Take a look at our anti-theft tips and see how you can protect your laptop from theft and permanent loss.
Laptop computers are portable, they can be picked up and moved around easily. This is a key part of their attraction and continuing popularity. However, this is the same reason they are frequent targets for thieves, they are literally grab and go. You need to protect your laptop in order to keep your laptop.
This is probably the most important tip. If you neglect to do this then many of the other tips simply cannot work. Properly preparing not only helps prevent theft in the first place, it also helps eliminate any stress if theft does still occur. Many steps require action before any loss occurs, such as activating tracking software or recording laptop serial numbers.
Note that many of the tips in this article also apply to protecting desktop computers, workstations, and tablets, in addition to notebooks and laptops. Please read all of our notebook theft protection tips to properly prepare yourself ahead of time.
Lock it physically
Use a cable lock. Locks are the classic anti-theft device so it stands to reason breaking locks is the classic criminal response. Professional lock pickers pick for fun and to improve lock security. They can pick and defeat locks very easily (see this guy). Common thieves may just break or cut a lock to bypass its defenses.
Despite this, locks remain a useful deterrent, they force people to spend time trying to tackle them, which in turn risks exposing them in action. Many laptops today have a small slot where you can attach these types of locks. Check the side and back of your laptop for a connection that looks like this:
We like the simplicity of this laptop security cable lock.
You secure one end of the cable to a special connector on your laptop called a K-slot or Kensington security slot. You connect the other end to an object such as a desk or chair, ideally the anchor object should be immovable or at least very heavy. Usually cable locks will have a looped hole which is used to thread the cable after securing to the anchor object. The other end of the cable remains attached and secured to the laptop with a key or combination lock. It is not always possible to find a truly immovable object, although we recommend you try to use something as immobile as possible.
Laptop anti-theft locks can be defeated so we are trying to buy ourselves time and make any would-be thief’s job harder. You definitely want and need to secure your laptop if you must leave it alone for any amount of time. Also, consider that locking laptops is not just for when you are out of the house, you can lock your laptop at home too in order to deter or delay its theft from house breakers.
Lock it virtually
Set a password. The cable locks above are examples of physical locks. There are hard physical locks and there are what you could call soft virtual locks. A password is an example of a virtual software lock which you can set on your computer.
Requiring a password upon startup is a recommended security best practice. What you might not know is that there are several other places where we recommend you apply and enforce password access.
Make sure you set your laptop system to require a password when waking up from sleep too. It is also advisable to set a password with your screensaver settings. You will set your screensaver to kick in after a certain number of minutes of inactivity. Perhaps you set your screensaver to start if you don’t touch or use your computer after 3 minutes. The particular security configuration you choose will depend on your usage patterns.
You can fine tune and adjust how aggressive you want the timeout to be balancing between your convenience and the laptop security. If you set the screensaver to be too quick, then you will have to keep logging in to your laptop. Too long may leave too much time for the thief to access your laptop before it locks automatically.
It is also good practice to lock the laptop manually, in Windows you can do this by pressing the Window button and the letter L at the same time. Windows lock works exactly like the startup or screensaver lock, once the laptop locked you need to enter the password to unlock it. Moving the mouse or pressing the keyboard activates the logon page. It is a good habit to lock your laptop like this when you step away.
If your laptop doesn’t require a password, it is like you are leaving your laptop alone and unattended, your contents virtually unlocked and wide open. Setting a password is a basic security measure you should employ. You should choose a strong password and make use of a password manager to safeguard your laptop and other passwords.
Password protection doesn’t stop robbers from physically taking your laptop and it might not prevent a determined and skilled hacker from accessing data, but it still helps slow them down and there is really no point in making things easy for them.
Sometimes a laptop is lost, but not stolen. In that case you want to make it easy for any good Samaritans to return your laptop. One thing you can do is place a strong adhesive sticker on the computer with your contact telephone number and reward information. The manufacturer Brother make some great little label makers with their P-touch range.
If you are worried about exposing your main cellphone number, you can use a virtual telephone number, such as a Google Voice number.
Even if the laptop was stolen and not lost, providing information about a financial reward might prompt a lazy thief to opt for a quick reward rather trying to pursue a risky resale. Doubtful, but it has been known to occur, after all they don’t call thieves brazen for nothing.
Mark it secretly
You have marked your laptop with your contact details and you have marked your laptop to make it identifiable – good work. However, if the laptop was stolen, and the thief has no intention to return it then they will probably remove any of the identifying stickers and labels you attached. This is where this next tip comes into play.
They cannot remove what they cannot easily see. Police have long advised people to mark their property with UV (ultraviolet) markers. These are permanent markers whose ink is not easy to remove.
