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How can I prevent laptop theft? What are the possible ways to secure the laptop itself and any data on the laptop?

I have seen anti-theft cables in malls. Can I use these in my home?

Will laptop tracker software be helpful if the laptop is stolen?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jan 11 '10 at 8:51

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

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IMHO, physical protection ... don't leave it anywhere you wouldn't otherwise leave your stuff ... most of the measures mentioned here are such, (securing by klock, software, encryption), that they cancel the effect of laptops as mobile computers. –  ldigas Jan 11 '10 at 16:10
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@ldigas, best advice. If you don't want it stolen, don't leave it where it can be stolen. –  Sarge Mar 17 '11 at 16:10

10 Answers 10

I think everyone starts with the standard USS (universal security slot) on most laptops -- also known as the Kensington Slot or K-Slot:

One of the cheapest and most cost effective solutions to deter thieves is to attach a security cable to your laptop. In most cases, the very fact that you have made the effort to physically secure the laptop to an immobile object will be enough to cause a potential thief to look for easier prey. Before you start shopping around for a security cable, there are a few important items to know:

  • Does your laptop have a Universal Security Slot (USS)? Roughly 80 percent of the laptops currently produced come with a place to attach your security cable to the laptop chassis. If your laptop supports this, you should use it.
  • If your laptop does not have a USS, does the cable come with some form of adhesive pad with which you can securely attach the cord to? While using an adhesive pad may not be ultimately as effective as attaching the cable to your laptop chassis, you should not discount it entirely. Many electronics retailers currently use some form of adhesive contact sensors on many of their display models to prevent theft.
  • While buying a good sturdy cable is important, make sure that the lock itself is sturdy. Tubular cylinder locks are preferred to tumbler locks as fewer thieves are readily equipped to pick the cylindrical variety.

laptop lock

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3  
... I'm a fan of devices that use the hole, but not ones that take the standard round key - they are surprisingly easy to break into with a bit of toilet roll, tape and a pen. +1 though, best way of securing a laptop. –  William Hilsum Jan 11 '10 at 9:15
    
.. or if you buy the pick for that type of lock, which costs about $60 and opens them inside 10 seconds. –  Sirex Feb 16 '11 at 12:39

First, don't leave the laptop near windows (physical sort, not software) or anywhere that someone may think it is an easy target to steal.

If you do not need it and are going away for a while, consider hiding it.

Be careful if you take it out the house, do not use an obvious laptop bag - a good quality Targus or another brand looks a lot better than walking around with a big Sony or Dell logo on your back.

As Jeff said, consider using the Kensington socket (if your laptop has it) to secure it to a non-movable object. I can't tell you how many people I see tie this to chairs or table legs where it would take seconds to simply lift and take. I would advise going for a combination lock one.

alt text

Now if the worst comes to the worse, use full drive encryption to make the data useless.

If you have the right version of Windows Vista or Windows 7, use Bitlocker.

If you have any other version of Windows, Mac or Linux, consider using True Crypt

If your laptop has a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip, it is possible using special software to actually make the laptop useless to a thief.

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+1 - First, don't leave the laptop near windows (physical sort, not software). Actually, some people may say leaving it near the software sort might be inadvisable too ;) Thanks for posting all of the resources for the different operating systems. –  jmort253 Feb 19 '11 at 21:30

Have a look at the open-source Prey Project.

Prey lets you keep track of your phone or laptop at all times, and will help you find it if it ever gets lost or stolen. It's lightweight, open source software, and free for anyone to use. And it just works.

Free and Pro versions, the free version does everything you need and is lightweight to run.

Note: I'm not affiliated with this product in any way, shape, or form.

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A software solution is by using a free tracking software on the laptop.

See, for example, Adeona :

Adeona is the first Open Source system for tracking the location of your lost or stolen laptop that does not rely on a proprietary, central service. This means that you can install Adeona on your laptop and go — there's no need to rely on a single third party. What's more, Adeona addresses a critical privacy goal different from existing commercial offerings. It is privacy-preserving. This means that no one besides the owner (or an agent of the owner's choosing) can use Adeona to track a laptop. Unlike other systems, users of Adeona can rest assured that no one can abuse the system in order to track where they use their laptop.

