Dealing with a stolen computer

One of the worst things that can happen to a computer is for it to be stolen.  Along with the computer will be data important to the owner.  This data can range from pictures of important events, a music collection, to the credentials needed to log into web sites.  The loss of all of these at one time can be devistating.

In a video posted at this site (note: the video contains strong language throughout and a few questionable pictures), a man details the circumstances surrounding the theft of his computer and what he did to get it back.  The remarkable thing was that he recovered his computer two years after the original theft.

Now, the speaker did say that if he had better security, he wouldn’t have been able to get his machine back.  Plus, he’s quite an expert at what he does and used those expert skills to get the details needed to find his computer.  The person who had the computer was a typical home user.

What can you do?  The first thing is to consider what you do to physically secure your computer.  For the most part, just consider how you secure your home and how easy it would be for a thief to get in.  In general, the more difficult the task, the less likely a thief will get in (further details on home security are beyond the scope of my blog).  However, if you have a notebook computer, you carry this thing with you frequently and it can be lost, stolen, or damaged far more easily than a desktop computer locked in your home.
I’ve spoken before of the importance of backup.  I mention again how important it is in the event your computer is stolen.  In fact, having a backup located somewhere other than near your computer will drastically increase your chances of recovering your data (you’ll see some reinforcement of this idea in the video).  I recommend two services, Mozy and Carbonite (links to the right), if you want a service to do it.  You could also send copies of your data to a trusted friend or relative.

Recovery of your stolen computer can be assisted by the use of some free software or using a commercial service such as LoJack.  Some of the free software includes FireFound, a plugin for the Firefox web browser (FireFound works for free but you can pay for advanced features).  These software options send information to the company that can be used to help locate your computer.

All of these things are forms of insurance.  You have to decide how much insurance to carry on your equipment and of what type.  My personal belief is that your information is far more valuable than the computer and you should look at making sure there is a backup for it both near the computer (for quick access) and away from the computer (for increased chance of data recovery).

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