Sometimes the police will find and recover stolen property, when this happens, they use UV readers to look for the UV markings, which can direct them back to the rightful owner. The idea is that you write your telephone number or driving license number on your laptop using the UV marker.
The ink is not actually invisible it just difficult to see in normal light. It is a surreptitious way to permanently mark your computer and link ownership to you.
Mark it visibly
In the same way you can attach unique tags, bright stickers and colorful bands to help identify your suitcase on the airport baggage carousel, you can do the same thing with your laptop to make your laptop standout. The idea is to make it unique to you and easily identifiable at a glance.
For example, a large reflective sticker of a rainbow unicorn would definitely help you easily spot your laptop at a distance and will help establish ownership later. Preventing theft and protecting your laptop can be a creative way to express yourself.
Carry it stealthily
You want your laptop to be identifiable when it is out and about, but in contrast you want your laptop carrying case to blend in and not standout. In your choice of case, you don’t want it to be an obvious laptop bag, you don’t want to broadcast that it contains a costly new notebook.
This tip applies especially when transitioning from one location to another, whether going from your office to your car, or from your school to the bus, etc.
While bag snatching is relatively rare, there is no need to tempt the bad guys and give them ideas. A laptop is a form of mobile device, it’s one advantage it has over a desktop PC. We are not suggesting you don’t utilize its mobility, we just recommend you use a nondescript bag, whether a backpack or a messenger bag or any other bag which doesn’t announce expensive electronic device contained within.
Keep it close
This one sounds easy, never leave your laptop out in the open. Most people understand they shouldn’t leave a laptop visible in a car – locked or unlocked. Likewise we realize we shouldn’t leave it lying on a table at the library or coffee shop. However, sometimes we forget this, it is easy to make a mistake and leave it unattended. We are easily distracted and unfortunately it can only take one mistake, so the hard part is remembering.
If you find you repeatedly make this mistake, you could consider an item finder. While they are principally designed to avoid losing keys they can be used for laptops. It comprises 2 partner parts, 1 part you keep on your person, while the other part you keep with your laptop or laptop bag. If the 2 units become separated an alarm will sound. This item finder, could be attached to your cable lock.
Alternatively you could attach it to a USB flash drive but in our tests we found it too easy to remove. However, sometimes laptops are stolen after they have already been lost or misplaced. So if you are more concerned about forgetting your computer then you could use it in this way. If you walkaway with the corresponding partner item finder in your pocket then you will be reminded with a loud screech, loud enough to encourage you not to forget in the first place.
If you really need to leave your laptop in your car for a short time, place the laptop in the trunk and make sure you conceal it completely, it must not be visible from the outside. In fact, don’t have any valuables on display such as GPS or other electronic devices. A thief may enter to steal your GPS but find your laptop as a nice additional surprise.
Similarly, if you really need to leave your laptop in your hotel room, don’t leave it out and in the open. Most hotel staff are honest but burglars can break into hotel guest rooms. In both the car and the hotel, you should use physical locks if you leave your laptop. It should go without saying you should always lock the doors of your car, house, apartment, or dorm. In general, try to never leave your laptop unattended and make sure you keep your laptop safe next to you or in your direct line of sight.
Remain alert and vigilant at places of transition or other flashpoints. Take care when using your laptop away from home or your workplace. Libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, and bars are routine places we often visit. These are also places where devices are frequently stolen.
Travelling is its own flashpoint – bus terminals, train stations and even airport security can easily become the place where you bid farewell to your laptop as it embarks upon a new journey with a new owner. Just remember there is a world a difference between leaving your laptop on your office desk and leaving it unattended in public, despite all the surveillance cameras.
Take extra care on a college campus, it is too easy to become comfortable in the cozy academic environment and let your guard down, however laptops frequently do go missing at school. Term papers are bad enough the first time you write them.
Backup your data
Backing up your data may sound like tired time-worn advice. Yet the reason everybody tells you do to this is because it’s critical and they have learnt through bitter experience.
Take a look at your laptop now and pretend it is missing and gone forever. What would you need from that laptop? What would cause you great inconvenience to lose? What would upset and distress you to lose? Perhaps precious photos of your family and friends? Can you even remember all the important files you have stored on your hard drive?
There is a way to avoid this painful and distressing situation. Simply speaking backup is taking all those important files and copying them to someplace else, whether to another computer, external hard drive, USB drive, or online cloud storage.
Do it soon! You can always buy another laptop but you can’t buy that 300-page bestseller you were about to publish.
Encrypt your data
A stolen laptop can mean stolen data. If you are concerned that criminals may access your personal, financial or business data then you should encrypting your private and confidential data. While this sounds like a more advanced technical option it is within the abilities of an average PC user to accomplish this on a modern PC. Protect your laptop and protect your data. If you don’t encrypt your hard drive then it is possible for thieves to access the data directly on the hard drive bypassing the laptop entirely.