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2  
Quote from the website: "(Update, October 2009.) [...] at this time we are not encouraging new downloads of Adeona. " –  foraidt Jan 11 '10 at 16:01
    
According to the wording of the notice I believe this is only a temporary precaution. –  harrymc Jan 11 '10 at 17:14
    
Still no sign of OpenDHT coming back so Adeona may be on life support now, sadly. –  Paul R Feb 14 '10 at 18:38
    
Adeaona seems to be pretty much dead. –  nhinkle Feb 16 '11 at 9:01

As previously mentioned, I would equip the laptop with Adeona. Yes it might be dead but it still works, and until something better comes out then this is the best way to track the laptop. What I like about Adeona is that if the laptop has a webcam, when the thief uses the laptop, it will take a photo of them without them knowing. You can then access the photo and give it to the police along with a rough location. It's a shame that this program has basically stalled and no one really knows about it. If I were Dell or Lenovo, I would be installing this (or something similar) to my laptops.

To protect the data, use TrueCrypt. Depending on the OS, you can encrypt the whole hard drive. This will then prompt the user to enter a password before the OS is even loaded. I don't know if this works with Mac, but it definitely works with Windows. Also with TrueCrypt, you can encrypt part of your drive. So if you have private/sensitive data you can just stick it in the encrypted partition. When the thief gains access to the laptop, they won't be able to access the encrypted partition but can access the entire drive.

Another thing to consider is the operating system that you are using. If you are using Windows, try and upgrade it to the 64-bit edition instead of the normal 32-bit. As far as I'm aware, it's incredibly difficult (near impossible) to remove the password from the SAM database on the 64-bit versions compared to the 32-bit version. I personally use Fedora Linux on my laptop. It encrypts the hard drive (on request) and I use a 16 character password. This would deter any thief from at least using my laptop, but they could obviously reinstall any OS they want on the hard drive.

I don't trust the Kensington lock. If they are in your house, and they really want your laptop, they will break it free. In the student areas of Birmingham the police and universities were offering students laptop safes, so when they were out the laptop would be kept under lock and key inside a safe. I would suggest this as a better alternative to storing your laptop in your house when your not around. Safes are usually harder to break open compared to steel cables.

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Adeona has not worked for over a year, read their website. I use MacTrak on my Mac, it works really well, gets location of the device and captures a photo of whoever is using my system, best of all you can actually test it out to see it working.

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I use Undercover for Mac. They have an iPhone client now too. I've never needed to use it so have no first hand evidence as to how effective it is, but thirty party reports indicate that it works.

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A free software solution:

LAlarm™ is free laptop alarm security software. LAlarm sounds an alarm when a laptop is in danger of being stolen or losing data, and it can recover and destroy data if the laptop is stolen. LAlarm consists of seven alarms and other security functions designed to protect laptops, sensitive data and laptop users.

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You can also try Pombo if you are running Linux.

How does it work ?

Pombo works silentely in the background, hidden, and sends tracking information to a webserver of your choice.

If your computer is stolen, just log into your webserver to get the lastest file uploaded by Pombo, decrypt and hand it to the police. They will have all they need to catch the thief: IP address, date/time, nearby routers, screenshot, and even a photo of his/her face if you have a webcam !

Features

  • Simple: Less than 300 lines of code.
  • Protects your privacy: Tracking information is encrypted with a public key before sending, and only you can decrypt it with the corresponding private key.
  • Secure: No port to open, and does not permit remote access.
  • Does not rely on third-party sites/services: You control the client and the server. You can change servers anytime.
  • Totally free: No software fee, no service subscription.
  • Opensource: You can hack it, adapt it.
  • Reliable backends: Pombo does not try to re-invent the wheel and uses solid backends (eg. no home-made encryption, uses rock-solid GnuPG)
  • Only takes a snapshot if an internet connection is available.
  • Discreet: Uses zero CPU, zero memory and does not appear in process list when not active (not a daemon).
  • Information collected:
    • System name
    • Public IP address
    • Date/time
    • Information about all network interfaces (wired and wireless), including hardware address (MAC) of WiFi access point the computer is connected to.
    • Current network connections
    • Nearby routers information
    • List of all nearby WiFi access point, with their hardware address (MAC), SSID and power.
    • Screenshot
    • Webcam snaphot (if you have a webcam)
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A little more information on this service would be useful. –  ChrisF Feb 16 '11 at 9:06

protected by studiohack Feb 21 '11 at 20:43

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