If you take a peek at the AlertBoot Encryption homepage you’ll see a series of cuts where a blond woman subsequently has her laptop stolen in a “café-like” setting. Everyone’s heard of such a thing happening — a friend, or possibly a friend of a friend — but it’s rare to find someone to whom it actually happened. It’s even rarer to find it documented in an official source on-line.
But, it happens. Scanning today’s news on computer thefts, I happened on this story:
A man reported his laptop computer was stolen Monday afternoon while he was taking a restroom break at Espresso Royale at 324 South State Street, Ann Arbor police said.
He left the $1,200 computer on a table at 10:15 p.m. Monday and returned after 5 minutes to find it missing, police spokeswoman Lt. Renee Bush said. [ annarbor.com]
Five minutes is an eternity when it comes to a grab-and-run incident. Think about it: Shutting the laptop lid, unplugging the power brick (from the laptop, not from the outlet), and picking it up takes less than 5 seconds. Walking out of a coffee shop can usually be done in 10 seconds or less. Within 15 seconds, a person’s out of the venue with the goods.
Taking into account a laptop is being held, and assuming a person’s in decent shape, the remaining 4 minutes or so should be enough to clear at least a quarter of a mile on foot.
Keep Security in Mind
It doesn’t matter what type of setting you happen to be in: if you’re temporarily leaving stuff behind, you need to make sure it’s protected, even if it’s protection in name only.
Example: the (ought-to-be) ubiquitous computer cable lock. The truth is, there are ways to defeat these locks:
Picking the keyhole, which attracts attention in public settings, but you never know
Jimmying/forcing the lock, which would attract less attention (smaller movements, less noise, no weird-looking tools)
Cutting the cable
Breaking something, like either part of the object the laptop is tied to, or destroying part of the laptop itself
I think I mentioned somewhere on this blog how a laptop ($3,000 in 1994) that was fixed to a counter was stolen from a science lab when I was a student. Parts of the laptop’s casing were found all over the lab’s floor. There is only so much a cable lock can do.
Regardless, it’s a pretty good deterrent when it comes to theft, especially when other people are around. Other “tools” you could use:
Asking someone to keep an eye out for the laptop (works even better with the aforementioned cable lock).
Taking the laptop with you (hey, it’s portable).
Using encryption software (can’t prevent physical theft, but your data is safe).
Installing tracking software (you can opt for one that’s not internet-based, which require the stolen laptop to be connected to the internet at some point).
In fact, depending on your requirements, you might need to engage in all of these and then some (I haven’t even mentioned VPNs and firewalls, etc.).
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