Libraries are a Scary Place...For your Laptop: Tips for Protecting your Laptop on Campus

12/04/2011 14:47

Picture this, it's finals week and you are in the midst of your second straight all-nighter in the library studying for your last two finals. As your eyes struggle to stay open, you decide to leave your desk up in the library stacks and go across the street to the local 24-hour café to grab another coffee.


After a double shot latte and a short conversation with your friends you venture back to your desk in the corner of the stacks to discover your laptop missing. You're now regretting the decision to leave your books, notes and laptop out at that great spot in the stacks.

You ask around to see if anyone saw what happened, but everybody was too focused on their studies to notice someone stealing a laptop. You run to the front of the library, but all you see are the same mass of students cramming.

A terrible epiphany dawns upon you and you realize that your laptop is gone! Not only are all of your school materials gone, but all of your personal files on the computer are now in the hands of someone else.

University Laptop Theft Trend

Computer and data security has been a serious issue on college campuses due to the size and, technology of college networks and the increasing portability of student computers and other school materials. According to MSNBC, "Universities have become attractive targets for hackers who are taking advantage of the openness of the schools' networks, their decentralized security and the personal information they keep on millions of young adults." (1)

More students than ever are becoming portable by bringing their laptops to class and the library to study outside of their rooms, especially with the increase in wireless technology all across campuses.

Students with laptops across campuses are walking liabilities with the data stored on those computers. No space is safe, even within minutes after leaving a laptop in a shared environment, such as the library or common room.

In December 2006, two University of Alaska Fairbanks basketball players were convicted of stealing laptops from campus apartments. Laptop thieves can sell not just your laptop, but also the data they find on your machine as well.

What Does the Typical Student keep on their Laptop?

Laptops have become such a burden for students because of the magnitude of personal information that is stored on them. With the amount of information and the sensitivity of documents compiled on these machines, a lost laptop is even more dangerous than losing your wallet.

The majority of documents stored on a laptop are school files such as class notes, essays and class assignments. A thief could take these documents and plagiarize work for themselves, or sell the work to other students.

Other students choose to store passwords on the hard drive or on the web browser. Since most web browsers allow users to store passwords and just click "login" at most sites, most college students just simply choose the lazy option. They save all of their passwords in the browser without ever clearing them. Once the laptop is out of your hands; thieves can login to online accounts like email, blogs, favorite shopping sites or online banking without even having to crack your passwords.

The last batch of files that could be accessed on a stolen laptop are personal files such as journals, photos, and music. Private documents such as journals and photos are troublesome to lose not only because of your personal attachment to them but also because they could even be used for something as horrific as blackmail.

No matter what type of file it may be, if a hacker gets full access to your laptop it could be serious to you on many levels. You not only have to replace the stolen machine, but depending on the data saved on it, you may be faced with years of credit monitoring and worrying about identity theft.

How Can You Protect your Laptop?

Laptop theft is at its prime right now on campuses across North America. Colleges aren't able to police every WiFi spot on campus, so students need to be proactive. Here are some tips to help secure your laptop and data as you progress through your collegiate years


Never leave your laptop out of your sight if you are outside of your room, house or apartment. While this is a heavy burden for students who take their laptops all around campus, it is still the absolute best option. If you bring your laptop to the library, bring a friend and have him/her look it over while you step away to use the restroom or grab a snack. Consider engraving your name on the back side of your laptop next to the battery. Engraving your name will do little to avoid your computer being taken, but it will help substantially in getting your computer back. Install remote laptop security (RLS) for your laptop, RLS allows a user to access his/her laptop remotely if the computer is stolen and access/delete all important files before the thief has the chance to access them. This gives you the chance to remotely access your protected files and deny access to the laptop thief.

Students have begun relying on their laptops for nearly everything surrounding their school lives. Protecting their laptops has become absolutely imperative. Although laptop theft will never be stamped out, students have a number of solutions available to them. By taking some simple precautions, they can ensure that their next trip to the library with their laptop is not their last.

End Notes

1. Associated Press, "Universities vulnerable to ID thieves." MSNBC 12/18/2006

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2. 12/21/2006