A laptop is stolen every 53 seconds in the United States. To put that in perspective, one out of every ten laptops will be lost or stolen. So how do you prevent your device from joining these horrifying statistics? Beyond keeping your portable gadgets under your constant supervision, there are a few simple tools you can use.
Almost all laptops now have an industry-standard security slot. Cables that hook into that slot can anchor the laptop to a table or desk. They cost from $35 to $50 and weigh about a half a pound. The real benefit of these locks is in shared or well-trafficked spaces like dorm rooms or cubicles where a stealthy thief could slip an untethered laptop into a bag in just seconds. Cables do not provide fool proof security, as the cable can be cut, but they would slow a thief down enough to make them look elsewhere for an easier target.
Also, with the increased popularity of the iPad, there are cases that lock onto the tablet and then hook into these standard laptop cables for similar protection.
Another option is a laptop alarm. This device is about the size of a deck of cards. It attaches to the laptop and plugs into the USB port. If you need to leave your device for a few minutes (or hours) you can arm the alarm. Then, if someone tries to move it, a piercing alarm goes off. The first time I tested it in a public space, it made me afraid I'd get kicked out of the café — embarrassing, but it sure gave me confidence that a thief would abandon his attempt in a hurry.
Just as Lojack can track stolen cars, there are tracking programs for laptops. In fact, Lojack makes a tracking program for laptops, as does a company called GadgetTrak. These services cost about $40 a year. But if you want the budget option, Find My iPhone offers free tracking services for iPhones, iPods, iPads, Macs and PC laptops. Lookout provides a free tracking program for Android devices. These programs will let you clear your device data remotely so that the thief can't raid your information to steal your identity.
Related: How to Find a Lost Cell Phone
One important note: think about the value of your data. For most people, it's worth more than the device itself. Backing it up means that all the hours of work won't be lost along with your hardware. Automatic backup programs like Carbonite cost about $60 a year and, in combination with a physical back up of media (purchased music), they can fully protect the time, information, and media on your device.
Special Thanks to UC Berkeley.