Does your laptop have legs?

It is surprising how fast your mobile phone, tablet or laptop can move. For hours your devices may stay still on your desk but put them down in a town coffee shop and they can disappear in moments. Crime statistics show that a UK laptop wanders off every minute each day taking with them treasured photographs, documents and possibly access to online accounts. What can you do keep your data safe and even recover your device?

Before reviewing some simple technical tools for protecting your devices, the most obvious preparation is to reduce the chance of theft. This means knowing where your devices are, ideally keeping them out of sight and close beside you to avoid the classic bag-snatch. If you are more-than-usually enthusiastic you may like to consider a Kingston laptop cable-lock, or even a proximity alarm that warns when your bag begins to trot away.  The same holds true for cameras although there is now a useful technical development which I cover at the end of this article.

Then we get to the clever stuff which is easy steps to secure your data and control your device. These steps are simply to use the password facilities available, backup your data often and prepare software to control your device remotely. If you are a doctor or lawyer with a duty of care for your data, or simply prefer that thieves should not browse through your files, you may find the additional precaution of encrypting your devices appealing.

Backing-up is simple if unexciting. By contrast, not having a backup of your devices is like driving without a seat-belt: everything is fine right up to the moment it becomes an unpleasant mess. If losing all your digital photographs, documents and music would make you unhappy then backup often. The same applies to your mobile phone and tablet. Simpler than you may imagine, backing-up is as essential as brushing your teeth.

Now that you have a copy of your data, let’s turn to tracking and controlling a lost device. Android and Apple-produced devices have built-in software for this purpose. A couple of minutes of configuration and you can remotely locate or lock your missing device, or even erase all your data – a useful if rather alarming prospect. Alternatively, Prey is a simple one-stop shop for tracking and controlling your collection of mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Prey can not only locate and lock your device but also send you pictures of the thief and allow you to pop them a message suggesting that they return your precious gadget.

Finally there is the very James Bond option of encrypting your devices. Encryption means converting your files into a form that can only be read with your chosen key. Anyone trying to crack the code faces an enormous job. The software you require is built into many devices, such as FileVault in Apple computers. Curiously, most flavours of Windows lack this feature and require a separate program which you can find here, although do expect some interesting technicalities. A friendly warning: please do not lose your secret key as your data would become as inaccessible as the moon in a puddle.

Finally, a note of hope for photographers. GadgetTrak’s Serial Search Service will look for your missing camera’s serial number among millions of pictures posted online. This may help you to find the footprints of your stolen camera and be reunited you with your pride and joy.