I have a confession to make. I sometimes leave my company-issued laptop in my car when I run errands between work and home. My laptop bag, particularly after I have stuffed it with papers, lunchbox, laptop, cords and other detritus, feels like a sack of bricks on my shoulder. When running into the supermarket with my environmentally friendly cloth shopping bag, the last thing I want is an extra 50 pounds to carry around. Or let’s say I am going into a restaurant for a relaxing dinner. Do I carry my laptop with me or leave it in the car? Remember, if I bring it with me, I have to carry it to the restroom as well.
There’s another thing. My laptop bag is ugly. I minimize the time I have to walk around with it. As a woman, I would like to look professional and feminine, so grungy laptop backpacks or the ubiquitous black vinyl shoulder strap bags emblazoned with tech company logos are out.
But this is a problem. According to the non-profit Open Security Foundation’s DataLoss Database, 64 percent of data loss incidents occur off company grounds, and the single most frequent cause is laptop theft (20 percent of incidents; hacking came in second at 18 percent). This is not only a problem for me, it is a problem for companies, because employees will spend more time outside the office in the future rather than less, and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and intellectual property are at risk. I have no excuse for being lazy about carrying my laptop around. Ultimately, however, companies will need to come up with policies that people like me can live with, if they want to stem the tide of company laptops that are being lost or stolen every day. Here are some ideas for addressing this problem:
- Most Laptop Thefts Occur From Cars: Anecdotal evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of stolen company laptops are taken from cars. A review of incident reports suggests hiding them in trunks or out of view does not provide much safety, either, especially if employees lock laptops in trunks upon arriving at their destination, giving the thief visual evidence of the prize. Stow your laptop in your trunk before setting out if you must leave it in your car, or lock it to a sturdy part of the trunk such as the trunk hinge.
- Lighter Options: I have been considering my husband’s laptop bag. It is a humble black vinyl backpack, but it fits very snugly against his back, and has a nice padded shoulder strap. He can easily walk around with it on his back for hours and never seems to notice the weight. If you are unmoved by fashion, by all means, I would recommend buying one. If you do care about looks, however, consider a laptop bag on wheels, or one of the more attractive backpack-type options that can be found on the web. Another option is to invest in one of the recent proliferation of very light, thin laptops next time you trade up.
- Encryption Protects Your Data Even If You Lose Your Laptop: Ensuring that your disk is encrypted will protect your personal data and your company’s intellectual property from misuse. Anecdotal data suggests that most stolen laptops are destined for quick resale, meaning that unencrypted files could end up literally anywhere. Check your company’s policies on disk encryption. Companies may provide encryption software for free or even require it, and once installed, it requires little to no maintenance. This is a no-brainer.
- Regular Backups Mean Quicker Recovery: The vast majority of stolen laptops are never returned to their owners. Taking the few extra minutes required each week to back up files can cushion the blow of starting over, and your teammates will not thank you for their lost productivity or missed deadlines because you failed to backup your files.
- Most Thefts Are Targets of Opportunity: While it is possible that specific individuals may be targeted because of their unique access, most laptops are stolen simply when the opportunity presents itself. Reviewing theft reports suggests that a large percentage of stolen laptops belonged to employees with higher rates of travel and customer interaction. Following theft from cars, the second most frequent scenario involves laptops left at public places such as restaurants or airport lounges. Treat your laptop as you would your wallet. Carry it with you or leave it at home.