Let’s talk about keeping your laptop (or notebook computer) secure.
Why is this important?
There are a couple of reasons – but in a nutshell laptops are more prone to theft, loss, and damage.
Why? Because they are portable, unlike a desktop computer.
That means they are much, much more likely to be stolen (like at the airport, cafe, or from your vehicle.
They are more prone to be dropped and damaged – because you move them around a lot.
Lastly, I can’t say I’ve never lost a computer before – but it’s at least theoretically possible with some of the very small notebook computers available now.
Tip #1: You Must Use A Strong Login Password
Some computers operating systems, such as MacOS, allow you to have an “automatic login”.
And in some cases people pick really weak, easy to guess passwords.
Anyone out there using “password”? Yes, people really do that – you know who you are.
The problem with this is that your laptop when unattended can easily be accessed by someone else.
And from there, they can do all sorts of things.
For the best security, choose a password that is at least 8 characters long, and not anything that can be guessed easily.
It’s also best to avoid those common passwords that everyone uses (“password”, 123456, etc.)
Those are just too easy to guess.
Now, having said all that – a password is only protection if someone is required to enter it – so please continue reading our next tip.
Tip #2: Make Sure Your Screen Saver / Screen Lock Comes On
It’s not secure if you can unlock your computer, walk away, and come back an hour later without having to re-enter the password.
This isn’t safe in the workplace, in public, or even in your own home.
Therefore we always recommend you enable any screen saver or screen lock functions – and set them to come on after only a few minutes of inactivity.
This helps to ensure that the window of opportunity for someone to tamper with your computer is minimal.
And we have one more tip related to this – LOCK your computer when you walk away.
There’s quick and easy key combinations for both MacOS and Windows 10 that allow you to do this – so don’t take any chances.
Tip #3: Use Full Disk Encryption
Unencrypted data on your hard drive is very, very easy to access – even if someone doesn’t know your password.
For example, let’s say a thief steals your laptop at the airport.
They can’t login – they don’t know your password (and we hope it is un-guessable).
But, they can simply open up the laptop, remove the hard drive or SSD, and mount it into another computer (or USB drive dock) and read all your data – no password needed!
This is a very real problem and I assure you this trick is used all the time by IT staff to get data back from computers when people have forgotten the password.
How do we protect ourselves from these sort of thieves?
All modern operating systems now offer Full Disk Encryption (FDE)
This ensure every bit and byte of data is encrypted securely as it is written to disk , and un-encrypted as it is read into memory.
There’s a lot of mathematical magic to how this works – but here is the important point.
When your hard drive or SSD is encrypted – a thief can no longer simply remove it from your computer and steal your data.
The data will be indecipherable.
Best of all? Both Windows 10 and MacOS have this sort of disk encryption built-in and FREE.
So, you really should use it – especially for portable laptops and notebooks which are prone to loss and theft.
Tip #4: Have Backups Of Your Data
Now, we just told you to use Full Disk Encryption to ensure your hard drive or SSD are safe and sound – but here’s the downside to that.
If your laptop fails to boot up – you are going to be locked out of that data – because it is encrypted on disk.
You should ALWAYS have a backup of encrypted data.
The backups should be secure (and perhaps encrypted themselves), but you simply cannot rely on your laptop hard drive or SSD to work perfectly forever.
Here’s another wrinkle – the latest Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer blazing fast performance, and great capacity.
But, they can fail catastrophically – one minute the device is fine – the next minute your data is gone and un-retrievable forever.
This is very different from those old, slow spining hard disks – which usually failed gradually – giving you time to save data.
If the data is on an SSD – and it’s valuable – you better have backups.
Tip #5: Update Your Software – Patch Your Operating System
You know the #1 most important thing you can do to protect your computer?
Run a currently supported version of the operating system (Windows or MacOS) and keep it updated with the software patches that come out regularly.
Hackers are forever looking for ways to exploit computers, and the complex OS on your computer has many, many places where it can be exploited.
And there are more ways created every day.
But the good news is that there are a lot of “white hat” good guy hackers that help find these issues – and they report them to the vendors (like Microsoft or Apple).
They then issue patches and security fixes on a regular basis. Microsoft tends to issue monthly patches on “Patch Tuesday” – like clock work.
It’s an endless battle really – with more hacks being found every day and more software being created daily.
So patch your computer – and reboot it often too.
Tip #6: Use a Privacy Screen
Here’s another factor of using a mobile laptop or notebook computer – you are likely to be using it in public.
And the latest LCD and LED screens are very bright – you can see them from very far away.
Also the viewing angles are great – the older LCD screens were pretty tough to read from an angle – but not so with the latest screens.
All this is well and good for using a laptop at home, but out in public you don’t necessarily want anyone else being able to view your screen.
So use a privacy screen – this is a translucent plastic overlay that you cover the screen with.
The good ones eliminate the ability to see the screen from anything besides “head on”.
And this is great to stop “shoulder surfing” attacks from happening.
These also tend to dim the screen a bit – but you can always take the privacy screen off when using the laptop at home.
Tip #7: Use a Webcam Cover
What’s worse than a shoulder surf peering at you while you work?
Someone watching you stealthily through your webcam!
It’s true that there are several pieces of malware in popular use that allow a hacker to turn on the webcam, and have the webcam light off.
This means the camera is on, they can see you, and you don’t know it.
The other problem is every laptop and notebook computer sold in the last 8-10 years has a built in webcam.
What can you do about this?
Well, you can try and not get that malware in the first place, but as an extra precaution install a webcam cover.
This is a plastic physical device that installs over top the webcam.
It’s got a sliding cover so you can ensure the webcam cannot see anything when it’s covered.
How about audio?
That’s a little trickier – it’s not really practical to cover up the built-in microphone of the laptop.
Tip #8: Use a VPN or Virtual Private Network
There are a lot of benefits to using a VPN or Virtual Private Network.
So, we won’t cover them all – but let’s cover the most important things.
A VPN is a piece of software on your local computer that you use in conjunction with a VPN service provider.
It gives you an extra layer of network encryption – so people on the same network as you can’t snoop on what you are doing.
This is really, really important on a laptop.
Because you tend to use it on so many dodgy Wi-Fi networks.
Hotel Wi-Fi, Airport Wi-fi, McDonalds free Wi-fi…
Those are networks that may or may not be secure – and what’s worse – hackers can often actively monitor and attack vulnerable computers on these networks.
So, consider using a VPN whenever you are on those sort of free networks.
Tip #9: Use a Kensington Cable for Physical Security
Laptops are portable – and the newest ones are so small and light you can take them anywhere.
But, for a thief that means they are also easy to steal (and conceal).
A Kensington cable is a thick, tough cable that you can attach to your laptop to anchor it to something secure – like a desk or a cable.
This ensures a thief can’t simply walk off with the laptop.
Now having said that – you have to use the computer where there is somewhere to attach the cable.
And that location has to be secure such that the thief can’t simply detach the cable somehow.
But, it’s good advice for at least some situations.
Tip #10: Use a Location Finding Service
Here’s our last tip.
Many computers now have a “phone home” sort of service – where you can remotely find their physical location.
This isn’t a foolproof method – after all – a thief could simply turn the laptop off to stop it from “phoning home”.
But, it might be helpful in some situations.
And if you get this capability for free, why not use it?
Laptops and notebook computers are highly portable.
That means they are easy to take anywhere you need them, but it also means they are prone to theft, damage, or loss.
Therefore, it makes sense to take some extra precautions and use these ten tips to improve your security.