A lost laptop is not just inconvenient and costly. It is also a considerable threat to your digital security too. Here we share our advice on what to do in the event of a lost or stolen laptop, as well as providing tips on how to minimise the security risks to protect you should this unfortunate occurrence happen.
Step 1: Change your account passwords
This is the first step most digital security experts recommend if you are parted with your laptop. If someone else can log into your device, they’ll likely have access to most or all of your online accounts, especially if you use autofill to enter your usernames and passwords.
Prioritise changing your email password, as your email account can be used to reset login details. Take particular care with single sign-on logins that provide access to a host of different platforms, such as Google, Microsoft or Apple. Once you’ve done that, if you don’t already have it, enable multi-factor authentication on your email account.
Next, work your way through all your other accounts. Bank logins, social media and any other platforms that you use personally or for work, including the likes of website content management systems and cloud storage such as Dropbox, should all be updated with new, strong passwords.
Step 2: Clear your browsing history and delete autofill
If you have autofill enabled in your web browsers, all a thief will need to do to login to your accounts is open that browser. So be sure to switch off automatic sign-in, and delete all saved passwords.
To do this in Chrome, go into settings/passwords and toggle Auto Sign-in to off. You can also clear your browsing data to remove saved logins from any devices that sync with your Google account, as well as sign out of Chrome remotely. Firefox and Safari offer similar processes within their preferences and settings menus.
Finally, and very importantly, make sure you remove all saved payment information from any website you use for shopping.
Step 3: De-authorise your device
It is often possible to remotely revoke access to any online services you use on your laptop. Apple for example will let you remove devices that are logged in under your Apple ID. You can also remove computers from Google’s trusted device list, deregister devices from your Amazon account and log out remotely from Facebook. Make a list of online services you access and work through them one by one.
It is also a good idea to switch off auto-sync between linked devices so that your current information is not updated on your missing laptop.
Step 4: Track your laptop
If your laptop is internet enabled, you can use its built-in ‘find my device’ system to locate and control it.
If you have an Apple laptop and ‘Find My’ is enabled, you will be able to view connected devices on a map. It is also possible to take various actions to secure these devices, such as making them as lost so that they lock and disable Apple Pay, and remote erasing the contents.
For Windows operating systems, there are similar options to locate and lock devices from a distance. Some antivirus programs also offer device tracking features.
Step 5: Let your banks know
Just the same as if you were to lose your bank or credit cards, you’ll need to let your banks or credit card providers know about your lost or stolen laptop.
You can freeze your cards, but do keep an eye on your online or app banking to check for any suspicious activity since the laptop went missing.
Step 6: Inform your employer or the ICO
If you use your laptop for work then you must inform your employer of any loss or theft without delay. There may be set data protection procedures to follow, and processes in place to track and / or wipe the device as well as recover data.
If the laptop is used for work and there is a chance that personal data could have been accessed, then the organisation that owns the laptop will need to inform the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of a potential data breach.
Step 7: Make a report
It might not help to retrieve a stolen laptop, but filing a police report will help you make a claim on your insurance.
Also, let the device manufacturer know. Some will have procedures in place to check technical support requests against a stolen device list.
How to protect your laptop
Of course, you can’t predict whether a laptop will be lost or stolen, but you can take steps to protect it should it happen.
- Keep a record of your device’s serial number
- Secure the laptop with a password
- Enable limits that will lock the device after a set number of failed login attempts
- Use a secure password manager in place of browser autofill
- Enable multi-factor authentication on all accounts
- Set up automatic back-ups from your laptop to allow you to remotely wipe it if required
- Secure your hard drive with full disk encryption
- Activate device tracking so you can keep tabs on your laptop should you be parted from it
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