How hard would it be for someone to steal your devices?
How hard would it be for someone to steal your devices?

If your home or office was broken into right now and your tech devices were stolen, how much personal information could someone access immediately? Unfortunately, these are things we often don’t think about until we’re in a sticky situation.

Two Real-Life Examples

Several years ago, some friends were getting married near our house, and since we had extra room, we offered to let some of their friends stay at our home. We had only briefly met these friends, but they seemed to be good and trustworthy people so we weren’t too worried about our personal belongings.

The morning after the wedding, I was trying to find my iPod Touch (it was my lifeline since I did not yet have a smart phone). My device was nowhere to be seen. Immediately, I thought of all the things someone could access with a simple swipe because I had not password protected it. I panicked and went online to change all my passwords so at least whoever had it wouldn’t be able to read any new emails or access my Facebook account.

I found my iPod about 15 minutes later, safely tucked in my purse. Where I had put it the night before. The friends were trustworthy, I was just forgetful.

But it was that moment of realization that forced me to face the reality of what someone could access if they got a hold of my device.

A time when I did not fare so well was several years earlier. I had recently moved in with a boyfriend that I hadn’t been dating for too long, but we got along well (well enough to become roommates since our leases were both up). I had a 5-day out-of-state trip planned and he was left alone at our 2-bedroom residence.

When I returned, I got on my computer to get caught up on my life and noticed several files had recently been opened. And I mean several. Files that had no reason to be opened. I was shocked and felt so violated, especially since I had just signed a 1-year lease with this guy. I let it stew for a couple days to see if he would admit to anything then finally confronted him about it. I mean, I had previous years’ tax filing information on there! He admitted to it and said he was just curious what photos I might have on there. I lucked out that time, but he could have really taken advantage of my trust.

The Simplest Security Step

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, so if someone really wants to access your information, they’re going to find a way. However, why not make it as difficult as possible for someone to access your info?

One very easy step I could have taken in both those scenarios was to simply password protect my devices, especially devices that are portable. If someone took your phone or laptop, how long would it take them to access your personal information? Requiring a password will prevent most people from accessing your devices. As an added step, for computers, set it up so a password is required every time the computer is turned on, comes out of hibernation or screensaver mode.

Some phones, such as the iPhone, has a setting that will automatically erase all personal data from your phone if  the passcode is entered incorrectly too many times.

Added Security Measures

Requiring a password to be entered every time your computer is used can deter snoopers
Requiring a password to be entered every time your computer is used can deter snoopers

Additional things you can do to protect your personal information are:

  • Use a “find my device” app such as Find My iPhone so you can locate, lock or even erase your device.
  • Encrypt your hard drive. There are several programs you can use to protect your internal and external hard drives, one such program is TrueCrypt.
  • Use a firewall. Windows has a built-in firewall, but another option is a free program called ZoneAlarm.
  • Be cautious letting browsers remember passwords and auto-fill information. This is handy, but make sure you make sure anyone has to enter a password before accessing browsers that remember passwords.
  • Change your passwords frequently, about every 60-90 days for added security
  • Lock up your devices. Do you leave your devices in plain sight? Again, make it as difficult as possible for someone to take your things. If they have to work more than a couple minutes to take one of your devices, chances are they’ll just leave it behind and steal from someone less secure.

Protect Your Devices

A good way to decide how you can protect your devices is to think about how easily someone could take them and how easily they can access the information on your devices. Adding just a couple steps to delay a thief may be all it takes to deter them. The harder you make it for them, the more likely they’ll move on to someone who’s made it easy for them.