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By John Livingston

With the vast amount of sensitive data now being stored on laptop computers, companies cannot afford to have even one lost or stolen. Organizations risk litigation, lost business and public relations nightmares when a laptop goes missing. Intense media scrutiny of laptops recently reported missing from large organizations such as Veterans Affairs, Ernst & Young (while auditing Hotels.com) and Fidelity Investments should be a stark reminder to small business owners of the pitfalls associated with laptop theft.

Safeware The Insurance Agency claims that over 600,000 laptops were stolen in 2004, resulting in an estimated $5.4 billion loss of proprietary information. According to the FBI, 97 percent of stolen computers are never recovered. Gartner Group, a technology research and advisory firm, estimates that 73 percent of companies do not have specific security policies in place to protect their laptop computers.

Laptop theft may be impossible to fully prevent, but there are numerous tactics and technologies an organization can employ to help protect their mobile assets around the clock, in the office or on the road. In fact, Absolute Software has found that while the average corporate laptop theft rate is between 3.5 percent and 5 percent, organizations using laptop theft recovery software have a theft rate lower than 0.5 perecent.

As current laws mandate public disclosure of data breaches, organizations are clamoring for strategies to both prevent laptop thefts and comply with privacy regulations when the unthinkable occurs.

The key for any business, large or small, is to implement a layered approach to laptop security, from visual deterrents such as cable locks, to tracking and recovery software, to remote data deletion when data security is of paramount importance.

With the help of the following best practices and tips—from common sense to high-tech solutions—your small business need not be counted among the ranks of those companies ill-prepared for laptop theft.

Use cable locks as visual deterrents. Truth be told, most cable locks can be ripped off the plastic exterior of a laptop with a strong tug. Cable locks are therefore akin to ink-filled garment security tags in clothing stores: they leave a mark when removed by force, but are ineffective at preventing many thefts.

Avoid leaving unsecured laptops unattended. Lock them in cupboards, laptop carts or other secure facilities when not in use. If they must be left in a vehicle, they should be covered up or locked in the trunk.

Keep laptops inconspicuous. Laptops should always be carried in inconspicuous carrying cases, such as a backpacks or tote bags, instead of tell-tale laptop bags.

Change passwords regularly. Never leave your password in obvious places, such as a sticky note under your keyboard or on your desk.

Keep anti-virus software and firewalls installed and up-to-date. Prevent unauthorized access and protect valuable information with data encryption software.

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John Livingston is the Chairman and CEO of Absolute Software.
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