Laptop Security – Are You Following Good Security Practices When Traveling?

I was recently sitting in an airport waiting to board my flight when I noticed another passenger leave their carry-on bags, along with a computer bag, unattended in the boarding area for at least five minutes. This person broke two important rules when traveling with a laptop. The first, they used a laptop bag and second, they left their bag unattended. Five minutes may not seem like a big deal, but five minutes is plenty of time for someone to walk away with an unattended computer bag.

Laptop Security - Are You Following Good Security Practices When Traveling?
Photo by Mike Licht,

If you are traveling with a laptop, what are some of the security precautions that you should take to ensure you don’t fall victim to laptop theft?

  1. As I hinted to above, ditch the computer bag and use one that is less conspicuous. Don’t carry your laptop in a computer bag because it makes it obvious to others that you are carrying a laptop.
  2. Always carry your laptop with you. Don’t check your laptop with the rest of your luggage.
  3. You wouldn’t leave your keys in your car, so don’t leave your passwords with your laptop. In the event that your laptop is stolen, a thief can’t do much with it unless they have your password.
  4. Keep your laptop on your lap or right beside you. You know what they say — out of sight, out of mind. If you put your laptop on the floor, it’s out of your sight and you may walk away without it.
  5. Don’t leave your laptop with the front desk. Many things go missing in hotels without explanations. If you can’t secure your laptop in your room, carry it with you.
  6. Invest in a security cable. Don’t assume a locked hotel room is a secure one. Purchase a locking cable so you can securely attach your laptop to the desk when you’re out of your room.
  7. Finally, it’s a good idea to encrypt the information on your laptop. In the event that a thief is able to log onto your laptop, they won’t be able to read your data.
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  • Ken Newton

    First, don’t carry a laptop bag? How practical is that, especially when the reason for a laptop bag is to have your laptop protected from impact and separate from your other luggage which you may not be paying attention to. Also, encrypt your laptop is the most open ended and thus terrible piece of advice ever. Encrypt what, and how and to what extent. Just encrypting your laptop is meaningless. The tip about passwords denotes you have to carry passwords, who does that? If you need to store passwords, keep them in a password safe of some kind in more than one location accessible only to you, like a cloud service and a thumb drive (not in the clear, in a secure filesafe). If you are going to put words on a web page offering advice, you might as well offer something that means something…I’m not usually this critical, but common…..Maybe offer some advise about using an encrypted tunnel when traveling at all times so people can’t see what you are doing, also preventing firesheep type account stealing. OK, sorry for being so mean here, but not good…

  • Zagorath

    All that’s very valid, but first and foremost, you should never leave ANY bag unattended at an airport. Aside from obvious things like the risk of it being stolen, it could create a serious bomb scare, or someone could put something in it and use you as a trafficker without your knowledge.

  • Allen Wright

    While I do have a password on my laptop it is no problem for me to change or eliminate the password on any Windows computer. All it takes is a boot CD with the correct Linux program on it and the password is history.
    It isn’t even that hard to change the password on a Linux computer as long as you have physical possession of the computer it just takes a little time to log on as Single User and change the password to anything you want.

  • Marc Erickson

    You forgot one – if crossing the US border, do not take a laptop or other smart devices. Why? See:

  • Marc Erickson

    And I should have added:

    EFF’s Guide to Protecting Electronic Devices and Data at the U.S. Border