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6 Steps to Avoid a Laptop Identity Crisis
by John Sileo

What an eye opener! I’ve recently switched from an HP to a MacBook Pro. I couldn’t be happier with the change – so 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. It’s not what you think - not that kind of identity crisis! It’s 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:

•Auto-login information to banks, brokerages and businesses
•Contact information on just about everyone we care about
•Tax records, bank statements, checking account numbers
•Work logins, company data, employee records, competitive information
•Sensitive emails, 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 doesn’t have to be worth that much to make protection worthwhile.

6 Steps to Protect Your Laptop Identity

1.Leave it at home. Okay, I know most of us won’t leave our laptops at home when travelling because we would be leaving our digital identity behind. But theft is even higher when travelling, 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). If it is critical that you keep your laptop with you, then…

2.Carry less data. Stop carrying data on your computer that you don’t absolutely need. If you don’t need to have client information on the hard drive, don’t put it there in the first place. Don’t keep your child’s 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).

3.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, don’t use this password). The longer the password, the better. I recommend passwords greater than 8 characters.

4.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 won’t 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 won’t get cleaned, but you are keeping potential thieves not just from your computer, but from any client documents, passports or intellectual capital that might be in the room. No matter how clever we are, hiding valuables is a poor option. Can’t 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.

5.Encrypt your hard drive. The data on your hard drive is no good if the thief can’t 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.

6.Lock it up. Even when you are not travelling, the best policy is to physically lock up your laptop. More laptops are stolen out of the back of cars while you are shopping, out of your computer bag while buying coffee, out of your office while it is unattended and out of homes while you are 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 the HR department or throw it away. Just because the computer is out of date doesn’t mean that the data on it is too.

About the author:

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 America’s 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 and