January 22, 2013, 3:21 PM — Mobile computing may be convenient, but it's also inherently risky. When you drag your laptop to the coffee shop or bring it along on your travels, you're making all your private data and one of your most expensive possessions a big, fat target for sticky-fingered thieves. And unlike traditional theft targets like jewelry or wallets, a laptop is an easy steal--the baddies just need to wait for you to turn your back, then grab the computer and run. In some cases, a criminal doesn't even need to steal your notebook. He can simply pull your sensitive data out of thin air.
Fortunately, you can do a lot to minimize the perils possibly encountered on the road. By taking a few simple precautions and following some common-sense practices while you're out and about, you can drastically reduce the chance that your laptop will be stolen and keep your data locked up tight. With great portability brings great responsibility!
Lock the front door
When you go on a vacation, you wouldn't leave your front door unlocked, would you? Of course not. You shouldn't leave your laptop completely defenseless, either. Lock your laptop's proverbial front door by making sure that your Windows user account is set up to require a password on log-in. A log-in password won't protect against an even semi-competent hacker, but it could easily be enough to dissuade unsophisticated criminals from snooping through your files after stealing your laptop.
Windows makes it very easy to change your password or to set one if you don't already have one. In Windows 7, just hit ctrl-alt-del and select Change Password, the fourth option down. After that's set, head to the Power Options in the Control Panel, click Require a password on wakeup in the left-hand pane, and click the radio button next to Require a password.
In Windows 8, just search for "Users" to open up the Users menu in your PC Settings. Here you'll find options to both change your password and require users to log in when they wake the PC .
Encrypt your data
As mentioned above, a user account password won't protect your data from a determined snoop--they're easily cracked, or the thief can simply plug your hard drive into a different computer in order to access your files directly. If you travel and have any files on your computer that you simply don't want anyone else to see, you should use full disk encryption to keep them safe.