Data Visibility & Protection Endpoint Security

How To Guide: Tracking and Recovering Laptops

May 28, 2020

9 Min Read

Your data is at risk. Everyone—should know how to track, find, recover, or erase a laptop if needed.

Light, powerful, and everywhere, laptops are what people use to get work done. Desktop machines have their place, especially for gamers and people doing high-end graphics, but for most of us, a good laptop is the choice. Unfortunately the same things that make laptops convenient—light and portable—make them easy targets for thieves.

If you’re like most people, your laptop contains more than just emails or documents—it contains your life. Your personal life, your school life, your business life—all on something that can be slipped into a shopping bag. Keeping your laptop and your data safe means more than keeping it from getting stolen, you need to plan for the worse case with solutions designed to track, find, and, if needed, erase a laptop that goes missing.

This guide gives you an overview of the issues at stake, industry-specific challenges, and proactive solutions to prevent and take the sting out of a missing laptop.

The data is worth more than the laptop.

Laptops are stolen all the time; it’s a sad fact of life. Even if the person stealing the laptop is just out to sell it for cash, it doesn’t mean the data on it is safe. Because the chances of getting a laptop back are remote—98% of stolen laptops without tracking software are never recovered—protecting the data on the machine is the end goal here. If you can’t find the laptop, you can still protect the data on the machine. Protecting data on a laptop comes down to three basic steps:

  1. Backup your laptop regularly. Local disk or the cloud doesn’t matter, you need other copies of your data.
  2. Have a password on your laptop and use full disk encryption. It’s not 100% foolproof for keeping a thief out of your laptop, but it doesn’t hurt either
  3. Install laptop tracking/theft recovery software. Something you can use to remotely find a laptop when it goes missing.

Before digging into the of laptop tracking and protecting, let’s talk about the why's first.

Real consequences, real money, real headaches
Across industry, there are real monetary penalties for breaching consumer privacy. In healthcare for example, governments take losing patient data very seriously and punish companies who don’t protect patient data severely. In 2016, two companies in the U.S. were fined a total of $5.4 million for losing patient data and violating HIPAA rules. In both cases the data loss was from a single stolen laptop.

Let that sink in for a moment. A single laptop, maybe $3000 brand new, cost one company $1.55 million and another $3.9 million because they didn’t secure them (data on the laptops weren’t encrypted and in one case didn’t even have a password). Who knows how much the stolen data went for on the black market, but for these two companies, the results were devastating.

Even if you aren’t a regulated business, the consequences of a data breach or hack can be devastating. Consider 60% of small to mid-sized businesses fail within 6 months of a hack or data breach. A sobering stat to consider as you read the rest of this guide.

Unique challenges for different businesses
At its core, tracking and locating lost and stolen laptops is the same for all businesses—find and recover the laptop or erase it (or in our case both). However, businesses like healthcare, education, remote/distributed teams, and businesses that depend on extensive employee travel have unique considerations to consider. Absolute has solutions tailored to each of these segments that all do one thing—help businesses protect their data and their customers.

Thieves target healthcare
Healthcare is one of the most targeted industries for data theft and the leading culprits are laptops and other portable devices. While the industry is getting better at tracking and monitoring for data breaches, the healthcare sector lags behind many other sectors. This gap makes healthcare an attractive target for attackers. Why attack a bank with layers of security, when you can look for hospitals and clinics where reams of personal data are readily available with very little security.

Learn about Absolute solutions tailored to healthcare including managing regulatory requirements like HIPAA. 

Digital schools present new challenges
Schools—elementary, secondary, and post-secondary—are challenging environments for managing laptops (and other portable devices). Because schools are often chaotic places, schools have become targets for laptop thieves. Part of the solution is helping kids understand how they can keep their devices safe. Laptop Safety 101 puts simple tips in the hands of kids—and parents and teachers—for how to keep laptops from wandering away on their own. These 10 laptop safety tips are aimed at kids, but they are worth everyone remembering:

  1. Never leave your laptop unattended
  2. Keep your laptop in a secure, hidden place
  3. Lock doors and windows when you’re not in your room
  4. Use a discreet laptop case
  5. Never leave your laptop in your vehicle
  6. Purchase a Laptop Theft Recovery Solution like Absolute Home and Office
  7. Personalize your laptop’s look—make it distinctive
  8. Write down your laptop’s serial number and save it somewhere safe
  9. Put a password on your laptop and change it regularly
  10. If someone tries to take your laptop, give it up – it can be replaced…you can’t

Unlike a business where an employee might have the same laptop for years, schools usually require devices to be returned at the end of a school year for the next year. They also need to encourage responsibility and tips for what to do over holidays and long breaks. Schools have their work cut out for them, but a dose of education and tailored school solutions from Absolute can make managing school laptops a little less chaotic.

Remote workforces an emerging issue
When employees have laptops at home, new issues arise. Solutions like Absolute Resilience manage remote devices by automating software inventories, application updates and policy enforcement whether the device is on or off the corporate network. Employees can’t accidentally disable the VPN other core security protections. Absolute provides the industry’s only tamper-proof endpoint visibility and control solution because it is already embedded within the firmware of most laptop manufacturers, including Dell, HP, Lenovo and others.

Remote and distributed teams aren’t just increasing, they are becoming the norm. Knowing how to manage associated risks is crucial. For more tips on managing IT risk with remote employees, read our post on data security challenges with remote workforces.

Managing business travel risks
The thing about laptops is they are portable. Which is why we take them with us. Which is why business travelers were some of the earliest laptop users. But traveling with laptops has always been a risk to businesses. Laptops are stolen from airports and hotels, they are left in cabs, and hacked via dodgy coffee shop wi-fi. All of these are real risks we still face today. And don’t forget personal travel—employees need to be careful what data comes with them when they take a vacation too.

Managing business travel risks are no different than managing remote workers or even kids taking laptops home from school. It all comes down to:

  • Education
  • Planning
  • Software

What to do if your laptop is lost or stolen
If your laptop does go missing there are a few things you can do right away to help recover it. From the tips above, having the serial number and identifying information handy will help police locate your device if it shows up somewhere—and here’s how to avoid buying a stolen laptop by accident. Our security experts have written two posts on what to do if your laptop is stolen:

Lost or stolen devices: What to do in 4 steps
How to protect your data if your laptop is lost or stolen

How Absolute solutions help you protect your data

The Absolute Investigations Team is dedicated to working with law enforcement to find and return stolen laptops. Using a direct, two-way connection between the Absolute solution and the laptop, our laptop tracker solutions don’t only try to locate your laptop, they help customers remotely erase their data through their security console. Part of feeling secure when your laptop goes missing isn’t just about laptop recovery, it’s knowing that whatever personal data is on there isn’t going to fall into the wrong hands. Read a few of their highlighted recovery stories:

Absolute Investigations Monthly Roundup: Device Recovery Stories

Absolute Resilience is more than remote device management—it includes automated, self-healing tools and people who specialize in recovering laptops. And if they can’t, you can make any data on the machine unusable.

Learn more about Absolute Resilience and Absolute Home & Office.

Data Visibility & Protection Endpoint Security

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