate counter measures.

Dont get me wrong, the program is still effective if a thief doesnt suspect the laptop he/she stole has LoJack, but the chances of that are diminishing with every add for the product.

Not gettting your laptop stolen, file backup and encryption are your best options
Encryption
Posted by gsm590 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Buyer beware
Popular and highly publisized programs such as LoJack for laptops provide inadiquite protection for you computer.

Unlike the LoJack vehicle antitheft device, LoJack for laptops and simular programs do not have a built in transmitter. They are pieces of software that can only work effectively if a stolen laptop is connected to the internet. This means that as long as thieves does not connect the stolen laptop to the internet, they can attempt to look over sensitive information, or simply pawn-off your computer, with no problem.

Now that LoJack for laptops is a widely used and advertised product, awareness of the product and its how to counter it has risen. The likely hood of recovering a stolen laptop has in all likely hood diminished, since thieves now know it exist and may take appropriate counter measures.

Dont get me wrong, the program is still effective if a thief doesnt suspect the laptop he/she stole has LoJack, but the chances of that are diminishing with every add for the product.

Not gettting your laptop stolen, file backup and encryption are your best options
Encryption
Posted by gsm590 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Forget all of the stickers and software methods of registering your expensive equipment. Everything has a serial number, just register the serial number and it is tracked forever. Most of the time you can't remove the serial number since it is in the BIOS or other ROM of the phone, laptop, GPS. Register your stuff at www.assettmate.com
Posted by jmsend (2 comments )
Link Flag
I've lost mine and GOT IT BACK!!!! such a great feeling

I had a Rewarding Return label on it and the finder reported it found and got their reward. It worked seemlessly :)

http://www.rewardingreturn.com you won't regret it I promise
Posted by axelboss3323 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I am using a free version of Mobile SafePatrol - www.laptopmobilesecurity.com It is enough for what I need and I can always switch to the professional version even after my laptop is stolen. I was referred to this website by my son and so far I like what it does...
Posted by compmaster01 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Forget all of the stickers and software methods of registering your expensive equipment. Everything has a serial number, just register the serial number and it is tracked forever. Most of the time you can't remove the serial number since it is in the BIOS or other ROM of the phone, laptop, GPS. Register your stuff at www.assettmate.com
Posted by jmsend (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Assettmate.com is a new database enabling people to enter details of assets they have purchased, whether new or second hand. This means that in the event of theft or loss of their precious item, the asset can be tracked by means of the serial number. By logging on to the database you can enter all relevant details of your asset, including photographs, so that you have a record for insurance and warranty purposes. Should you wish to sell the item, you have all relevant details at hand.

The process is simple: when you purchase an item you will be given a serial number for the goods purchased. Enter the details on www.assettmate.com and any other particulars that are useful to know, such as date of purchase and vendor's details. You will no longer need a filing cabinet full of messy paperwork and at last you will feel organised and secure, knowing details of your precious possessions are safely stored. Assettmate.com is free for all users."
Posted by asender (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
my laptop was stolen.. dell inspiron 1525 color pink
help anyone?
Posted by lanitooot (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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