Protecting your desktop, laptop, and phone data after a theft

This is an easy one – put a password on everything. “My home computer? My laptop? It never leaves the house!”, you say.

Let me paint a picture. Imagine you come home and your house has been burglarized. Your computers are gone. There are two big problems with that:

  1. Someone has all of your personal data and files and
  2. You may not have a backup of that data

If you did not have passwords – desktop or laptop:
Many people have Windows start and just boot right into a profile with no password. When the thief turns on the computer, that is what he/she is going to do too. At that point, they have access to everything you had access to. They can see all your documents, see all your e-mails – see all your SENT e-mails, etc. In fact, one of the first things they will do if they have access to your e-mail – is log onto every bank and credit card site and see if they can “recover” your password. They can then change your password on those sites – locking you out.

So now, within minutes, this thief not only has your personal files, they are almost definitely capable of a thorough identity theft too. This is really bad!

If you did not have passwords – tablets and phones:
The thief and/or person that finds your lost tablet or phone – will have access to much of the same data, right? They can almost definitely access your e-mail – which automatically gives them access to all of your credit card and bank accounts.

SOLUTION #1: protect devices BEFORE an event – use passwords on everything
Every computer device nowadays has the ability to “lock” the screen. This is where you must put in a password whenever you wake up the device or turn the device on.

Stop reading this right now, and go do that on your phone and computers right now. On your phone and tablet, that is going to be in the “Settings”. On Windows 8, just hit the WindowsKey and type “Lock”, and then click Settings:


iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone look like this:
AndroidLockScreen iphone-passcode-lock windowsphonelockscreen

It at all possible, don’t just pick a short 4-digit code. Those can be broken in seconds. See this page on picking a good password – and use a good password or a picture password to make this as secure as possible.

If you DID have passwords – desktop or laptop:
Imagine the same scenario where you home or car is robbed, but you did have passwords. What does that mean?

My guess is that the typical smash-and-grab thief is going to boot the computer, be prompted for a password, make a couple of guesses and then give up. More than likely, it will get sold on Ebay or at a pawn shop and the future owner will just wipe the drive.

HOWEVER, you definitely should not assume that. What is still vulnerable on that computer? Well, you can’t get into Windows with your password, because it was too difficult to crack (right??). Instead, a moderately determined computer-savvy person could simply take the hard drive out, and hook it up to a machine to which they already have access.

They can then “take ownership” of all of the folders and files on the drive. That means they now have access to all of your files. So, if you had Word, Excel or picture files – those are likely still compromised. However, your e-mail credentials (depending on the program) should hopefully be encrypted, so your e-mail should hopefully be safe.

If you did not have passwords – tablets and phones:
You are much better off in this scenario. Since there is no easy way to “pull the hard drive” on these sorts of devices, I would guess 99 times out of 1000, even an experienced technical person would just do a hard-reset and set the device back to factory – and then sell it. So, putting a password saves you almost completely, here.

Our tablets and phones are relatively OK if I put a decent password on them. However, our PC’s aren’t looking as good. So what else can we do to protect PC’s?

SOLUTION #2: protect devices BEFORE an event – encrypt your hard drive
Take a look at this page – it goes into great detail, including screenshots on how to encrypt your hard drive using TrueCrypt, a free, open-source tool.

Encrypting your hard drive with TrueCrypt

SOLUTION #3: Use cloud storage (carefully)
One way that you can make sure that your data is always backed up is to sync your local computer with a “cloud drive”. This is where a company gives you a bunch of disk space on their servers, and you can sync your local pc to it. You can also get to this “disk drive” thing from other devices such as your phone or your iPad. Some vendors that offer this for free:

For details on this, and how to host your sync folder on an encrypted, virtual drive, see the following page:

Syncing a cloud drive to an encrypted virtual drive

One comment on “Protecting your desktop, laptop, and phone data after a theft
  1. […] Protecting your desktop, laptop, and phone data after a theft […]


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