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The Resource Center Identity Theft & Protection | post

10 Ways to Protect Your Smartphone, Laptop and Tablet

by Neal O'Farrell on

Intersections’ Consumer Security Adviser Neal O’Farrell shares some important tips to protect your laptop, smart phone and tablet.

One thing we know about hackers and identity thieves is that they always follow the crowds and the data, and as more people use laptops and tablets to run the personal and professional lives these devices are a major target.

And with so many Android tablets now on the market, Android-powered tablets could be exposed to the very same risks as Android-powered smart phones. A recent report by McAfee found a huge spike in Android malware, and Android devices were the top mobile target for scammers.

Laptop theft and loss are far more common than you might think. Research firm IDC reports that around 90% of U.S. firms have reported losing laptops. And the makers of the LoJack laptop recovery service claim that a laptop goes missing about every 50 seconds.

And the loss of a laptop or tablet can be devastating for your employer and your workplace. According to Data Loss DB, a research project aimed at documenting known and reported data loss incidents and data breaches world-wide, more than 30% of data breaches were the result of a lost or stolen laptop, mobile phone, or other portable media device.

So here are some simple reminders of the steps you can take to protect your device from theft and its consequences.

1. Encrypt it! This should be the fundamental rule for every laptop, and many experts argue that all laptops should be encrypted by default. Encryption locks either the entire hard drive or specific folders with an unbreakable code. So if the laptop is lost, the data is safe.

2. Use strong passwords. The next best layer of security after encryption is the password, and while a determined thief might be able to get past your password, it's still a powerful defense. So make sure that your laptop is set to request a password every time you want start or use it, and make sure it's a very strong password.

3. Don't use a laptop case - it's a bright red flag to thieves that you're carrying a laptop. Most laptops and tablets are small enough to carry in a briefcase or backpack.

4. Be careful using Wi-Fi - because they're supposed to be accessible to the public, Wi-Fi networks are also easily accessible to hackers and eavesdroppers. So if you have to use a Wi-Fi network in a public place like a coffee shop or hotel, don't use it to access anything sensitive like your bank account.

5. Don't use your laptop to store or move sensitive information. If you lose it, you only have to worry about the value of the device itself and not the harm the thief can do with it.

6. Treat it like a desktop computer. Make sure you always have layers of up-to-date security, including firewall, virus protection, browser security, keylogger protection, and all the other security software that you would expect on a desktop.

7. Don't forget tablet security. I'm amazed to see how many people are not aware that there are anti-virus programs available for Android tablets. They're still pretty rudimentary, in part because tablets don't have the processing power for conventional anti-virus software. But there are a growing number of tablet security solutions available.

8. Use a tracking and recovery service - services like and Computrace will help you track and recover your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and often for just a couple of bucks a month.

9. Spare the apps - don't download endless apps just because they're cool or free. Only download apps you really need and make sure they're from trusted sources.

10. Most important of all, be careful where you leave them. Laptops and tablets have become such a familiar accessory, often times they get left behind - at hotels and bars, in taxis, at airports. According to an article in PC World, LaGuardia Airport in New York reports that more than 70,000 laptops and PDAs have been left behind by passengers. Just because they're portable doesn't mean they're forgettable.