While encryption software might protect your organization’s data if a laptop is stolen, preventing the laptop from walking away in the first place is your best line of defense.

IT pro Pat Vickers and Gartner analyst John Girard both recommend that these five tips on how to physically secure laptops be taught to all laptop users:

  • Keep your laptop in sight while going through security checkpoints.
  • Always have the laptop in carry-on luggage.
  • Tape a business card to the laptop.
  • Avoid leaving your laptop in hotel baggage-hold rooms.
  • Lock the laptop or removable hard drive if equipped in a secure place when it’s not in use.

Loose grips lose chips
Vickers described a typical laptop sting in the article “Eight tips for the new laptop user.”

The traveling end user approaches a security checkpoint in an airport, carrying a laptop computer in its case. Two thieves manage to get in line right before the laptop user.

When the user gets up to the x-ray machine, he drops his laptop in its case on the conveyor belt. Meanwhile, the forward-most thief is passing through security and waiting at the end of the conveyor belt.

The thief just in front of the end user has all sorts of problems when he goes through the metal detector. He didn’t take all the change out of his pockets. Then, he forgets about that gold necklace around his neck, which requires him to go through the detector over and over again.

Meanwhile, the first thief walks away with the user’s laptop. Security is concentrating on the second thief who’s setting off the alarm and all the other baggage coming through the x-ray machine. No one notices who took the computer bag.

According to Gartner analyst John Girard, the most common places for laptop thefts are airport security checkpoints, ticket counters, hotel restrooms, meeting rooms, and registration lines.

While laptops are best protected from bumps and bruises in their carrying cases, Vickers points out that potential thieves can spot those cases very easily. Laptop users may not realize they were such easy targets.

The best course is to treat the laptop, either in its case or snuggly stored in other luggage, as carry-on luggage, even if the end user doesn’t plan to do anything with the computer during the flight. And don’t take your eyes off of it.

Inadvertent losses
While these two tips, keeping a close watch and treating the computer as carry-on luggage, may help prevent someone with the intent of robbery from getting the laptop, Vickers suggests taping the end user’s business card to his or her equipment as a way to avoid accidental loss.

When a group of traveling end users is from the same organization, they will likely have the same or similar laptops. Computers can get mixed up if everyone is working off the same conference table. Someone could inadvertently pick up someone else’s computer and leave his or her own behind.

Another scenario might be that a user shows up at the hotel before a room is ready for them. Many hotels will hold the traveler’s luggage in a holding room. Girard points out that hotel baggage-hold rooms are to be avoided for storing laptops. Even if someone doesn’t go into the room and walk off with the computer, many times, hotel staff will move the traveler’s luggage to the room before the end user returns, and guess what gets left behind?

Fused at the hip
Even if the end user is cautious, support staff can’t expect that the computer will never leave the end user’s sight. Girard suggests that when the laptop is not in use, it should be locked in a secure office or hotel safe. Some laptops have hard drives that can be easily removed when the computer is not in use, and these are small enough to fit in the hotel room’s safe.

One way to encourage the locking of the laptop, particularly for users who will be using their laptops throughout the day, is to provide a device to lock the computer to a desk or other immovable object in their hotel room or conference room.

End users also can use cable locks when they return to the office. If the laptop is left in a pseudo-public office space, the lock will prevent removal from the desktop.

Bringing it home
Like many types of security, protecting laptops is often more a matter of common sense than high-tech gadgetry. The problem is getting the end users to buy into the program.

Support departments can encourage and highlight security issues with users by assisting the users with taping their business cards on their equipment, or, if you can successfully make the case, issuing cable locks to mobile laptop users.

How do you prevent laptop theft?

We’ve listed only five tips to help prevent laptop theft. Perhaps you have others that you have learned through personal experience on the job. Take a moment and share your suggestions in the discussion below.