Laptop security

Imagine that tomorrow you wake up to find out a virus has infected your laptop and all your files have vanished. Your family photos, your spreadsheet of online passwords (a major security faux pas) and that report you need for a meeting later today — all gone.

Scratch that.

What if a burglar broke in and stole your laptop (as well as a few other parting gifts)? All those valuable documents and the costly investment of the computer itself are now in the hands of a criminal. Was your laptop even password-protected? If not, the thief could use your information to access your bank accounts, open new accounts in your name and even use your business documents to commit fraud.

So how can you protect yourself and your company from such threats?

Take proactive steps to secure your investment and personal and business information with these seven laptop security tips:

1.) Password-protect it

A strong password is your computer’s first line of defense against unauthorized access. So what makes a password strong? Length is key; passwords should be a minimum of eight characters long and contain a variety of letters, numbers and special characters — so long as you don’t use “$” to stand for “s” or “!”in place of an “i,” as password crackers now take such replacements into account.

Never use your name, username, company name, pet’s name, or birthday as your password — these are commonly used and easily guessed. Having trouble thinking of something unique? Try an acronym of your favorite song or movie title.

2.) Put up a firewall

A firewall is a piece of software or hardware that protects against unauthorized access of your computer — including hackers, viruses and worms. Routers have built-in firewalls, but for security against in-network threats, you should also ensure that your computer’s firewall is turned on. Find system-specific firewall instructions here.

3.) Install anti-everything

Anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware, and ad blocking software will help protect your computer from cybersecurity threats such as malware, worms, Trojan horses and hackers. Many anti-virus packages include malware and spyware protection, but ad blocker is typically downloaded separately. Ad blocking software is important because it defends against malvertising (fake malware-infested online advertisements) that may infect your computer.

4.) Update often

Now that your virus protection is installed, you must maintain it (as well as everything else on your computer). Check for software updates frequently; most systems will alert you as updates become available. Updates are important for every type of software or application, as some updates are used to remedy a previously unknown cybersecurity threat. Learn more about software updates here.

5.) Avoid public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is one of the biggest laptop security threats. Unsecure public Wi-Fi hotspots allow hackers to spy on your activities, access your information and even modify or delete files. This is especially concerning if you use online banking or access personal accounts on public Wi-Fi hotspots. Never connect to public Wi-Fi and make sure your home and business Internet connection is password-protected.

6.) Invest in physical security

According to Kensington, a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds in the U.S. Keep it physically secure by never leaving your computer unattended in public, even just for a minute. Laptops can easily be snatched even in high traffic areas like the library.

But what is the most dangerous place to leave your laptop unattended? In the car — in 2011, almost 25 percent of laptop thefts came from motor vehicles. Thieves will relentlessly scope out parking lots looking for valuables and are experts at identifying hidden goods.

Want to really lock down your device? Consider purchasing a low-cost laptop security cable. Be sure you choose a strong, stable structure to bolt your device to.

7.) Back it up

While all these laptop security tips will help keep your information secure, nothing is truly full-proof. Make sure important documents are backed up on a USB external hard drive in case something does go wrong. You can find system-specific backup instructions here.

The hard drive should then be securely stored in a fireproof safe. Because fireproof safes alone do not offer enough heat protection for digital files, you should put the drive in a UL-rated fireproof lock box and then in the safe.

Don’t take these tips for granted; well-implemented laptop security policies have reduced laptop theft by as much as 85 percent. Start securing your investment and your identity today.