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Source: Smart Biz

Posted on August 18, 2006

      With the vast amount of sensitive data now being stored on laptop computers, companies cannot afford to have even one lost or stolen. Organizations risk litigation, lost business and public relations nightmares when a laptop goes missing. Intense media scrutiny of laptops recently reported missing from large organizations such as Veterans Affairs, Ernst & Young (while auditing Hotels.com) and Fidelity Investments should be a stark reminder to small business owners of the pitfalls associated with laptop theft.

      Safeware The Insurance Agency claims that over 600,000 laptops were stolen in 2004, resulting in an estimated $5.4 billion loss of proprietary information. According to the FBI, 97 percent of stolen computers are never recovered. Gartner Group, a technology research and advisory firm, estimates that 73 percent of companies do not have specific security policies in place to protect their laptop computers.

      Laptop theft may be impossible to fully prevent, but there are numerous tactics and technologies an organization can employ to help protect their mobile assets around the clock, in the office or on the road. In fact, Absolute Software has found that while the average corporate laptop theft rate is between 3.5 percent and 5 percent, organizations using laptop theft recovery software have a theft rate lower than 0.5 perecent.

      As current laws mandate public disclosure of data breaches, organizations are clamoring for strategies to both prevent laptop thefts and comply with privacy regulations when the unthinkable occurs.

      The key for any business, large or small, is to implement a layered approach to laptop security, from visual deterrents such as cable locks, to tracking and recovery software, to remote data deletion when data security is of paramount importance.

      With the help of the following best practices and tips - from common sense to high-tech solutions - your small business need not be counted among the ranks of those companies ill-prepared for laptop theft.

      1) Use cable locks as visual deterrents. Truth be told, most cable locks can be ripped off the plastic exterior of a laptop with a strong tug. Cable locks are therefore akin to ink-filled garment security tags in clothing stores: they leave a mark when removed by force, but are ineffective at preventing many thefts.

      2) Avoid leaving unsecured laptops unattended. Lock them in cupboards, laptop carts or other secure facilities when not in use. If they must be left in a vehicle, they should be covered up or locked in the trunk.

      3) Keep laptops inconspicuous. Laptops should always be carried in inconspicuous carrying cases, such as a backpacks or tote bags, instead of tell-tale laptop bags.

      4) Change passwords regularly. Never leave your password in obvious places, such as a sticky note under your keyboard or on your desk.

      5) Keep anti-virus software and firewalls installed and up-to-date. Prevent unauthorized access and protect valuable information with data encryption software.

      6) Back-up valuable data on a scheduled basis. Data back-up needs to happen as frequently as required to minimize the risk to the organization in the event of loss.

      7) Understand the dangers of pirated software and file sharing. Both piracy and over-deployment of purchased licenses can lead to significant lawsuits or other financial penalties. And not only is it illegal, pirated software can increase susceptibility to viruses, Trojans and other attacks.

      8) Stay informed. Continue to educate yourself on the tools and techniques used today by cyber criminals as well as other security risks to company data.

      9) Use asset tracking and recovery software. Laptop recovery tools are highly effective because thieves know that hardware is more valuable if they can prove it works. To do so, they inevitably turn the hardware on and connect to the Internet, at which point the software agent - unbeknownst to the thief - reports its location information, helping police recover the device.

      10) Invest in advanced data protection. Industry-leading data protection software allows customers to track fixed, remote and mobile computer assets and remotely wipe sensitive information in the event that a computer is lost, stolen or nearing the end of its lifecycle.

      Organizations large and small can be victims of laptop theft. Gartner Group estimates that approximately 80 percent of all laptop thefts are not a result of masked robbers breaking windows in the dark of night, but rather the result of inside jobs: that's right, theft by employees. Of course, employees usually have in their possession the necessary passwords and encryption keys, rendering many of the standard deterrents mentioned above thoroughly ineffective. In cases such as this, advanced laptop protection tools such as asset tracking and remote data deletion tools are proven effective.

      Take a minute right now to consider just some of the critical, confidential data residing on your company's laptops. Now imagine a criminal poring over the data, wondering what value could be derived from it. A company's laptops are worth far more than the cost of the hardware. Your corporate data should be one of your greatest assets - not your greatest liability. Protect your laptops and protect your company's future.

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