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Defining convenience and mobility, a laptop computer lets you work from home, a hotel room, a conference hall, or a coffee shop. So keeping it safe is a priority. Maybe you've secured the data by installing a firewall, updating your antivirus software, and encrypting your data. But what about the computer itself?
Here's good advice from OnGuard-Online, a federal government Web site that's devoted to computer security, protecting personal information, and guarding against Internet fraud.
* Treat your laptop like cash. If you had a wad of money sitting out in a public place, would you turn your back on it-even for a few seconds? Would you put it in checked luggage or leave it on the backseat of your car? Of course not. Treat your laptop as you'd treat a pile of cash.
* Keep it locked. A security device can make stealing your laptop more difficult. Attach a laptop security cable to something immovable or to a heavy piece of furniture.
* Keep it off the floor. No matter where you are in public-at a conference, a coffee shop, or a registration desk-avoid putting your laptop on the floor. If you have to put it down, put it between your feet or at least up against your leg so that you're aware of it.
* Keep your passwords elsewhere. If you have trouble remembering a strong password or access numbers, you may have them written down for reference. But never keep this information in a laptop carrying case or on your laptop-that's like leaving the keys in your car.
* Mind the bag. When you take your laptop on the road, carrying it in a computer case may advertise what's inside. Consider using a suitcase, a padded briefcase, or a backpack instead.
* Get it out of the car. Don't leave your laptop in the car-even in the trunk. Parked cars are a favorite target of laptop thieves; don't help them by leaving your laptop unattended. If you know you may have to leave it in the car, tuck it somewhere out of sight before you leave, so you're not making a public show of hiding it when you arrive.
* Pay attention in airports. Keep your eye on your laptop as you go through security. Hold on to it until the person in front of you has gone through the metal detector-and keep an eye out when it emerges on the other side of the screener. The confusion and shuffle of security checkpoints can be fertile ground for theft.
* Use bells and whistles. Depending on your security needs, an alarm can be a useful tool. Some laptop alarms sound in response to unexpected motion or when the computer moves outside a specified range around you. Some programs also report the location of your stolen laptop once it's connected to the Internet-sort of a "LoJack" for your laptop.
* Where to turn for help. If your laptop is stolen, report it immediately to the police and, if it's your business laptop, notify your employer. If it's your personal laptop and you fear that your information may be misused by an identity thief, visit http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft for more instructions.
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