Your laptop is the most valuable thing outside of food and water you can carry with you on the road. Sure you camera lens may be worth more money but it doesn’t contain your personal data, scanned travel documents, those cute photos of your dog, or act as your personal TV, telephone, and connection with the outside world all in one.

lock and chain

Most people now travel with their laptops and it’s the one gadgets we can’t seem to travel without. Laptops are valuable yet very vulnerable but in this 3-part series you’ll learn how to protect your ever-handy notebook from the most common types of attacks.

Locking Down Your Laptop…Literally

macbook pro laptop lockYou can have the best encryption in the world to protect your laptop from the world’s best hackers but if you don’t physically secure your machine any amateur thief can walk right off with it. To secure your laptop you need to physically protect all 2.5 kilos of it.

  • Start With A Basic Laptop Lock – Almost all laptops have a small slot for a lock (like the picture to the left). You can find out where yours is with a simple Google search or by reading the manual (most manufacturers post those online for free now).
  • Bring A Padlock – Many hostels have lockers but don’t provide locks and often laptops don’t fit in hotel safes. In both cases a padlock will come in handy.
  • Invest In A Pacsafe – This mesh-wire fits around your backpack and locks to something protecting your laptop inside.

A basic laptop lock will run you between $15-30 and most, like this Kensington ComboSaver and MicroSaver, conform to a PC and Mac standard. This simple lock will give you piece of mind when sitting in a cafe or emailing from your hostel room.

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Lock Your Screen Every Time You Get Up

cat on laptopLeaving your laptop unattended is bad but leaving it without locking the screen is worse. On most laptops you can configure your screen to automatically lock (that is, require a password to use it) when you close the lid. Physical access to your laptop is one of the easiest ways for someone to steal data off of it or do a search for ‘password’ in your Gmail account.

It’s one of the most common ways information is stolen so get in the habit of locking your screen every time you’re not sitting right in front of your machine. Here’s how:

  • Windows Users: CTRL+ALT+DEL, then select “Lock Computer” or “Switch User”. An easier way is to hit the Windows logo key (lower left) + the “L” key.
  • Mac Users: Apple didn’t add this nifty feature into Leopard or Snow Leopard but you can add it by downloading the free program LockTight. It lets you configure any set of hot keys you want to lock your screen.

This is the one piece of advice most people say “duh” to before getting up for a cold beer and forgetting to lock their screen. Get in the habit, lock your screen!

mouse trapSet Up Remote Backup, Trap, And Alarm

In case your laptop does get stolen you want to make sure your data is saved in a physically separate location. While an external hard drive is good, it doesn’t help if your entire backpack gets stolen. Choose an online backup source so your data gets sent somewhere else where you can retrieve it later in case you need to replace your machine.

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The Trap

Now you’re backed up in case of total failure so it’s time to set up your electronic mouse (aka. thief) trap.

  • Adeona (Works on Windows, Mac, and Linux) – An open-source (free) program that lets you track your stolen laptop if the crook gets online and the Mac version will even snap a picture of person with your iSight camera and send it to you. There is also LojackForLaptops; that costs $40 per year.
  • You can also use LogMeIn to watch the screen as the thief uses your computer and potentially grab useful information to identify them.

The Alarm

For some fun you can try out iAlertU (sorry, Mac only). It’s a car alarm for your laptop that has limited applications and likely won’t provide too much security outside a select few circumstances. You can see how it works in the video below:

Secured From The Outside

A good lock is typically enough to discourage most opportunistic thieves and will go a long way to protecting your laptop from the outside. A tiny percentage of lost laptops are ever recovered so prevention is key. Tomorrow in Part 2 I’ll teach you how to protect the goodies inside of your laptop from crooks, customs agents, and everyone else who wants access to the goods – your data.

Continue on with Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

[photos by: Jeremy Brooks (lock photo), christianyves (laptop), elkit (cat on laptop), billaday (mouse trap)]