If you have a laptop, there are three things you should plan on happening:
- Data Loss
If you are not preparing for these situations, you are asking for trouble. There are three main things you need to do to handle these areas:
- Security – If someone steals your laptop, what information will they have access to? All of your data?
- Damage – If your laptop is damaged, how long will it take you to get back up and running?
- Data – If all of the data on your laptop is gone, do you have a way to recover it?
Your laptop security could be as extensive as encrypting your entire hard drive. The big thing you need to do is think about what would happen if someone got a hold of your computer. If you have a password to log in, but keep your laptop in a sleep mode that doesn’t require a log in, a thief will have access to all your email and other data simply by opening your computer. Here are some things you might want to consider:
- Require a log in password. This won’t stop someone who is really trying to get access to your files, but if someone is after the computer, they will probably find it easier just to reinstall the operating system (erasing your data).
- Require a password when the computer is in sleep mode. If you shut your computer and then open it again, it should prompt you for a password. This will force a thief to reboot it where they will be faced with the log in screen.
- Encrypt the disk. If you just do items one and two, a thief could take the hard drive out of your laptop, put it in another computer and then access the data. If a thief is after your information, the only way to protect yourself is to encrypt the contents of your hard drive.
I think everyone should do items 1 and 2. Depending on how sensitive your data is, you might want to do 3, but there are trade offs. For example, FileVault (the encryption service that comes with OS X) has some issues with backup services. You can still back up, but you can’t restore individual files. There are also some issues with when you can back up. You may need to be logged out, for example.
One of the best ways to protect against damage is to get a good laptop case. I prefer Brenthaven cases, but there are many other good ones to choose from. Also, I prefer cases that are designed like a bag instead of a briefcase. I had a briefcase-style computer case (where you unzip it and open the entire side flap) that my first laptop fell out of, and as a result, the screen broke.
Of course a case will only protect your laptop when it is holding it. I know a lot of people have had good luck with a laptop cover or sleeve. This doesn’t give you the same level of protection against dropping it, but it will help keep it clean and protect from scratches.
Being careful how you run power cables can also help prevent damage, but regardless of how careful you are, there is still a risk of your laptop getting broken. Your contingency planning should start when you purchase the computer. I am a big fan of computer service programs where they will show up the next day and fix your machine–even if it is caused by dropping it. Dell and other manufacturers offer service like this. Unfortunately, Apple does not. If you want protection for your Apple machine, you will need a back up computer.
For my setup, I have my business MacBook Pro and my wife has a less expensive personal MacBook. If something goes wrong with my computer, I can image my drive to her machine to use while it is being repaired.
It goes without saying that you need to have your data backed up, but take some time to walk through likely scenarios and make sure you will still be able to get to your data. Having a backup drive in a lockbox in Florida isn’t going to help you if you are in Seattle where you need files for an important presentation.
Some possible solutions:
- Keep an encrypted online copy of your current active files.
- Travel with a hard drive that you use for backup.
- Keep a USB storage device with your files that are less than 60 days old.
- Keep your backup hard drive at home, but make sure you have an internet-accessible computer that lets you securely access it.
- Image (copy) your laptop to a hard drive before traveling and leave it with someone who can Fed Ex it to you if necessary.
If you have a corporate backup system, you may have some other options. Just make sure you understand exactly what is backed up and what isn’t.
Keep in mind that having backups of your data isn’t just for the times where your hardware fails or is stolen. It also protects you against accidentally deleting a file or misplacing it in the wrong folder where you can’t find it.
Your contingency planning will be determined by how much money you can afford to spend and how much inconvenience you are willing to put up with. The real value comes from thinking through possible scenarios to identify situations that are unacceptable and then work to prevent those situations.
Abhijeet Mukherjee says
Great post, Mark. I am thinking of buying a laptop soon ( never felt the need of having one so far ) and these tips would certainly help me to secure it in a better way.
This is a great article. I would like to extend its contents to smart phones too. These devices get more and more powerful and you are even more likely to forget your mobile phone than your laptop.
In case these seem like rare occurrence…
I reached for the phone this morning and my laptop slid off my bed and now the bottom 1/3 of my screen is blank.
Data is ok, it functions, but, in the blink of an eye……..