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Losing a Laptop

November 21, 2017

A buddy recently checked into a hotel. He asked the desk clerk about in-room safes. He's told the hotel doesn't have them. Then he asked the clerk to recommend a good nearby restaurant within walking distance. He was given directions, went, ate, returned to his room, and found his laptop had been stolen. He wondered if the clerk was somehow in on the theft, but he couldn't prove it.

I mention this story because it points to how essential our laptops are to our lives. Losing our computers--under any circumstance--inhibits our ability to make a living. I liken it to an auto mechanic or a construction worker having his tools stolen. This puts someone’s livelihood in jeopardy. At minimum, there's a significant inconvenience involved in replacing the stolen gear.

Think about your laptop and its contents. Is the hard drive encrypted? Is there a power-on password? How would you be affected if it were taken from you forever?

Whenever I get a new machine, I spend time recreating my environment. Certainly, that process is made easier if I have access to my old laptop in order to make comparisons. There may be VPN definitions to recreate, virtual machines and .iso files that you like to have available, software packages to download and install, and documents that are in process or saved locally. I'm sure you have your own list of tools and capabilities that you use everyday. They would be difficult or impossible to replace.

How long would it take you to rebuild and recover? Would some things simply be lost for good? While you're pondering that, you might want to ask yourself about maintenance. How recent is your latest backup? Have you tested a restore?

I know some people who, I guess, wouldn't be lost without their laptop. They have relatively thin clients, they use cloud storage and/or regularly backup their files. (There's software that automatically backs up everything hourly, or at an even faster interval.)

So what do you do to protect your laptop? Do you bring it everywhere you go rather than leave it unattended at any point during your travels? That can be a drag when you want to walk around and explore a new destination. Do you really want to bring everything with you all of the time?

There are other options, like a laptop lock. Of course the downside to this is that it's pretty obvious what's been locked up. Plus it's not capable of protecting any other valuables you might have with you.

I've heard about something called a backpack/bag protector. Everything goes in your bag, then you wrap this metallic mesh of cables around it and attach everything to a bedframe or a drainpipe in your bathroom. I guess it's like chaining a bicycle to a bike rack. Apparently international travelers use them when staying at places like youth hostels. I've also heard of them being used by hikers and backpackers; they just attach their bags to a tree.

The outfit that makes the backpack protector also has what it calls a portable safe. It's basically their own bag that contains a built in mesh, and it comes with an integrated lock and a cable that can be attached to any heavy, unmovable object.

Obviously there's no foolproof solution. Hotel safes certainly aren't impenetrable (watch here, here and here). Devices like locks and portable safes can be defeated by bolt cutters. Keeping your laptop with you at all times is a problem if you're mugged. Even common sense has its limits. When you're traveling you may not go around advertising that you have a laptop with you, but when a bunch of techies gather at a conference, the thieves can figure out that there will be unsupervised computers in the area.

What steps do you take to protect your laptop, on the road or even when you're at home?

Posted November 21, 2017 | Permalink

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