Note though, that when encrypting your data, it becomes even more important to safeguard your master password – losing your password can mean you will lose access to your data. Fortunately, there are steps to help with this, such as storing the recovery key in your online Microsoft account.
If you are serious about defending your laptop, this is the best option we recommend for when all other options fail. Thankfully, there is software available which can track and recover stolen laptops . Some even allow you to remotely wipe your sensitive data from afar.
Stolen computer tracking software does not come free. However, if your laptop is stolen and you have to buy a new one the cost of repurchase is just the beginning of your problems.
Firstly, you will need to spend time reinstalling and updating your software, remembering all your passwords and signing back in, locating and transferring your needed files, etc. Chances are all your files on the hard drive of your lost laptop are gone forever.
Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not the end of the story. You have to try to determine what they have compromised. Did the stealers access your data and discover your financial passwords or banking details? Does that mean you need to change all your passwords?
All said it can take a long time to replace and recover from a lost laptop. If instead you use tracking software such as Absolute Home & Office, then you protect the data on it and recover the laptop. What LoJack does for cars, Absolute does for laptops. This software allows you to track your laptop’s whereabouts and trigger a law enforcement response.
If necessary, you can decide to wipe confidential data remotely the next time the device connects to the internet. Remember most computers nowadays will connect to the internet at some point. Of course, elite hackers may find ways to prevent a network connection, nonetheless your average thief is not a hacker, let alone an elite hacker.
When your laptop is stolen there are no guarantees to recovery, but laptop theft tracking software does give you a fighting chance. Read our review to see more on how the Absolute Lojack software works. The Absolute solution is already embedded into the BIOS or firmware of many devices from the leading manufacturers, this means the software often just needs to be activated as opposed to installed.
This is an essential point – remember this activation needs to take place BEFORE any loss event.
Record and register it
You absolutely must record the laptops make, model and serial number. To do this you take a photograph of the packaging or the device itself.
Alternatively, you can register with the manufacturer’s website which will normally ask you to record the make, model, serial number and purchase date in your account on the site.
We recommend you store copies of this info in several places, so if you lose copies or lose access to copies you will still have other copies to fall back on.
You should also save, photocopy or print the original invoice or receipt. Upload saved copies to cloud storage for backup and store physical copies in your highly organized filing system.
If you are tech savvy or feeling adventurous, you can record your laptops MAC address as well.
Take the time to register your valuables at Immobilize, the US National Property Register. Here you can add photographs and receipts with the extra benefit that they will look after this important data for you, which helps remove the worry you may lost it. Registering with Immobilize helps identify owners and helps prove ownership. It also simplifies insurance claims and police reports.
Even if you don’t register at Immobilize, recording the serial number is still important. If your notebook is stolen you can submit the serial number to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) thus if other police departments ever do acquire the stolen property it can be looked up and cross referenced in this database.
If financial loss is your primary concern then you should think about insuring it. Your laptop may already be insured under an existing policy you have, so it would pay to check with your provider, although renter’s insurance does not typically cover lost or misplaced items. Additionally, if your notebook is a high-end machine then check that you have the appropriate coverage limits.
Likewise, check your existing deductible, that’s the amount that you have to pay before your provider contributes and reimburses you for a replacement.
A lower deductible will mean you have to come up with less cash but means you pay more for your policy whereas a higher deductible means you pay less for your policy but will have to come up with more of the repurchase cash yourself. The sweet spot depends on your own financial preferences and circumstances.
Trust your gut
When you are out and about if a stranger looks suspicious to you, then pay extra attention, it might be your gut instinct trying to tell you something. If you are with a friend try to covertly signal to them. If you are alone and shopping for merchandise, consider delaying an expensive purchase until you feel more comfortable.
Remember you can purchase most products online from the safety of your home these days.
Notify the police
If you are reading this because your laptop is already stolen then report it to the local police immediately. File a police report and tell them where and when you last had access to the laptop. Reporting the theft to the authorities means that if the laptop is recovered it can be returned to you.
If you didn’t take a note of the serial number, check to see if you kept the receipts or product packaging. The make and model will be reasonably easy to determine (your memory or an original order confirmation) but the serial number can be more difficult to establish.
Perhaps you remembered to submit warranty information to the manufacturer when you first bought the laptop, in which case your online account with them will include the serial number.
In order to prevent and protect your laptop from theft you need to prepare and be ready beforehand, be a good scout and Be Prepared.
Computer theft is no fun and losing your laptop will never be pleasant. There are no foolproof ways to 100% prevent theft. But if you follow the steps above, you can make it harder on the criminal and easier on yourself, so come what may, you are better prepared to handle whatever the future may throw at you.