Security 101

Prey Labs: The 5 most common ways laptops are stolen, and how to avoid them

As you might have seen, we get lots of recovery stories from our users. They tell us how their stuff got stolen and how they got it back, and in some cases, how they managed to do this even from a different country.

So we decided to do a small research and list the top five places where laptops get stolen, according to the hundreds of stories we’ve received so far. This might reduce the chance of your laptop from being stolen, so go grab a cup of coffee and read this carefully.

1. Taken from your car

Broken car window

People tend to think cars are safe places to hold things, but in reality, they aren’t. If there’s something valuable inside, it’s very likely thieves will feel tempted to break the window and run away with the lot. Though this usually happens when cars are parked with no one around, that’s not always the case.

So if you’re parking your Lamborghini, always remember to either take all of your belongings or at least hide them under the seats, in a way that they’re not visible from the outside. Additionally, always try to park your car in a brightly lit area, as dark corners make it easier for thugs to hide from other people or security cameras.

This doesn’t apply only to computers but to whatever you might place on the seats: money, jewelry, suitcases and basically anything that might be tempting to snag.

Don’t let one stolen device lead to a company-wide data breach

2. Free/Public Wi-Fi areas

Public Wi-Fi

If you were a thief and wanted to steal a laptop or other wireless electronic devices, where would you head up to? Public Wi-Fi hotspots, of course!

Most people don’t realize how easy is to get robbed while on a public space. Depending on the kind of thief, it might be just a hit-and-run mug or a hollywood-like fight scene. So, despite how appealing such places may seem, our recommendation is to avoid going on your own, since that makes it more probable that your stuff might eventually be left unattended.

3. While passing airport security

X-ray machine

We all know the story: once you go through airport security, you will be forced to take your shiny laptop out of its bag and into a box.

What happens then is that you wait in line for a few minutes, and once called you pass through the x-ray machine and head over to collect your stuff. And here’s where the problem lies: since there’s so many people around, and everything happens so fast, it’s quite likely that you’ll forget about one of your boxes, or someone else will grab its contents before you.

Yes, even with all the security staff hanging around.

So follow the TSA’s advice and “ALWAYS watch your belongings as they advance through the x-ray equipment at the security checkpoints – for secondary screening, INSIST that your belongings be brought to you.”

Last but not least, if you want to be 100% sure you won’t lose your expensive stuff while travelling abroad, try not to put them in your checked bags. Remember, airlines generally don’t insure lost baggage and they do tend to get lost every now and then.

4. At the office

Laptop office

Your coworkers wouldn’t ever take your precious new laptop, now would they? Well, they probably won’t, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your stuff unprotected on your desk when you go out for a minute. Unless you work in a small office —like ours— where you know and can trust everyone, do try to keep an eye on your gadgets.

It doesn’t matter if there are surveillance cameras around the place. They won’t be everywhere and there might be people passing by for any reason who would be happy to take your shiny new lappy with them. Most probably, people that don’t work for your company.

5. At the library

Laptops at the library

Just like workplaces, libraries are usually taken as super-safe places where to read or study (or, ehem, sleep). But there’s not a single reason to think you’re actually safe, specially if they’re public libraries.

Anyone can quietly take your bag while you’re taking a nap concentrating on that test you’re so scared of. If you just can’t keep on reading and really need to rest, put your computer and bag under your arms while you nap. That way, if someone tries pulling them you’ll be back from your dreams to confront him — that is, unless you hibernate like a bear.

Bonus: Fancy cases

Fancy laptop sleeve

Yup, fancy cases. Just like an expensive watch, while they’re pretty, most of them scream “I’m so sexy please take me with you”. If you bought the most amazing case for your laptop, you may be better off using the old one if you’re going to a public place.

A regular bag should do the carrying work very well, and an ordinary protecting sleeve should keep your computer safe from scratches.

We know, your super-sexy $300 case works like a charm for attracting girls —yes, some people actually think that— but also for luring thieves and other kinds of undesirable subjects. If you always travel by car and don’t care about attracting too much attention, keep in mind tip #1 and never put your device and fancy case on you car seats. That’s basically doubling the risk.

That’s it for now! For some some real life stories check our recoveries archive.

Pictures available under Creative Commons licenses, by Engineering at Cambridge, Adam Henning, Ryan Greenberg, Jo & Joey, Motoya Kawasaki, Michael Coghlan and Attila Acs.

About the author

Fabián Núñez

I love tech and Asian food. Headbanging since 2002. Overall badass.