Schools, businesses—everyone—should know how to track, find, recover, or erase a laptop if needed

Light, powerful, and everywhere, laptops are what people use to get work done. Desktop machines have their place, especially for gamers and people doing high-end graphics, but for most of us, a good laptop is the choice. Unfortunately the same things that make laptops convenient—light and portable—make them easy targets for thieves.

If you’re like most people, your laptop contains more than just emails or documents—it contains your life. Your personal life, your school life, your business life—all on something that can be slipped into a shopping bag. Keeping your laptop and your data safe means more than keeping it from getting stolen, you need to plan for the worse case with solutions designed to track, find, and, if needed, erase a laptop that goes missing.

This guide gives you an overview of the issues at stake, industry-specific challenges, and proactive solutions to prevent and take the sting out of a missing laptop.

The data is worth more than the laptop

When a laptop is stolen, often the target isn’t the laptop, it’s the data inside the laptop that thieves are after. Thieves targeting businesses and healthcare, couldn’t care less about the machine itself. The few hundred dollars they could sell it for pales in comparison to the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars they could sell the data for. Information like names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, and other personal data is used for identity theft, fraud, and scams is gold to hackers and scammers.

Because the chances of getting a laptop back are remote—98% of stolen laptops are never recovered—protecting the data on the machine is the end goal here. If you can’t find the laptop, you can still protect the data on the machine. Protecting data on a laptop comes down to three basic steps:

  1. Backup your laptop regularly. Local disk or the cloud doesn’t matter, you need other copies of your data.
  2. Have a password on your laptop and use full disk encryption. It’s not 100% foolproof for keeping a thief out of your laptop, but it doesn’t hurt either.
  3. Install laptop tracking/theft recovery software. Something you can use to remotely find a laptop when it goes missing.

Before digging into the hows of laptop tracking and protecting, let’s talk about the whys first.

Real consequences, real money, real headaches

Across industry, there are real monetary penalties for breaching consumer privacy. In healthcare for example, governments take losing patient data very seriously and punish companies who don’t protect patient data severely. In 2016, two companies in the U.S. were fined a total of $5.4 million for losing patient data and violating HIPAA rules. In both cases the data loss was from a single stolen laptop.

Let that sink in for a moment. A single laptop, maybe $3000 brand new, cost one company $1.55 million and another $3.9 million because they didn’t secure them (data on the laptops weren’t encrypted and in one case didn’t even have a password). Who knows how much the stolen data went for on the black market, but for these two companies, the results were devastating.

Even if you aren’t a regulated business, the consequences of a data breach or hack can be devastating. Consider 60% of small to mid-sized businesses fail within 6 months of a hack or data breach. A sobering stat to consider as you read the rest of this guide.

Unique challenges for different businesses

At its core, tracking and locating lost and stolen laptops is the same for all businesses—find and recover the laptop or erase it. However, businesses like healthcare, education, remote/distributed teams, and businesses that depend on extensive employee travel have unique considerations to consider. Absolute has solutions tailored to each of these segments that all do one thing—help businesses protect their data and their customers.

Thieves target healthcare

Healthcare is one of the most targeted industries for data theft and the leading culprit—laptops and other portable devices. While the industry is getting better at tracking and monitoring for data breaches, the healthcare sector lags behind many other sectors. This gap makes healthcare an attractive target for attackers. Why attack a bank with layers of security, when you can look for hospitals and clinics where reams of personal data are readily available with very little security.

Learn about Absolute solutions tailored to healthcare including managing regulatory requirements like HIPAA.

Digital schools present new challenges

Schools—elementary, secondary, and post-secondary—are challenging environments for managing laptops (and other portable devices). Because schools are often chaotic places, schools have become targets for laptop thieves—even inside the schools themselves. Part of the solution is helping kids understand how they can keep their devices safe. Laptop Safety 101 puts simple tips in the hands of kids—and parents and teachers—for how to keep laptops from wandering away on their own. These 10 laptop safety tips are aimed at kids, but they are worth everyone remembering:

  1. Never leave your laptop unattended
  2. Keep your laptop in a secure, hidden place
  3. Lock doors and windows when you’re not in your room
  4. Use a discreet laptop case
  5. Never leave your laptop in your vehicle
  6. Purchase a Laptop Theft Recovery Solution like Absolute Home and Office
  7. Personalize your laptop’s look—make it distinctive
  8. Write down your laptop’s serial number and save it somewhere safe
  9. Put a password on your laptop and change it regularly
  10. If someone tries to take your laptop, give it up – it can be replaced…you can’t

Unlike a business where an employee might have the same laptop for years, schools usually require  devices to be returned at the end of a school year for the next year. They also need to encourage responsibility and tips for what to do over holidays and long breaks. Schools have their work cut out for them, but a dose of education and tailored school solutions from Absolute can make managing school laptops a little less chaotic.

Remote workforces an emerging issue

When employees have laptops at home, new issues arise. Solutions like Absolute Reach and Absolute Resilience manage remote devices by automating software inventories, application updates and policy enforcement whether the device is on or off the corporate network. Employees can’t accidentally disable the VPN or other core security protections. Absolute provides the industry’s only tamper-proof endpoint visibility and control solution because it is already embedded within the firmware of most laptop manufacturers, including Dell, HP, Lenovo and 26 others.

Remote and distributed teams aren’t just increasing, they are becoming the norm. Knowing how to manage associated risks is crucial. For more tips on managing IT risk with remote employees, read our post on data security challenges with remote workforces.

Managing business travel risks

The thing about laptops is they are portable. Which is why we take them with us. Which is why business travelers were some of the earliest laptop users. But traveling with laptops has always been a risk to businesses. Laptops are stolen from airports and hotels, they are left in cabs, and hacked via dodgy coffee shop wi-fi. All of these are real risks we still face today. And don’t forget personal travel—employees need to be careful what data comes with them when they take a vacation too.

Managing business travel risks are no different than managing remote workers or even kids taking laptops home from school. It all comes down to:

  1. Education
  2. Planning
  3. Software

 

What to do if your laptop is lost or stolen

If your laptop does go missing there are a few things you can do right away to help recover it. From the tips above, having the serial number and identifying information handy will help police locate your device if it shows up somewhere—and here’s how to avoid buying a stolen laptop by accident. Solutions like Apple’s Find my Device can help—if you’ve set them up ahead of time. Our security experts have written two posts on what to do if your laptop is stolen:

 

How Absolute solutions help you protect your data—even if you can’t recover the laptop

Absolute has an entire group dedicated to working with law enforcement to find and return stolen laptops. Using a direct, two-way connection between the Absolute solution and the laptop, our laptop tracker solutions don’t only try to locate your laptop, they can also remotely erase your data if needed. Part of feeling secure when your laptop goes missing isn’t just about laptop recovery, it’s knowing that whatever personal data is on there isn’t going to fall into the wrong hands.

This peace of mind is essential for everyone—regardless if it’s a personal laptop, school laptop, or a company-owned machine—if your data is safe (safely gone) you are safe.

Absolute Resilience is more than remote device management—it includes automated, self-healing tools and people who specialize in recovering laptops. And if they can’t, you can make any data on the machine unusable.

Learn more about  Absolute Resilience and Absolute Home & Office solutions for the Enterprise and consumers.