Laptop Theft - An Insider’s Guide To Not Becoming Another Statistic
by Martin Allen - MD of Pointsec - Monday, 4 July 2005.
When laptops were first available, they were treated with great care and attention. To be given a laptop by your company marked you out as someone special. Today, the laptop is commonplace. They are no longer the possession of high powered business executives or IT developers. Everyone from geeks to the occasional home user is moving away from desktop computers to the laptop.

There are many reasons for this. Price, processor power, increased battery life, footprint on the desk and the move to an increasingly mobile lifestyle, are just some of them. The laptop has now become so common that it’s “just another device” to many people. As a result, people have become careless. This is evidenced in the fact that almost every week there is another story of a lost or stolen laptop making the headlines. Often these stories only appear because the person or their job is considered “high profile”. Military chiefs, intelligence officers and even developers with personal credit card information have all been “named and shamed” yet the procession of losses goes on.

Some of the cases are down to acts of simple theft. Putting a bag containing a laptop on the ground while buying a railway ticket or leaving the laptop in the boot of a car is two of the common excuses. Having it stolen while in a pub or restaurant, leaving it on a train, plane, in a taxi are also very high up there on the agenda. It seems that the laptop has succeeded the umbrella in terms of the object of property people misplace the most.

So how bad is it? Recent figures from UK police forces show that over 34,000 laptops are reported stolen each year. This is almost 100 per day and only deals with those that are actually reported to the police.

What does it cost? That’s a question with no definitive answer. You can insure a laptop for around 7.5% of its value so a £1000 laptop would cost you just £75. Most insurers will look at the model and need a copy of any invoice. If you later add software to the laptop you will need to provide additional information to your insurer and, depending on the cost of the software pay an additional premium.

What about my data? Good question. What’s your data worth to you? When did you last back it up? Basic insurance policies as described above WILL NOT include restitution of data. These are generally part of a separate insurance policy for your business. A quick call to your insurance broker will establish what these premiums are but generally expect to pay around £100 for data restitution costs of up to £5000. This is only for restoring your data - the cost of re-keying data or recovering a corrupted hard disk. It does not compensate you for unique data that you might have lost such as software under development or notes about customers. Many insurance companies will simply point out that you should have backed that data up.

A recurring theme in the recent stories, such as the US-based MCI employee whose laptop contained the personal details of 16,500 employees, is that identity theft is the key goal of laptop thieves. This is more likely to be a secondary gain to the thief rather than a major target and no police force or insurance agent would offer any figures to cover professional targeting of laptops for this purpose.

The same can be said of the number of senior executives whose laptops get stolen. Generally, they are seen as highly attractive items as they are top of the range technology. While there is an increasing market in Intellectual Property, there are no statistics kept as to whether such information is actually traded and for what sort of money. It is more likely that such information will be stolen by hackers.

Protecting against laptop and data theft would appear to be relatively easy but, in a business sense, is rarely so. Some basic steps for employees to follow in order to protect laptops include:

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