6 Steps to Avoid a Laptop Identity Crisis Take heed and use these steps to protect you and your spouse from ID theft. BY JOHN SILEO
You store a lot of information on your computer, take these easy steps to protect it.
What an eye opener! Iíve recently switched from an HP to a MacBook Pro. I couldnít be happier with the changeóso much so that I treat my laptop like a member of the family. It shows me movies, organizes my pictures, my music, my life. But the switch has highlighted a serious identity crisis. Itís not what you thinkónot that kind of identity crisis! Itís the kind that leads to identity theft. While migrating my data from one laptop to the other, it struck me just how much vital personal and professional information we keep on mobile computing devices:
1. Auto-login information to banks, brokerages and businesses
2. Contact information on just about everyone we care about
3. Tax records, bank statements, checking account numbers
4. Work logins, company data, employee records, competitive information
5. Sensitive e-mails, photos and documents
Do you realize that almost half of workplace identity theft takes place because of mobile data? And the average value of the data on your laptop is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to an experienced identity thief. At the higher end of the scale, the value of the 26 million Veteran identities on a laptop lost over a year ago was estimated to be worth more than $100 million on the black market. But your laptop doesnít have to be worth that much to make protection worthwhile.
Here are six tips on how to protect your data:
Leave it at home. Okay, I know most of us wonít leave our laptops at home when traveling because we would be leaving our digital identity behind. But theft is even higher when traveling, so consider using your iPhone or BlackBerry to keep in touch or use the computer in the business center at your hotel (but be careful of what information you enter into it).
Carry less data. Stop carrying data on your computer that you donít absolutely need. If you donít need to have client information on the hard drive, donít put it there in the first place. Donít keep your childís Social Security Numbers in your contact manager or your investment account numbers in a spreadsheet. If you have an encrypted VPN connection with your company, pull the files off of your corporate network once you are at your destination (e.g., work, hotel, meeting).
Use strong passwords. Passwords are the primary locks on our computers. Make sure that you create an alpha-numeric-symbol-upper-lower-case password, like P@55w0rd! (do you see the hidden word that makes this easy to remember? By the way, donít use this password). The longer the password, the better. I recommend passwords greater than 8 characters.
Use the hotel safe. Most hotels have safes in the room that let you determine the combination. I feel that these are relatively safe. Sometimes your laptop wonít fit, so I suggest that you pull the hard drive out of the laptop (which is where all of the identity lives) and place that in the safe. In a pinch, place the Do Not Disturb sign on your door when you leave for the day to lower the chances of someone entering your room during the day. True, your room wonít get cleaned, but you are keeping potential thieves from client documents, passports or intellectual capital that might be in the room. No matter how clever we are, hiding valuables is a poor option. Canít you just picture a person who appears to be a hotel employee leisurely searching the few hiding places in your room? A thief will know every one of those spots by heart.
Encrypt your hard drive. The data on your hard drive is no good if the thief canít make any sense of it. For a very small investment, you can install software on your computer that makes it exceptionally difficult for a thief to get to your private information. Encryption turns your data into a puzzle that only your password unlocks. If you are using a company computer, check with your I.T. department before installing encryption. They may have already done it for you.
Lock it up. Even when you are not traveling, the best policy is to physically lock up your laptop. A great number of laptops are stolen out the back of cars while shopping, out computer bags while buying coffee, out of the office while left unattended, and out of homes while on vacation. Take an extra minute to lock it up in a locking filing cabinet, a fire safe or behind a locked door. Even if it only makes it less convenient for the thief, it improves your chances that they will move on to a less prepared victim.
Remember, your data has a whole lot longer life than your laptop. When you are through with it, make sure that you digitally shred the hard drive before you donate it, give it back to your company or throw it away. Just because the computer is out of date doesnít mean that the data on it is too.
John Sileo is a two-time victim of data theft. After losing his business to data breach and his reputation to identity theft, John became Americaís leading identity theft speaker. He uses his gripping story, first-hand experiences and humorous interaction to inspire audiences around the world to protect corporate data as if it were their own. His clients include the Department of Defense, FDIC and Pfizer. Learn more at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com and www.Sileo.com.