If you’re one of the millions of Americans who travel with a laptop for business, it’s critical to make sure you’re doing enough to properly protect your computer companion.

According to security vendor Symantec, a laptop computer is stolen every 53 seconds in the U.S. -- 97 percent of which are never recovered.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, a variety of software and services available today are designed to help recover a lost or stolen notebook computer. Some of the more popular solutions include LoJack for Laptops and GadgetTrak Laptop Security.

Experts speak out

But losing the computer itself may be the least of your worries if you consider the valuable data that resides on it: sensitive company information, financial records, passwords, and other private documents. In fact, Symantec and the Ponemon Institute predict the value of an average data breach exceeds $10 million, usually caused by theft or loss of a laptop or storage device.

“It’s not about how much your laptop costs but rather, how much is your data worth to you,” says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy for Jupitermedia in New York City. “A device can be left behind, so you must make sure you’re safeguarding your information and have a back-ups of important files.”

Products like LoJack for Laptops, which is a tracking device installed on a laptop that helps pinpoint location when the laptop connects to the Internet, are a “great way” to physically recover the laptop, adds Gartenberg. But, he adds, passwords and encryption must also be employed to ensure sensitive company information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. “At the end of the day these services are a good idea, they can be useful indeed, but it’s all about how secure your data is,” says Gartenberg. “In the end, protecting your data and having back-ups is what you need to care about -- not recovering the laptop itself.”

Steve Hilton, vice president for small and mid-sized businesses and enterprise research at the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group, agrees with Gartenberg on prioritizing your concerns: “If you have a top-of-the-line laptop a tracking application might be worthwhile, but more likely than not it’s the data you care about,” says Hilton. “So make sure you do regular back-ups of data on a NAS [networked-attached storage] box or through an online back-up service; if you're concerned about PC theft call your insurance agent and see if your business contents' policy covers you.”

Track it

Companies like Computrace, which makes LoJack, and WestinTech, which manufactures GadgetTrak, specialize in helping the authorities track down your laptop if stolen, while a few PC manufacturers also offer this as an additional service.

Available for Windows and Macs, tracking services are usually subscription-based -- so you’ll have to assess if you can justify the annual costs -- and they typically use GPS signals or silent alarms when the stolen laptop connected to the Net.

Computrace’s software, for example, is embedded in the firmware of computers, capable of surviving operating system reinstallations as well as hard-drive reformats and replacements. A premium edition of LoJack for Laptops includes a powerful “data delete” service that can remotely erase sensitive files, such as banking records and Internet cookies (as well as a service guarantee of up to $1,000 if the computer is not recovered or a data delete service cannot be performed). LoJack for Laptops costs $39.99 for one year or $89.99 for three years. The premium edition costs $59.99 a year or $109.99 for three years.

On a related note, GadgetTrak sniffs out the whereabouts of the laptop once it detects changes in location and network environments, and sends that info directly to you including IP address, internal network address, host names, and more. A one-year license costs $29.95, while a three-year license is $59.95.