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TECHNOLOGY

My Laptop Got Stolen -- Right Off My Desk

I didn't leave my laptop in a taxi or at Starbucks. I left it on my desk -- where it always is.

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Damn! I can’t believe it happened to me.

Someone strolled into our four-story, Class-A professional building, then into our second-floor office suite and stole my primary business computer -- an Apple MacBook Air -- right off my desk.

No one even saw the culprit. I was away from my desk for 15 minutes, just down the hall meeting with an employee in her office. Some of my team was out to lunch, but five employees were still heads-down, working hard. I came back to my desk and it was gone. The building surveillance video showed a man entering and exiting the building around this time. He had been in our building a total of 10 minutes.

I wish this story were a little less common.

Just the other day, a woman at a downtown San Francisco Starbucks had an iPad on her table. She turned to talk to her friend, and boom, the iPad was in a young thief's hands, out the door, across the street and into an alley before anyone figured out what happened. And, of course, most patrons, including me, were focused on our own digital devices. No one saw him coming.

There's a perfect storm here: Everyone’s got their eyes glued to their devices, and there’s a high resale value for iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. What do we get? Theft. It happens all the time on city streets, buses, trains, and cafés. But I hardly expected someone to waltz into my second-floor office suite at 1:00 PM and nab it off my desk with employees only steps away.

Thankfully, I had backed up my laptop in triplicate: one hard drive and two cloud-based systems. Then I used Apple’s iCloud to remotely erase the stolen laptop, changed all the passwords and filed a police report. Our business insurance also covers the loss with a $500 deductible. Whew

Let my loss be your gain today. How can you minimize downtime when the unthinkable happens to you?

Physical security. We’ve previously had strangers walk into our suite with bogus excuses (“I’m just looking for the elevator”), so we lock the door every day. In a stroke of bad timing, we had cubicle installers moving equipment, and when they left, we forgot to lock the door again. (Yes, my laptop was still there after they left.) We are now installing a keypad access system so the door will automatically lock. Always.

Electronic security. Make sure you have all security options enabled on your devices. Track and regularly update passwords. The Apple “Find My iPhone” application allowed me to remotely lock and erase my stolen computer as soon as anyone connected it to the internet. Very cool. You can even set a message to appear on the screen when it’s accessed. I resisted the urge to tell the thieves what I really wanted to say...

Use the cloud. All my critical business info is cloud-based and secure. Thankfully. We migrated our customer and project data to the cloud last year and use Gmail for web-based email communication. I’m also grateful for my automatic backups via Apple Time Machine, Mozy and iCloud. I was livid and inconvenienced, but the hit to my productivity and critical data was minimal.

Use another machine. Have a second computer as a backup. If you run your business from a computer -- and who doesn't? -- why would you not have a backup in case your computer dies, needs to go to the shop for repairs, or walks off your desk like mine did? I copy critical documents and reports from my laptop to my home Mac on occasion, just for a little extra peace of mind.

Heads up. Always check your surroundings. Keep devices in your bag or pocket, and don’t leave purses or backpacks on the floor or hanging on your chair. Thieves don’t slink around suspiciously. They’re bold and friendly and act like they work there. Then when nobody is paying close attention, they’ll grab your device and be gone before you know it.

Location, location. Don’t sit near doors in public places. The unfortunate woman who had her iPad plucked off the table was seated near the cafe’s front door. My office building is on a major street located within easy access of two major highways, giving thieves a quick getaway. This may be why we’ve heard that bank robberies are also common in this area.

While none of this is really news, I hope my brush with crime serves as a reminder for every reader. No business is 100% immune to theft. And no executive or entrepreneur can afford downtime or data loss.

With the holidays approaching, even more desperate souls will be lurking, ready to take advantage of distracted device owners. Don’t let your critical business device become part of the holiday re-gifting tradition!

Last updated: Oct 20, 2013

RENE SHIMADA SIEGEL is founder and president of High Tech Connect, a unique consulting partner for expert marketing and communications. After a successful career in Silicon Valley, she founded her company 15 years ago while juggling three kids under the age of five.
@renesiegel




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